Equine Body-Building, Exercise and Conditioning

Body-building, exercise and conditioning are different things. Exercise and conditioning consist of making a horse actively exercise in a round pen, working at walk, trot and canter on a longe line, or exercising under saddle while riding trails or riding in an arena, etc. Exercise and conditioning helps increase cardiovascular fitness, respiratory fitness, and muscle and bone strength.

Body-building is a dedicated work program designed to increase the horse’s muscling in specific areas. Body regions in which a horse might need this type of work include the top line, shoulders or hindquarters. We might focus on these areas or even on specific muscles when the horse becomes weak or falls off in development due to injury or inactivity.

In the perfect world, body-building and exercise/conditioning should always be combined in a horse’s training program. Work in each of these areas is required to bring your horse to a good level of fitness.

For example, I’m working with a friend’s mare to help the horse build a top line and increase muscling in her hindquarters. This mare has been out to pasture for about a year while my friend was undergoing cancer treatment. At 20 years of age, the mare has not been very active at pasture and has declined in muscling and fitness as a result. So our work with her is two-fold. She needs basic exercise to increase cardiovascular fitness and needs dedicated work to increase muscling in the areas that have dropped off substantially.

My friend would like to get back into riding; however, her mare’s back muscles are under-developed and so out-of-condition that she would not be comfortable working under saddle. So we are focusing on building the mare’s back and hindquarters from the ground while ensuring that other areas of her body increase in fitness as well.

My friend handles the basic exercise program which serves to help build cardiovascular and overall body fitness. Then, several times per week, I’m helping my friend learn specific work and exercise to encourage the mare to use her back and develop and strengthen her hindquarters and her abdominal muscles. We are also working with stretching movements to help keep the mare’s muscles supple and relaxed during the body building process.

We’re only a few weeks into the work now, but we are already seeing the mare’s top line and hindquarters increasing in development. As she increases in fitness, she is also able to work a bit longer during each session. Our preliminary goal is to get her to a stage where my friend can begin riding in the next month or so. Once the mare can begin ridden work, the plan is to have my friend continue combining conditioning exercises with body-building to encourage a higher level of fitness so her mare can continue to work well into her twenties.

It is wise to remember that basic exercise and body building are not the same things. We should always combine the two in our horse’s training program. If we monitor both, we can ensure that our horse has good cardiovascular fitness and stays strong, supple and healthy in overall body musculature.


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