Why a Fitness Check at the Lyme Hunter Pace?

The Fitness Check at the Lyme Hunter Pace was the idea of the late Janie Davison, the energy behind creating and maintaining the incredible property we know as Lord Creek Farm. Janie, a rider all of her life, believed that a conditioned horse is a healthy horse and that the hills and fields on Lord Creek Farm are perfect for conditioning horses. A natural extension to the Hunter Pace was the addition of the Fitness Check so that riders would learn the measures important in planning and evaluating the condition of their horses.

Why condition?

Athletes work on maintaining and improving their cardiovascular system and strength to achieve better sports performance and to help prevent injuries. Our equine partners, no matter the discipline, are also athletes and also need the equivalent proper conditioning for optimal performance. A side benefit of a well-conditioned human-equine team is a happier partnership, thereby improving trust and cooperation.

Plan your season.

What does your calendar look like for the season?

Do you trail ride, hunter pace, event, dressage, foxhunt, or ride in hunter/jumper shows?  

You’ve probably got certain weekend and weekdays blocked out for your horse-related activities. And you probably have already coordinated your farrier visits, health certificates, trailer maintenance, etc, to fit with your season’s planned events. Do you have conditioning of your equine partner also blocked out on your calendar?

All disciplines take preparation and planning to allow your horse to be in top condition. 

If you have a trainer, sit down with them early in the season to create a conditioning program specific to your discipline, the season’s schedule, and your horse’s current condition.

“Walk for strength, trot for balance and gallop for wind” * 

It takes years to give the horse the tendon and ligament foundation to go fast over long distances or to support the demanding movements of flatwork. By contrast, it is easy to condition muscles and heart. Without the structural foundation of strong ligaments and tendons, a horse may break down. Keep this in mind when designing a conditioning program especially with young horses

Walking is a powerful conditioning tool and is should be the foundation of any conditioning program. If possible, walk on a variety of terrain including trails and roads. Offer as much diversity as you can in your program. Riding over hills is excellent exercise because it activates different muscle groups than what would be used on flat terrain. The more places you can go to work, the better. And as an added benefit, you desensitize your horse to various situations. At these early stages, take it easy and use common sense. Unfit horses have neither the balance nor the strength to negotiate difficult terrain. Be especially conservative as you tackle downhill grades.

Start with short distance and work up to longer distances.  Think about how you would feel if you went for an hour power walk with a backpack after spending the most of your time inside watching Netflix on the couch. 

As you progress, add in small intervals of trotting and then eventually canter work.  Slowly increase duration and intensity. 

Consider pulse/heart rate

How do you know if you are improving your horse’s condition?  The most accurate single indicator of condition is your horse’s “recovery time”. 

The resting heart rate in an adult horse is 36-44 beats per minute.  When traveling over level terrain at a working trot, the heartbeat will increase to anywhere around 90 to 140 beats per minute. At the full gallop, it can be higher than 200 beats per minute.

The well-conditioned horse will return to normal or near-normal rates for both heartbeat and respiration in a relatively short period of time–often as little as 10 minutes. 

As you train, keep track of your horse’s recovery times.  As you improve your horse’s cardiovascular condition, you will observe a decrease in the time it takes your horse to recover to his resting rates.

It is important to learn to take a horse’s pulse rate properly and accurately. A stethoscope is often the instrument of choice but with practice you can feel your horse’s pulse. Count the pulse or heartbeats for 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the heart rate.  Your horse’s pulse can be felt in 3 places:

1.  The external maxillary artery that crosses the lower border of the jawbone.

2.  The radial artery at the back inside of the knee.

3.  The digital artery, located below the fetlock at the inside of the ankle.

If you use a stethoscope, place the stethoscope firmly on the rib cage just behind the left elbow.   If you have difficulty in hearing the heartbeat, ask for instruction from a veterinarian.


Plan for your horses condition and  know how to evaluate it.  Enjoy the Lord Creek Hunter Pace!







*Jimmy Wofford,  who credits this to a US Cavalry conditioning axiom

Mailing Address: Lyme Trail Association, 133 Mitchell Hill Road, Lyme, Connecticut 06371
@2014 Lyme Trail Association

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