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Physical Transformations & Conditioning the Out-of-Shape Horse

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

Stage Success (Gordon)

We’ve got a whole new bunch of characters at the farm who are just beginning their training, and as usual, they all come from different backgrounds. What ties a lot of them together is that they haven’t been in work for quite a while, so they have very little physical fitness. We thought we would show a time lapsed physical transformation for a few of our newest herd members, and share some of our secrets about how to appropriately condition a horse that is extremely out of shape. 

We chose three very different horses to focus on for this project, so I’ll start with a little background on each. Their histories and physical conformation play into how I structure their fitness and training programs, and it gives us a jumping off point for the beginning of the training process.

Staged Success (Gordon) is a 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding who raced a whopping 50 times, over four years total (2009-2012), earning only $65,064. He was then retrained by Race2Ring, an organization in North Carolina, and adopted out and ridden with some regularity. He has not been ridden in some years, however, and while he is in good flesh, he does not have any muscle tone whatsoever.

This history tells us that he was at one point very fit indeed, and will have a base layer of conditioning that will exceed his peers, which will make it easier to get him back into work. Thoroughbreds that have raced are also generally easier to bring back into work, as they have an incredible work ethic, and they do not tire easily physically or mentally. In addition, he is well put together and short coupled, which will make it easier for him to gain the right muscles in the right way.

Marigold is a 7-year-old Standardbred mare, who did not race. She has been started under saddle, but not worked with great regularity at any one point. She did have some training at some point in her life that was less than kind, and reportedly has some understandable resentments on the ground. She is a very large mare, and has a little bit of a long back, which will both contribute to her taking a longer time to gain fitness and conditioning. A larger horse will always take a longer time to be able to do the same tasks, simply because they have to carry a bigger load!

Marigold is in good health, as you can see, but she also has almost no topline or strength in her hind end, which will mean her fitness program will include a little more hill work than her peers. This, combined with her lack of implicit trust in humans, will mean that she will spend slightly more time with groundwork and exercise without a rider before we get right into sitting on her back.

Trixie is a 3-year-old mare, who is at best guest a Quarter Horse and Paint cross. She is unstarted due to her age, and looks about how you would expect a young horse to look after just hanging out in a field with her buddies. She has obviously had no fitness or prior conditioning other than the activities she does in the field.

While Trixie is too young to be ridden with much regularity, we thought we would include her in the experiment, as even doing ground work and exercise on the lunge for a a few days a week over a few months can have a profound effect upon their physique, and their bodies really change. She will be started under saddle, but otherwise just asked to exercise and learn balance in different gaits without a rider.


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