When You Know You Should …

Posted by in attention, Blog, canter, canter execises, canter exercise, fitness on Jan 24, 2011

There are days when you know you should ride but you’re just not in the mood. You know the quickest thing to do would be to go in the ménage but the last thing you want to do is school your horse. Then don’t!

Remember schooling is just another form of exercise. Nobody said you had to ride circles. Your school is a great place to do some fitness work. It has a level, non slip surface and you know how far you are riding.

The average school measures 20m by 40m. Two long sides plus two short sides equals 120m.  You’re going to do less than that because of corners so count each circuit as 100m. Ten circuits equal 1000m. That’s one kilometre.

How many rides do you have where you can canter for at least a kilometre without a break? Next time you’re in two minds about riding save yourself the guilt trip and try this!

Make sure your horse is fully warmed up before you start. See December’s Warming Up for a simple, effective routine.

In a forward position, as if you were cantering out on a ride, canter as many circuits as you feel fit enough to do. Then do one more! By pushing yourself a bit extra each time you improve your fitness and your horse’s stamina. Ride equal circuits on each rein.

You may not be schooling but get into the habit of laying down the ground rules. You can’t ride every stride. You’ll run out of energy before your horse. Take a look at December’s ‘Be a Lazy Rider’. There is absolutely no reason your horse can’t go forward without you kicking every stride. Imagine if Pippa Funnel had to kick every stride round Badminton. She’d never make it!

If your horse is naturally forward going be careful that he doesn’t rush. Scooting round the school at 100mph doesn’t have the beneficial effect that a steady canter has. It’s common for a tense horse to hold his breath which won’t help his fitness.  When the canter is steady your horse breathes deeper and more rhythmically. The more oxygen he takes in the more his stamina increases and the further he can go.

Remember to count your circuits and keep a tally for next time. Canter as many circuits (plus one) as you can on one rein. Then walk on a long rein until he stops puffing. Don’t start the other rein before his breathing has returned to normal. You’ll only find you have to stop sooner. Fitness is about the recovery as much as the distance you travel. The fitter your horse the quicker he recovers.

1.6km is equal to a mile. So 8 circuits on each rein equal a mile. It’s something to aim for. Some horses will find it easier than others but if you’re careful and don’t ask for too much you and your horse can spend a pleasant and constructive half hour instead of the miserable time you were anticipating. Enjoy!

Have you checked out the schooling guides in the School Your Horse shop? Why buy a book full of other people’s problems when you can target your own – at a much lower cost? Tackle your problems on your own with the Teach Yourself series. Improve your scores with Read to Succeed. Need inspiration? Then Get Started! Keep it simple and practical with School Your Horse.


  1. Jan 26, 2011

    Please can you help me with your horse. When I am schooling he is very aware of the surroundings and loses concentration very easily! Do you have any tips so I can try and keep him focused! Do you have any tips for downward transitions, especially from canter to trot, he tends to run into the trot.

    Thanks, Gemma

  2. Jan 26, 2011

    My horse is very spooky and can get quite tense and if he is in a panic tends to tank. Have you any ideas on ways I can keep him more relaxed. He also tends to lean on the bit. I would be very grateful for any ideas you may have!


  3. Jan 26, 2011

    Hi Jacqui and Gemma, thanks for posting. I'll centre the next postings around your specific problems but in the meantime here are a couple of ideas. When I get a new horse that's sharp I have a feed withdrawal week to make sure I'm not over feeding. It's well worth a try even if you've had your horses for years. Reduce your feed to a handful for a whole week.Bulk it out with carrots or chaff. (My last horse hunted all day once a week on 1lb of nuts twice a day and loads of hay!)It might also help to try one of the many magnesium based (calming) supplements.I don't 'do' supplements but we've had some real success with magnesium (any brand).
    Also check out The Other Way of Stopping because it will help you 'get' what I'm talking about in the next post.
    Leave it with me and thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Jan 27, 2011

    Do you have any advice on how I can get my pony to engage behind more? It takes me a while to get him to soften but then I find it hard to get him to really work from behind aswell?

  5. Jan 28, 2011

    Hi Toni, this is such a common problem I will write a new post about it soon. I would suggest you look at The Other Way of Stopping which will give you a great new way of collecting your pony with your knee and also More Power, Less Speed which shows you how to get him back on his hocks. If he's lazy check out Be a Lazy Rider (december). I know it's hard because the pressure is there to worry about the position of his head first but the more you get him going forward the more he'll come onto the bit on his own. Another great exercise for that is Steady On. It gives you something to work on.
    I will do a new post for this but if you have any more questions please ask! Thanks, Lorraine.

  6. Feb 1, 2011

    Hi Gemma, just an addition to todays posting. I don't know how advanced you are but re your canter to trot transitions it might help if you flex your horse to the outside as you go down into trot. This is a bit more subtle and it's useful in a test. Sometimes it's enough just to ask somethng as you trot to give him something to thnk about.Just a thought. Hope some of this helps. Lorraine.(Ps Toni, if you're reading this I haven't forgotten you. Watch this space!)


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