Adventures of An Unlikely Eventer: Fitness Factor!

Keeping your eventer fighting fit and ready for action!

Hannah Craft and her trusty steed Sid are on a mission to make it in the world of eventing. Starting out at BE90 for their first season this year, Hannah shares the honest and often hilarious thrills and spills of their Big Adventure!

This month, sadly Sid has sustained an injury and has had to miss out on a couple of eventing adventures so Hannah is on a mission to get him fit again in time for her last event of their season at Tweseldown. Here she gives us her advice on how to go about it!

Now I will start by making a slightly rude comment about Sid. Wait for it…He’s not built for speed or elegance.

Yes, I KNOW we go eventing! I KNOW it requires relaxation and suppleness in the dressage, agility and energy show-jumping and stamina and power cross country.

I totally understand why you are looking at me with a very confused expression on your face right now. I’d be the same.

But here’s the thing – Sid is not a born athlete. He is sturdy, he is solid and he is built like a barrel on legs. He is quite literally as wide as he is tall. And that does not make for speedy ground coverage.

Because of Sid’s natural tendency to plod along, we have to work so hard at keeping him fit. The fitter he is, the better able he is to cope with any questions the course throws at him.

He will never be a Thoroughbred. However, there are things you can do to help fitten up your non-spindly horses and give them as good a chance as any at making the time (and more importantly at keeping them healthy and able to cope with the demands eventing puts on their bodies!)

Below are a few helpful tips and tricks to keep your eventer fighting fit.

  1. If it works for you it can work for them….interval training!

No, I’m not suggesting you line your horse up with its contemporaries and chase him forwards and back across the field, getting faster each time, whilst a machine beeps at decreasing intervals.

This is not high school and he does not need to do suicide runs.

However, if you are lucky enough to have a nice, big field (check for any holes/uneven surfaces before using) it is a good idea to try and get in an interval session, once every week or so.

What I mean by this is having a watch on you (or getting a lovely friend to help you) and asking your horse to canter for 30 seconds at a time, with 2 or 3 minute gaps in between each canter.

Make sure you work your horse evenly on both reins.

As your horse gets fitter, you can increase the length of time cantering or decrease the ‘resting time’ in between each canter.

Make sure you don’t overdo it – you want to keep it fun!

  1. Hills, hills and more hills

There is nothing better for building up muscle in the right places and increasing your horse’s stamina than riding them up and down hills.

It has the added bonus that hilly rides are normally quite scenic – so enjoy the views!

If your horse is fit enough, and depending on the gradient of the hill, you can trot and canter them up the hills.

I would stick to walk (or trot if your horse is very balanced) downhill though.

If you can, making sure that your horse walks downhill in an outline, using his back end properly, increases the benefit!

  1. Keep an eye on the weight of your steed

It may sound obvious, but a horse that is carrying more weight than it needs to will be less fit.

Sid can live off air, and I really notice the sluggishness when he creeps over to the heavier side of his optimum weight.

Additional weight to carry means an extra strain on their heart, lungs and joints. Ultimately, it could result in long-term health problems.

If you are not sure what the optimum weight for your horse is, I go by this general rule – you should be able to feel their ribs, but not see them.

Conversely, if your horse is underweight they will not necessarily have as much energy as is required for eventing and repeated exercise could see them drop off even further.

I would recommend speaking to an equine nutritionist and/or a vet if your horse appears underweight.

  1. Make a plan and stick to it!

Quite often horses that lack fitness do so because they are not in any kind of routine/exercise regime.

It is all too easy to decide not to ride on a gloomy winter’s eve or after a long day at school.

If there is a set plan for your horse, it helps keep you motivated and ensures that your horse gets exercised consistently.

It can also help you to identify if your horse is getting a varied workload or not.

For instance, a good mix of work for your horse could involve lunging, pole-work, schooling, hacking and jumping.

This helps to avoid your horse getting sour or bored – which they might do if they do the same thing day in, day out.

I mean, can you imagine going to school every weekday for years, studying Maths for every lesson?!

  1. Focus on quality, not quantity

For me, I would rather Sid does 30 minutes of really athletic, collected work in the school than 45 minutes of tanking around on the forehand.

Fitness includes working correctly and developing the right muscles so that he can use his body properly.

Sid can do 60 minutes of intensive work without using his hind or engaging through his back and not be tired – but that doesn’t mean he is fit.

If I ask him to work properly and really power through from behind, he might tire after 20 minutes. But to me, that is a much better workout for him.

Similarly, I don’t drill him over jumps. We tend to do grid-work to encourage him to snap up, but the set of jumps changes each time to keep his mind active.

If he jumps well, we call it a day before he gets tired. Of course, if he is acting up and not concentrating we may do a few more, to ensure he finishes on a good note.

Generally, it’s not about how high he jumped – it is about how well he jumped.

You can also follow Hannah and Sid on social media at :

Instagram: @hannahcraft2711 or @sidgoeseventing

Read their other adventures here…

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