An Excerpt from 33 Strength and Fitness Workouts for Horses

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Groundwork = Secret Conditioning

By Jec A. Ballou

While it is widely used for gentling young horses and teaching basic skills, groundwork also offers the possibility for a notable amount of conditioning. When consistently and strategically practiced, it can improve muscle tone, basic metabolic function, and neuromuscular patterns. Increasingly, evidence has shown that a large percentage of muscle activity can be maintained in non-ridden horses when groundwork sessions are performed six or more times per week.

Here are two groundwork workouts from my new book 33 Strength and Fitness Workouts for Horses that I find particularly effective.

Note: Page numbers in the workout descriptions refer to pages of the book where full exercises are described.

WORKOUT: Mobility Magic  

Duration: Approximately 35 minutes

Key Exercises Used: Back-Up (p. 27), Turn-on-the-Forehand (p. 32), Turn-on-the-Haunches (p. 33), Tight Serpentines (p. 34)

Benefits: This session can be performed pretty much anywhere with moderately level ground. It can help loosen areas where horses often hold tension. These gentle maneuvres can activate the postural muscle system (sensory pathways that transmit information to the central nervous system, thus controlling posture).

HOW-TO:

1. For 10 minutes: Walk, making speed changes every 15 strides (slow, medium, very fast).

2. Back the horse up 30 steps

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3. For 2 minutes: Walk-to-stop transitions (every 10 steps); repeat.

4. Turn-on-the-Forehand 3 times in each direction (Photo B).

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5. For 2 minutes: Easy jog on straight lines and big circles.

6. Turn-on-the-Haunches 3 times in each direction (Photo C).

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7. For 2 minutes: Walk briskly.

8. Repeat Steps 4 through 6.

9. For 2 minutes: Walk Tight Serpentines (Photo D).

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10. For 30 seconds: Lateral Yield in each direction. Repeat twice.

11. Finish with your favorite stretches, liberty play, or turnout for extra movement.

TIP: Aim to perform a full 360-degree turn unless your horse is just learning, healing from a lower limb or hoof injury, or particularly stiff, in which case perform a 180-degree turn.

WORKOUT: Basics for Breakfast 

Duration: Approximately 25 minutes

Key Exercises Used: Pre-Ride Circles (p. 35), Raised Uneven Poles (p. 36), Back-Up (p. 27), Tight Serpentines (p. 34)

Benefits: Combining different lines of travel, transitions, and ground poles, this simple routine is one to revisit frequently. Be sure to have your ground poles set up ahead of time; you can perform reps either by setting up poles on one side of a large longe circle or by hand-walking back and forth across them. Choose the longe option if you have extra time; your horse spends more time walking with this one.

HOW-TO:

1. For 3 minutes: Perform Pre-Ride Circles continuously, alternating each direction (Photo E).

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2. Walk over Raised Uneven Poles for 20 reps (Photo F).

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3. For 3 minutes: Walk Tight Serpentines (Photo D). 

4. For 4 minutes: Walk-to-Jog Transitions (every 20 steps). Ideally, jog alongside your horse on mostly straight lines.

5. Repeat Raised Uneven Poles for 10 reps (Photo F).

6. For 3 minutes: Walk 20 steps, stop, back up 6 to 8 steps (Photo A); repeat sequence.

7. Finish with 5 minutes of easy jogging.

TIP: Be sure you do not tilt the horse’s head toward you when crossing ground poles. We want the horse’s head and neck to remain very straight over poles.

Related: Review of 33 Strength and Fitness Workouts for Horses

More by Jec Ballou

This excerpt from 33 Strength and Fitness Workouts for Horses is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books

 

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