Make fat burning work
In order to lose weight, you need to temporarily convert a very positive energy balance into a negative energy balance. Put simply: your horse has to use more energy than he takes in, but this should not be at the expense of muscle mass. Exercise is important to ensure fat burning really gets going. The best approach for this depends on your horse and the situation. Sports physiologists Carolien Munsters and Irene Tosi give advice.
By means of a step-by-step plan, we will try to help you get started. Please note: every situation is different. When we talk about ‘normal exercise’ for a horse, this will differ per individual, depending on breed and discipline. For sport horses, normal exercise means something quite different than for leisure horses. For a leisure horse, normal exercise is that, in addition to daily hours in a paddock, he will be ridden regularly. Normal exercise is a calculation on the basis of the individual horse, taking into account his current and target weight, the environment and possible health or age-related problems.
Always carefully observe your horse and ask an expert's advice if you are not entirely sure that your horse is doing well. For that matter, you do not want to ask too much of your horse, which could lead to injuries and thus stable rest.
Dr. Carolien Munsters
Carolien obtained her doctorate with a thesis on the sport physiology of the horse. By translating scientific knowledge into practice, she assists riders and coaches in improving their performance. With her company Moxie Sport, she has already helped a large number of top riders with analyses and/or support, among other things for the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Currently, she is helping several combinations with their preparations for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. In addition, Carolien gives courses in the field of sport physiology for horses, she works as a researcher at the Utrecht University faculty of Veterinary medicine and is an embedded scientist for horse sports (NOC*NSF).
Irene studied Veterinary medicine at the University of Milan (Italy) and after that specialised in physiologic research on horses at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liège (Belgium). She lectures and supervises students in the area of physiology of sport horses. She also carries out research into the effects of exercise on muscles in the horse’s body.
Evaluate your horse’s physical condition
First of all, it is important to know what the current condition of your horse is. If your horse is not being exercised at all, clearly, there is a lot to gain in this respect. If you do exercise your horse, then ask yourself: how fit is my horse really? The feeling of the rider and the actual fitness level of the horse may differ. Sometimes as a rider, you think you work really hard with your horse during a training session, but in practice, it is mostly the rider who works hard, while the horse’s heart rate has barely gone up. The other way around can happen too. Some horses will, ears pricked forward, still happily continue with a heart rate of 180/190.
It is recommended to carry out a fitness test on your horse at some point. For a basic test and a first indication, you do not need an expert, you can easily do it yourself. The only thing you need is a heart rate monitor for your horse.
Follow the scheme below:
- 2 minutes of walking on the left rein
- 2 minutes of walking on the right rein
- 2 minutes of trotting on the left rein
- 2 minutes oft rotting on the right rein
- 2 minutes of cantering on the left rein
- 2 minutes of cantering on the right rein
Please note: Do not walk or let your horse rest in between the trotting and cantering reprises.
Fit, conditioned horses should be able to do this basic test while staying within the ‘normal’ values (provided they are relaxed, because stress will make the heart rate go up). When walking, the heart rate should be between 60 and 75 beats per minute, when trotting between 90 and 110, and when cantering, between 100 and 120. If your horse has a higher heart rate, or he cannot canter for 2 minutes, then he has a poor basic condition.
Help! I do not have a heart rate monitor
If you do not have a heart rate monitor and you cannot borrow one, it is still worthwhile to do this test. From practice, we know that cantering for two minutes can be quite long. If your horse is unable to canter for two minutes, you will know that he will not pass the fitness test.
Analyse and monitor
Does your horse have a problem to complete the test or is his heart rate very high? Then, you have to start improving his basic condition. This alone will allow him burning more energy. Build up your conditioning program slowly. To do so you have to know what you have done up till now. That is why it is a good idea to first monitor a few training sessions. For instance, you can keep track of the time with a stopwatch or a stopwatch app. Check how long you are walking, trotting and cantering. For the best results you need to know the corresponding heart rate intensity. Without this data you do not know how much effort your horse requires to do this exercise.
Veerle: “I have good experiences with the Equilab app. The app accurately keeps track of where, for how long and with which speed you rode."
You can download the app here: https://equilab.horse. The app is available for both IOS and Android.
Set your target
For a good result you should train your horse four to six days a week. If you currently ride your horse two days a week only, don’t start riding six days immediately but build this up slowly. If a horse is completely unconditioned (a young horse, or a horse that hasn’t done anything for a long time), it can take several months up to one year before this horse can work six days a week for an hour per day. So, don’t set your targets too high but increase the training intensity by small steps. If your horse is indeed fit, you can ask for more.
Now that you know what the condition of your horse and your goal is, it is important to build up the training sessions. First the frequency, then the duration and finally, the intensity.
To help you getting started we created two different training schemes for the training build-up. One for an untrained, unfit horse and one for horses that have passed the fitness test. On the following pages you will find the training schemes and tips. On the basis of the fitness test, choose the scheme that suits your horse, read the advice of Carolien Munsters and start training.
Did you know that...
Your horse does not always work as hard as you do?
When you have to work hard during riding you might have the idea that your horse is working really hard too. But that doesn’t have to be the case. So, make sure you do not automatically assume that when you are tired, your horse will be tired too. Some horses can be quite fit for the basic work (see the fitness test) and give you the impression that they are working really hard whereas they are working only moderately hard. If you are not aware of this, it could be the case that your horse is never working really hard. In that situation, you have to consider giving him a more intense work-out two to three times a week. Also, you have to be aware of the fact that your horse does not need more feed if it is not really working hard.