When conditioning horses, a good start is half the battle

When conditioning horses, a good start is half the battle

Your horse is an athlete, and athletes need to have good physical health and fitness to deliver top level performance. Horses that feel good will perform better, no matter what level you are at. In this article, learn what you need to know to improve your horse’s physical fitness. 

A horse’s fitness level depends on conditioning of the cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems. Physical fitness will ensure that a horse has the stamina, speed and strength to perform at the desired level. But optimal fitness is not only important for performance. A well-conditioned horse will also recover faster from work, have lower risk for injury, and is more resilient against infection and disease.

Although there are different factors determining physical fitness level, in this article we will be focussing on conditioning the cardiovascular system and stamina. Fitness doesn’t come overnight. Like in humans, stamina in horses can only be improved through proper conditioning.

Thresholds in building stamina

There are two thresholds involved in building stamina. The aerobic threshold and the anaerobic threshold. Below the aerobic threshold, the production and utilisation of lactate in the muscles are in perfect balance. It is produced and burned, and this cycle repeats as long as exertion does not increase. As soon as the horse begins to work harder (above the aerobic threshold), lactate production increases. After a certain point, the amount of lactate will be too high, and this is when active muscles can no longer handle it sufficiently.

The body begins to transport the lactate to other muscles, providing more oxygen in the process. The horse begins to breathe more heavily. The increased exertion throws the system out of balance, but the body has the ability to bring this back into balance with more oxygen. This is the so-called aerobic zone. If exercise continues beyond this, you will reach a point where the intensity has risen so much that lactic acid and lactate production exceeds the amount burned. At this point, acidosis begins in the body and the horse loses control of its muscles. This is the so-called anaerobic threshold. From this point onwards, oxygen supply becomes less important as the horse can no longer continue at this level of exertion.

The aerobic threshold and the anaerobic threshold

Oxygen and fuel

In training, you raise the horse’s aerobic and anaerobic thresholds: this makes your horse fitter and stronger. The more your horse trains, the longer it can work with aerobic energy, i.e., with oxygen. The more oxygen the muscles can take in and expend during exertion, the easier it is for the horse to sustain exertion, meaning that it will have more stamina. 

Aerobic energy therefore plays an important role in building cardiovascular fitness. Oxygen is used in energy conversion. This energy is mainly obtained from fats, fibres, and carbohydrates. These sources deliver what is known as “cool” energy, i.e., fuel that is released slowly to provide sustained energy and improved endurance. Often, the question isn’t whether the horse is getting enough energy, but whether it is getting the right fuel.

Equine energy metabolism is a complex process. To work well, your horse not only needs energy sources, but also minerals and vitamins, the driving forces behind energy metabolism. If these nutrients are lacking, the horse may have difficulties building stamina. Trace elements, antioxidants and B vitamins support energy metabolism and stamina.

Good basic fitness means better resilience and a higher level of performance from the horse. Conscious training means crossing the fitness threshold. Alternate regularly between strength and endurance training. Building condition requires a mindful choice of feed and a conscious approach to training.

Our feed experts will be happy to help you select the right feed for your horse’s needs

Different horses have different needs. Even conditioning programs won’t be the same for every horse. Some easily gain fitness – they seem to improve with no problems whatsoever. Others must slowly get accustomed to the higher intensity of training and the work requested of them. Building stamina requires a conscious approach to training. This approach can be supported through a mindful choice of feed.

The basis for this feed should be plenty of high-energy roughage. We recommend supplementing this with Cavalor Endurix. Cavalor Endurix is a sport mix that’s high in fats to provide slow-release energy and help your horse get in better shape. It also contains puffed cereals for fast digestion and pre- and probiotics for optimum bowel function and a strong immune system.

Sometimes horses need a little extra help in developing good basic fitness or for during periods of intense trainings or multi-day event. Cavalor Pow’Red Performance contains vitamins and minerals to support optimum energy metabolism. Give your horse a course of Pow’Red Performance over a period of 40 days.