A horse’s fitness level plays a major role in their success.
“Whether you are bringing your horse back from an injury or legging him up from a break, the process of getting your horse ready to compete sets the tone for the entire season,” says eleven-time NFR qualifier, Martha Josey.
Trying to make a run before a horse is in shape can greatly increase their risk for injury. Getting a horse back into shape is serious business and shouldn’t be taken lightly. A strict exercise schedule and the right supplements can help ensure a strong comeback!
Prior to starting a horse’s exercise program, horse owners are wise to go over their feed program first. As a horse’s workload increases, they may need more feed. This is an ideal time to add in a supplement that may help them bounce back after time off.
Exceed 6-Way provides all-in-one support that covers joints, digestion, blood flow, hooves, hair, coat, and important gastric support. Martha believes Exceed 6-Way has been a staple in her barrel program, “Exceed 6-Way is my go-to for all horses in training and competition. You can see the difference it makes in overall health.”
Ideal fitness can take 45-60 days of riding if a horse has been off for two months or longer.
“I typically start with hand walking if horses are coming back from significant injuries. If they are just coming back from a break, I start riding them at just a walk for the first few days,” explains Martha.
Walking may not seem like a step to getting a horse in shape, but it is crucial, as it helps to loosen them up. Riders should always allow time for five to ten minutes of walking, prior to trotting (at home or at shows). Martha believes walking helps horses, not only physically, but mentally, as well. After about four to five days of walking, riders can add trotting.
“If I am in a big arena, I like to do a nice, easy trot in each direction for about two laps. About five minutes, total.” Martha stresses not to jump into long trotting until after the first two weeks and to continue increasing trotting time by five minutes, each week.
Depending on how long a horse has had off, they should not begin loping until after two weeks of trotting, ideally. In week three, riders should add five minutes of loping in nice, big circles. By week four, a horse should be at fifteen minutes of trotting and ten minutes loping.
Martha says, “You can walk the pattern every day, but I will not trot around the barrels until about week three or four.”
Once Martha has her horses in moderate shape, she will sometimes ride them twice in one day, “Horses are athletes, and, just like in training for other sports, they can practice in the AM and PM. If my competition goal date is approaching, I will add in some extra rides.”
When five weeks approach, riders can add some straight sprints and rollbacks. They can also lope large to small circles, in order to start preparing a horse for abrupt moves in the pattern. At six weeks, with a Veterinarian's permission (if recovering from an injury), a horse may begin to fast-lope some patterns. On week seven, riders can make a smooth run through. And, in eight weeks (56 days), riders and their horses are ready to return to competition. While two months may seem like a long time to allow for legging-up, the extra time will increase a horse’s fitness level. Getting a horse in the best shape possible will make sure that they return to winning and stay winning!
Martha Josey is a WPRA, AQHA and NBHA World Champion and has continued her legendary career over the years with her 3x AQHA World Champion Calf Roping husband, R.E. Josey. Combining their tremendous love of rodeo with an extensive training and teaching program, the Josey’s have hosted clinics and schools specializing in Barrel Racing, Horsemanship and Calf Roping at their equally famous Josey Ranch in Marshall, Texas and across the nation since 1967.