Maximizing Your Horses Performance Through Fitness and Conditioning

Having a horse that is in top physical condition is essential for any equestrian. Whether you are a competitive or recreational rider, having a horse that is fit and conditioned will help them better perform and be more comfortable during rides. Improving your horses overall fitness and conditioning can be a difficult task, but with the right knowledge and resources, you can make sure your horse is in peak physical condition.

The first step in improving your horses fitness and conditioning is to assess their current level of fitness. This can be done by observing their body condition, energy level, and overall performance levels. Once you have an understanding of your horses current level of fitness, you can create a conditioning program that is tailored to their needs.

Your conditioning program should include a combination of exercise, nutrition, and rest. Exercise is key to helping your horse build strength, stamina, and flexibility. You should develop a program that gradually increases the intensity and duration of exercise as your horses fitness levels improve. Additionally, you should make sure your horse has access to proper nutrition, which will help fuel their exercise and help them recover from their workouts. Finally, make sure your horse gets enough rest and recovery time after each workout.

In addition to exercise and nutrition, you should also make sure your horse gets regular veterinary care and hoof care. Regular check-ups will help identify any potential health issues that could affect your horses performance. Additionally, regular hoof care will help keep your horses feet healthy, which is essential for any horse.

Improving your horses fitness and conditioning requires a commitment of time and resources, but the rewards are worth it. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure your horse is in peak physical condition and ready to perform at its best.

How do i ride my horse without high stamina exhaust?

There was an information on the screen that when i press X in rhythm my horse will not lose (so much) stamina. But it doesn’t work really.

I press x in the rythm of my horses hooves and rarely run out of stamina at all. I even managed to do that challenge where you have to ride from Strawberry to Saint Denis in 9 minutes without using any stimulant.

But I do get where you’re coming from, I‘ve seen videos of people running out of stamina way faster than I do. Idk what I‘m doing differently

Kinda like a car, just stop tapping for like three seconds, and your horse will keep the pace without losing stamina for like three seconds before spurring it on again.

Click in L3/LS every once and a while (there is a cooldown). It replenishes the horse’s stamina; he likes it when you say nice things to him.

Now, weirdly you can do this while running your horse to death. You can keep aaaaaaalmost killing him, telling him everything is going to be okay, and then…continue running him to death. His stamina won’t be able to fully empty before the compliment bonuses replenishes what was lost in the interval.

Though probably works better with some horses/saddles than others, since that affects how quickly it depletes.

This is all assuming he’s at level 4 bonding. Soothing your horse does next to nothing when you’re below level 4 bonding. Plus having a better saddle with less stamina drain is important. You can’t run forever without a good saddle.

Effects of pre-conditioning on behavior and physiology of horses during a standardised learning task

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Kate Fenner

School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

Rafael Freire

School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

Petra Buckley

School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia


Rein tension is used to apply pressure to control both ridden and unridden horses. The pressure is delivered by equipment such as the bit, which may restrict voluntary movement and cause changes in behavior and physiology. Managing the effects of such pressure on arousal level and behavioral indicators will optimise horse learning outcomes. This study examined the effect of training horses to turn away from bit pressure on cardiac outcomes and behavior (including responsiveness) over the course of eight trials in a standardised learning task. The experimental procedure consisted of a resting phase, treatment/control phase, standardised learning trials requiring the horses (n = 68) to step backwards in response to bit pressure and a recovery phase. As expected, heart rate increased ( = 0.028) when the handler applied rein tension during the treatment phase. The amount of rein tension required to elicit a response during treatment was higher on the left than the right rein ( = 0.009). Total rein tension required for trials reduced ( < 0.001) as they progressed, as did time taken ( < 0.001) and steps taken ( < 0.001). The incidence of head tossing decreased ( = 0.015) with the progression of the trials and was higher ( = 0.018) for the control horses than the treated horses. These results suggest that preparing the horses for the lesson and slightly raising their arousal levels, improved learning outcomes.


Training can be stressful for horses but little is known about how best to prepare them for effective learning. Some riders currently prepare their horses to be ridden by chasing them around the round pen [ ] and lunging [ ]. Unfortunately, these exercises are designed to tire, rather than to mentally engage, the horse and can possibly therefore compromise learning from the outset of the lesson. Human studies reveal that cognitive impairment results from both anxiety-induced increases in arousal level and exercise-induced fatigue [ ]. While exercise-induced fatigue has been reported to produce both positive and detrimental cognitive effects [ ], it is known that chasing the horse should always be avoided [ ]. Inducing fear prior to learning is not commensurate with good training but is encouraged by some of the world’s most popular trainers [ ].

Learning theory describes how animals absorb, process and retain information through stimulus-response-reinforcement chains [ , ], together with the emotional and environmental factors that influence this [ ]. Many horse trainers and equestrian coaches are unaware of how horses learn or of the mechanisms that underpin positive and negative reinforcement and punishment [ ]. This knowledge gap compromises coaches’ ability to study the emergent equitation science literature and to convey information about learning theory and training to students and horse owners [ ].

Riders and handlers need to understand the relationship between distress and cognition, to recognise events that horses may find stressful and to identify behavioral responses that suggest that a horse is overly emotional. These clues tell trainers when to reduce stressors in training. Emotional reactivity refers to physiological, chemical and behavioral changes resulting from so-called emotional stimulation [ ]. Such stimulation can arise from a variety of novel or otherwise potentially frightening stimuli in the horse’s environment. We know that emotionally reactive horses can be difficult to handle [ ] and horse-human relationships improve when the horses’ emotional reactivity is minimized [ ]. Repeated exposure to increases in emotional level impairs cognitive function [ ]. However, any such impairment is attenuated when the stressor is predictable [ ]. The opposite of a highly emotionally reactive horse may be one that is either inherently relaxed, has been systemically desensitized to pressure, or may even be in a state of learned helplessness as a result [ ]. Learned helplessness refers to a state where the horse has repeatedly been unable to escape aversive stimuli, such as bit or leg pressure, and eventually simply stops trialling any behaviors in an attempt to do so [ ].

Any apparatus that applies pressure or constrains a horse’s movement has the potential to compromise welfare [ ]. In equitation, increases in rein tension primarily provide directional and deceleration cues from the handler or rider to the horse and, secondly, modify the head and neck position [ ]. Reins tension converts to pressure on various parts of the horses’ mouth and face and the timely release of this pressure communicates to the horse that it has made the correct response. This process is known as negative reinforcement, which is the removal of aversive stimuli to reward a desired response [ ]. So, it is recommended that rein tension be applied minimally and consistently and as appropriate to the task. For effective and humane negative reinforcement, pressure-release relies on good timing and consistency [ ]. Inconsistency and delays in timing may inadvertently punish the horse, untrain established responses and impede the acquisition of desirable ones [ ].

For most horses, accommodating the bit is uneventful and they become habituated to having the bit in their mouth [ ]. While habituation to the presence of the bit is desirable, habituation to additional bit pressure from rein use compromises effective training because it means that horses no longer respond to light pressure. This can lead to the need for excessive rein use and severe bits [ ] that can threaten horse welfare. Mean rein tension ranges have been reported between 3 to 20 N by Heleski, McGreevy, Kaiser, Lavagnino, Tans, Bello and Clayton [ ], but higher ranges of 40 to 75 N have also been reported [ , ]. To avoid habituation to bit pressure and assure animal welfare, rein tensions used in training and competition should be kept to a minimum.

Previous rein tension studies have described the role rein cues play in training horses to slow down [ ] and avoid bit pressure [ ] but none have reported the physiological and behavioral responses that accompany increased rein tension during a standardised learning task. Physiological parameters, such as heart rate, in combination with behavioral scoring may help to reveal the complexity of equine responses to bit pressure. Such responses may have important implications for welfare during training and competition [ ]. Equally, some physiological and behavioral responses are of importance to competitors since they may compromise performances.

The aim of this study was to determine the effect of a pre-conditioning exercise, namely giving to bit pressure, on arousal level (measured by heart rate and behavior) and learning outcomes (measured by rein tension, time, step number and behavior) of horses. The pre-conditioning treatment was designed to the horse with the lesson. The purpose of the treatment was to achieve a moderately elevated, stable heart rate that was maintained throughout the pre-conditioning and subsequent trials, followed by a return to resting levels at the conclusion of the trial phase. It was hypothesized that the pre-conditioning would prepare the horses to respond appropriately to bit pressure and improve their performance in the trials that immediately followed.

Materials and methods

The protocol and conduct of this study were approved by the Charles Sturt University Animal Care and Ethics Committee, New South Wales, Australia (ACEC protocol number 14/030).

Selection of horses

Eligible horses were selected from a population of riding horses. Most of the selected horses had been previously been taught to back-up from pressure on the nose with a head collar, two reins together from the ground or saddle, voice cues as well as other cues, such as tapping on the forelegs or chest. However all of them were naive to backing from rein tension from a single rein in the absence of all other signals. Horses were randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group, using an Excel generated randomization spreadsheet. They were recreational, pleasure riding or companion horses, and were not engaged in high-level competition. Horses that were active in adult riding club, pony club, trail riding, and riding school activities and that were habituated to wearing a girth and a bridle with a simple snaffle bit were eligible for inclusion.

Sixty-eight horses of various breeds were selected for the study. They comprised 35 geldings, 4 stallions and 29 mares. Horses had mixed training histories, ranging from a basic start to many years of consistent training (mean duration of training 3.1 ± 2.3 years). They were between 94.5 cm (9.3 hh) and 174.8 cm (17.2 hh) in height with a mean height of 149.3 ± 15.24 cm (14.3 ± 1.2 hh), and were aged from 2 to 25 years (mean age 9.8 ± 6.1 years). Sixty-two of the horses were housed in paddocks full-time, while six occasionally spent either the day or the night in a stable.

Data collection

Data collection took place in an arena or property that was familiar to each horse. Fenced arenas were used where available and a safe, flat, fenced area, familiar to the horses, was chosen if no arena was available.

Immediately prior to data collection, each horse was fitted with a Centaur Trainology Rein Tension Device (Centaur Consulting, Vijverhof 27, 3734 DB Den Dolder, The Netherlands) attached to a full-cheek snaffle bit, held in place by an open bridle with no throatlatch, brow band or noseband. A webbing head collar was fitted underneath the bridle and leather reins were connected to the bit via the rein tension device. A surcingle was fastened on each horse and a Polar heart rate monitor (RS800CX) was attached with electrode pads placed under the surcingle with one behind the left elbow and the other at the withers. Video recordings were taken for each horse for the entire duration of the procedure. A Sony HDR-PJ790 camera (Sony Corporation of America, Sony Drive, Park Ridge, NJ 07656, USA), placed 10 m from the experimental area, was panned horizontally as the horse moved between experimental phases (see ). Baseline and recovery phases took place in the same area, approximately 10m from the test corridor. Each of the four experimental phases was recorded, resulting in a total of approximately 30 minutes of footage per horse.

The passage was 5 m x 1.5 m. The camera was 10 m from the passage and turned as the horse moved between phases.

Behavior observations

A behavioral observation sheet was developed for this study (see ). Behavior was counted and coded using the Observer XT (Noldus Information Technoloty bv, Wageningen, The Netherlands, v11.5, 2013). A possible limitation of this study is that the person scoring the observer was not blinded to the treatments. The videos were divided into resting, treatment/control, trials and recovery phases and all of the trial phases were scored initially, followed by the recovery, resting and finally the treatment phases. In addition, a second person also scored a random sample of 20 videos that matched the initial findings. It was concluded that this resulted in a very low risk of bias. An improvement in future studies could be to have the all scoring completed by a person blinded to treatment.

Heart rate

Horse heart rate was recorded at one-second intervals for the entire experimental period, starting with the resting phase and finishing when the recovery phase was completed. The data were stored in the Polar unit and later downloaded to the Polar Equine Pro Trainer 5 software for analysis.

Rein tension

Rein tension data, expressed in Newtons (N), were sampled at a rate of 100 Hz with a resolution of 21.6 +/- 1.8 Newton/Bits. This resulted in a large number of readings per horse from which one reading per second was taken for the purposes of this analysis. This was done by extracting each of the one hundredth readings, giving one reading per second. The rein tension monitors were calibrated at the start of each testing day. The data were live-streamed to a Windows based Hewlett Packard computer (HP Inc., 1501 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA) within the testing area.

Resting phase

The horse was led from the stable block to the experimental area, using a webbing head collar and lead rope. The horse was bridled with rein tension monitors linking the reins to the bit and the reins were placed over the horse’s neck. The video recorder and heart rate monitor were activated and the resting phase began. The handler loosely held the horse by a lead rope for 5 minutes.

Treatment and control phase

The 31 horses allocated to the treatment group were pre-conditioned with a negatively reinforced exercise known as ‘give-to-the-bit’ [ ], a simple pressure-release activity that was repeated for 8 minutes. Pilot trials revealed that 8 minutes of treatment was optimal for horses to learn the lesson without becoming fatigued or restless. This involved the handler standing on one side of the horse, 50cm from the neck, facing the horse and positioned midway between the nose and shoulder, and applying tension to one rein, then releasing the tension when the horse turned its head to the side, laterally towards the handler, i. e., away from the pressure of the bit. Lateral movement, of more than 10cm, constituted a response and rein tension was released. If the horse did not move, lateral tension was gradually increased to the point that movement was induced. The horse was cued to give to pressure three times on one side and then the handler moved to the other side of the horse to repeat the exercise. Release of pressure was the only reinforcement used, the horses were not verbally praised or touched by the handler. The horse remained standing still during the treatment, with only lateral movement of the head and neck. Applying tension to one rein can signal the horse to move laterally. Horses that did move in the initial stages of treatment, stepped forwards. The average duration of each pre-conditioning treatment was 30 seconds per side.

Control horses ( = 37) were held for 8 minutes with the handler moving to the left and right side every minute, mimicking the movement of the handler in the treatment.

Trial phase

Immediately upon completion of the treatment and control phase, each horse was given to a different, trial handler (blinded to treatment allocation) and then led through the test corridor (5 m x 1.5 m) until the front feet were over the demarcated start line. The test corridor was 5 metres in length, marked with bollards at either end and designated by a fence and poles on the ground (See ) to guide movement in a straight line. The fence was used to prevent horses moving their hindquarters to the right when only one rein, in the first trial the left rein, was first picked up. The handler applied tension on the left rein in a caudal direction, cueing the horse to step backwards. When the horse stepped back, with any foot, all pressure was released. If the horse did not step backwards, rein tension was steadily increased until a step was taken. This procedure was repeated until the horse stepped out of the five-metre test corridor with the front feet.

The horse was then led, using only the lead rope attached to the head collar, around to the other end of the test corridor, up through the corridor and the handler halted the horse with the front feet beyond the start line, outside the corridor. The horse was led forwards and halted using the lead rope attached to the head collar and rein tension was not applied until the horse was halted and ready to begin the trial. The handler then moved to the right side of the horse and applied slight caudal tension on the right rein only, increasing tension steadily, if necessary, until the horse took a step backwards. As soon as the horse stepped back, the rein tension was released and the process repeated until the horse had exited the corridor with the front feet. Trials alternated between the left and right rein for a total of eight trials, beginning on the left, with four trials performed on each rein.

Recovery phase

The horse was held via a loose lead rope connected to the head collar for 5 minutes while recovery heart rate, heart rate variability and behavior were monitored.

Statistical analysis

A split plot experimental design was used in which horses from both treatment and control groups received eight trials. Heart rate, rein tension, time and steps were compared using a mixed model General Mixed Model with trial (8 trials in total), treatment (treated or control) and side (left or right) as factors and horse identity as a random effect (REML command, GenstatTM, 17 edition, VSN International Ltd, Waterhouse Street, Hemel Hempstead, UK). Prior to undertaking the REML analysis, the distribution of the data was visually inspected and tested for normality using a Shapiro-Wilk test. As all tests yielded a P>0.1, it was deemed that the data met assumptions for parametric analysis. Only the treatment. trial interaction was included in the final models. A visual inspection of the Polar heart rate data revealed some Type 1 errors [single transient spikes or troughs with great deviation from the surrounding data [ ]] and corrections were made using the ‘low’ filter within the Polar software. Data were missing for the recovery phase of two horses.

The behavioral observation analysis used a generalised linear mixed model with binomial distribution for the number of events. A generalised model was used because behavioural elements were either seen/ not seen at each sampling point. Horse was used as a random effect and the probability of the behavioral event, as a proportion of the total number of observations, was reported.

Behavioral observation

As the trials progressed, horses tossed their heads significantly less frequently ( = 0.015). For both treatment and control groups, head tossing was significantly more frequent during the trial phase of the experiment than in any other phase ( < 0.001) and control horses tossed their heads significantly more ( = 0.018) than treated horses. Among the treated horses, 71 per cent tossed their heads compared with 89 per cent of control horses. The right hand trials elicited more head tossing than the left hand trials for both the control and treated horses (see ). Horses did not toss their heads when led forward using the head collar and lead rope. All head tossing observed occurred when tension was being applied to the reins.

Trials 1, 3, 5 and 7 – left rein, trials 2, 4, 6 and 8 – right rein. Treated horses = 23, control horses = 33.

The number of times the horses contacted the handler varied significantly (GLMM, F = 42.56, < 0.001) over the different phases of the experiment, with the horses contacting the handler more frequently in the resting and recovery phases than in the treatment phase. The frequency of this behavioral response was not significantly different between the treated and control allocated horses (GLMM, F = 0.91, = 0.343).

Only fourteen horses, across both the treatment and control groups displayed pawing behavior, making analysis of this trait meaningless. The same reservations held for yawning, where only 58 events occurred. Analysis of ‘chewing on the bit’ failed to converge, as only eighteen horses displayed the behavior.

Heart rate analysis

Treated horses had significantly higher heart rates during the treatment phase than the control horses (GLM, F = 5.01, = 0.028). While a significant difference was found in heart rate across the trials (1–8) of individual horses (REML, F = 4.07, < 0.001), this difference was not significant between the left (Trials 1, 3, 5 and 7) and the right sides (Trials 2, 4, 6 and 8) (REML, F = 0.15, = 0.281) nor between the treated and control horses (RML, F = 1.30, = 0.246) (see ). During the recovery phase, both the treated and control group horses’ heart rates returned to their pre-trial resting rates (see ).

Treated horses had significantly higher heart rates during the Treatment phase ( = 0.028).

Rein tension analysis

Both total, the sum of each rein tension measurement taken per second during the trial, and mean rein tension per trial were analysed because the latency to complete each trial varied greatly. For comparative purposes in the current study, a total figure was considered more useful than the mean as it more faithfully represented the tension applied by the handler.

A significant difference between the mean rein tension required on the left and right reins was found during the treatment phase ( – test: = 2.775, = 0.009). Significantly more tension was required to elicit responses on the left rein (see ).

No significant difference in mean rein tension was found over the trials for each individual horse (REML, F = 0.92, = 0.481) (see ).

No significant differences were found between the trials (REML, = 0.481) or between the treated and control groups (REML, = 0.349).

A significant difference was found in the total rein tension exerted by the handler across the trials (REML, F = 6.10, < 0.001). As the trials progressed, horses required less rein tension to back the 5 metres through the test corridor (see ).

Significant differences found between the trials (REML, < 0.001) but not between the treated and control groups (REML, = 0.146) or between the left and right reins (REML, = 0.716).

For both treated and control horses, there was a significant decrease in the number of rein tension events across all trials ( < 0.001), a slowly declining trend was detected from the following figures (Trial 1 = 43, Trial 2 = 31, Trial 3 = 30, Trial 4 = 29, Trial 5 = 26, Trial 6 = 24, Trial 7 = 25 and Trial 8 = 23 rein tension events) (see ). There was no significant difference in the mean number of rein tension events between the treatment and control groups ( = 0.294) during the trials.

Time and steps

Time for each trial was measured from the first step taken by the horse at the start of the corridor until the horse finally exited the corridor. The number of steps the horse took with the front feet were counted while the horse reversed along the 5m corridor. Throughout the series of eight trials, all horses travelled through the test corridor faster in subsequent trials (REML, F = 41.67, < 0.001; ). However, no significant difference in time taken was found between the treated and control groups (REML, F = 0.77, = 0.380; ).

Significant differences were found between the trials (REML, < 0.001) but not between the treated and control groups (REML, = 0.380).

The number of steps taken by each horse decreased as the trials progressed (REML, F = 10.65, < 0.001; ), but there were no significant differences between the treatment and control allocated horses (REML, F = 6.35, = 0.501; ). There was a significant difference between the left and right sides (F = 0.27, < 0.001), with horses taking fewer steps when being handled on the right than the left side (see ).

Significant differences were found between the trials (REML, < 0.001) but not between the treated and control groups (REML, = 0.501). Significant differences were also found between the left (Trials 1, 3, 5 and 7) and right (Trials 2, 4, 6 and8) sides (REML, < 0.001).


To facilitate the production of safe riding horses, training that is consistent and adheres to learning theory is required [ ]. Ideally, in any given lesson, the horse should learn the lesson in the fastest possible time with the least amount of associated stress, to produce a calm response. Developing easily accessible tools to assess the emotional state and arousal level [ ] of the horse should optimize training, improve welfare and reduce wastage. An increase in heart rate can indicate increased arousal [ ] as can behavioral parameters such as head tossing that, arguably, are easier to observe. This, together with appropriate reinforcement schedules (quantified by the use of rein tension meters to monitor the use of bit pressure and, more importantly, the release of such pressure) will help to define best practice in horse training.

In the current study, as the trials of the standardised learning task progressed, horses optimised their responses in several ways. They took fewer steps to complete the 5 m transit for each trial, indicating that they were increasing their stride length in each trial. They also completed the trials more quickly and with less rein pressure. Head tossing also reduced in a stepwise manner as the trials progressed, suggesting a reduction in stress. However, this was not reflected in the cardiac responses until the recovery phase. Head tossing occurred when rein tension was applied during the trials and the treated horses tossed their heads significantly less than the control horses. Pre-conditioning the horses to respond to rein tension resulted in fewer head tossing incidents during the trials phase of the lesson. Head tossing is seen as a conflict behavior that reduces perceived rideability and positive temperament traits in horses [ ].

Effective use of negative reinforcement depends on timing the release of the applied pressure, and the difference between a and an trainer manifests chiefly in that ability. As McLean [ ] argues, accurate timing of reinforcements should not only improve both training efficiency and performance by reducing the occurrence of conflict behaviors but also reduce horse wastage and improve welfare. The current findings, showing a significant reduction in the number of times horses tossed their heads as the trials progressed, indicate that horses learnt from the pre-conditioning exercise and that timing of the release was effective.

This study further supports the findings of others that bit pressure is aversive to horses. Christensen, Zharkikh, Antoine and Malmkvist [ ] showed that horses voluntarily tolerated tensions of up to 11 N but did not habituate to greater tensions. In the current study, the required rein tensions steadily declined over the course of the eight trials suggests that, instead of habituating to bit pressure, the horses learned to avoid it. König Von Borstel and Glißman [ ] and Heleski et al. [ ] reported mean rein tension ranges between 9.1 ± 1.6 N and 21.7 ± 1.3 N and 3 to 20 N, respectively. These values correspond to the tensions recorded in the current study for the treatment and trials. The values in the present study were lower than those published by Clayton, Singleton, Lanovaz and Cloud [ ] and Preuschoft, Witte, Recknagel, Bar, Lesch and Wuthrich [ ] who reported ranges of 40 to 75 N. As the learning trials progressed, the mean required rein tension decreased. Similarly, the number of rein tension events decreased across trials, demonstrating that horses responded swiftly to the onset of pressure. This indicates that regardless of treatment, the horses did not habituate to pressure, but rather responded sooner to lighter pressure applied by the handler. This confirms that the handler’s pressure-release was providing negative reinforcement for the required operant response.

A few studies have examined rein tension at different gaits in ridden horses [[ ]; [ ]; [ ]; [ ]], while another measured tensions applied to a mechanical horse [ ]. Only one study has investigated tensions required for learning a new lesson [ ]. This showed that higher rein tensions were required for horses being long-reined or driven from the ground (using long lines connected to the bit) through a set pattern, than those being ridden through the same pattern. However, the authors pointed out that the long-reined horses may not have been familiar with this exercise and proposed that this may have accounted for the higher tensions required. While it is probable that long-reining itself does require more tension than riding, given the weight and length of the rein, resulting in a delayed and partial release of tension at best, it would be illuminating to repeat that study over an extend period to see if required rein tension reduced as the lesson was learned.

In a recent study of negative reinforcement by Ahrendt, Labouriau, Malmkvist, Nicol and Christensen [ ] horses showed a significant decrease in the pressure required to complete each trial; in this case, the operant task was to step laterally from pressure applied to the hindquarter. Interestingly, these researchers used horses that were completely naïve to the exercise but still found significant laterality in the results, with more pressure being required on the right side of the horse. It was thought that this could be due to the position of the experimenter, who used the right hand to apply the pressure to both sides of the horse. The horses in the current study required more pressure on the left rein than the right during treatment which may be the result of habituation to bit pressure prior to the study or an inherent bias.

For the current study, it was decided not to randomize the order of the left and right trials, although it may useful to do so in future work. While the horses were all well-handled, horses are conventionally handled more on the left from the ground than the right [ ]. The decision not to randomize the trial order was taken after carrying out a pilot trial with a small number of horses in which rein tension and heart rate parameters were monitored. This showed that horses that began trials on the right side required considerably higher rein tensions and had higher heart rates than their counter-parts beginning on the left rein. Ahrendt et al. [ ] did randomize sides in their study but nevertheless found more pressure was required on the right side of the horse to obtain the desired response and concluded that learning was not transferred from one side to the other.

Interestingly, during treatment in the current study, horses required significantly less tension on the right to respond appropriately in the simple pressure-release task of give-to-the-bit. Our findings suggest that this may be the result of the horses trialling the newly learned give-to-the-bit behavior more on the right than the left. This could result in horses learning the initial give-to-the-bit lesson, on the right, with less pressure being required initially but then more pressure being requiring when being cued to move backwards from a stimulus with caudal, rather than lateral, rein tension [ ]. As most experienced horses generally have had more handling on the left [ ], the current cohort may reflect an acquired decrease in sensitivity to the left rein, as found during the treatment phase of the experiment.

The trialling of the newly learned behavior trained here may not occur to the same extent in a less formal training situation. Under non-experimental conditions, where the variables would not have to be isolated and measured, the handler could simplify the lesson by adding another form of reinforcement. This would possibly be positive reinforcement for each spontaneous step back or another form of negative reinforcement such as placing a hand on the horse’s chest, tapping lightly on the cannon bone with a dressage whip, moving in front of the horse or verbally cueing the horse to move back. Future studies could use an alternative follow-up lesson, such as the horse learning to load on to a trailer [ ], to laterally yield the hindquarters using an algometer [ ] or to walk over a bridge or tarpaulin. By not relying on bit pressure, these exercises would be significantly different from the treatment task. It would also be interesting to introduce other possible means of engaging the horse with alternative pressure-release exercises, such as head lowering from a halter [ ] or a hindquarter yielding exercise.

Rietmann et al. [ ] used a ground-work exercise (involving backing-up) that was similar to the current study, but considerably more challenging as the horses had to back-up for a full three minutes and various forms of reinforcement were used. Unfortunately, mixing positive, secondary positive and negative reinforcement makes the reinforcement schedule impossible to quantify and no attempt was made to do so. Rietmann et al. [ ] reported that resting mean heart rates increased by 166 per cent with the initial backwards-walking exercise and that these rates came down to 85 per cent after some backing training was completed. However, such results are in stark contrast to the results of the current study, where mean heart rate rose by only 16 percent between the baseline collection period and the backing-up exercise. Rietmann et al. [ ] suggest that the decrease they observed after training was the result of the horses now recognizing the predictability of the environment and learning that the stressor, the pressure from the handler, was predictable and controllable. Their horses walked backwards for a full three minutes, whereas those in the current study had to back-up for only 5 metres before walking forwards and around through the corridor again, to start the next trial. This more timely reward in the release of pressure may have improved learning outcomes, as the decrease in parameters including time, rein tension required, head tossing and steps taken indicate. The decrease in head tossing incidents suggests that horses are less stressed when given a pre-conditioning exercise in preparation for the lesson. Future research to accurately define the point at which the horse is optimally aroused for a given task should be considered a priority [ ]. This optimal arousal state could be designated .

The collection of benchmark rein tension data is an important step towards improving horse welfare through trainer, coach and rider education. A quantitative definition of appropriate or ideal ‘contact’ and an understanding of how to correctly apply negative reinforcement so that horses become more responsive to pressure over time instead of desensitized to it will improve horse welfare. Whilst trainers, coaches and riders can all benefit from being made more aware of tension and also be incentivised to reduce overall rein tension over time [ ], specifically targeting coaches and trainers has the potential to disseminate information widely and rapidly given their extension capacity.


A simple pre-conditioning pressure-release exercise was used to engage the horses in an operant locomotory task. The exercise significantly increased heart rate, indicative of a moderate increase in arousal. Both the treated and control horses had similarly raised heart rates during the trials and both returned to baseline rates immediately following the trials. Both groups learned to avoid bit pressure by stepping back with longer strides and moving more quickly across the course of the trials. The treated horses exhibited significantly less head tossing than their untreated counterparts during the trial phase of the experiment. This suggests that engaging the horse prior to training may lay the foundation for a better learning experience.


Grateful thanks are extended to the following people: Ms Dione Sloane for horse handling, Dr Mick O’Neil for assistance with statistics and Dr Michelle Hyde for her assistance with the writing of the article. Andrew McLean is thanked for advice on the experimental design.

Funding Statement

Author Kate Fenner prior to being affiliated with Kandoo Equine. Kate Fenner’s affiliation during the time of the study was Charles Sturt University. Kandoo Equine it provides Kate Fenner a salary. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section. Kandoo Equine played no part in the study. During the time of the study, the authors received no specific funding.

Equestrian expertise affecting physical fitness, body compositions, lactate, heart rate and calorie consumption of elite horse riding players

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Horse riding (HR) is a sport harmonized with rider and horse. HR is renowned as an effective sport for young and old women and men. There is rare study regarding comparison between elite horse riders and amateurs. We aimed to investigate comprehensive ranges of parameters such as change of lactate, heart rate, calorie, VO2max, skeletal muscle mass, body water, body fat, etc between amateurs and professionals to emphasize HR not only as a sport training but also as a therapeutic aspect. We performed 3 experiments for comparing physical fitness, body compositions, lactate value, heart rate and calorie consumption change before and after riding between amateurs and elites. Around 3 yr riding experienced elites are preeminent at balance capability compared to 1 yr riding experienced amateurs. During 18 min horse riding, skeletal muscle mass and body fat were interestingly increased and decreased, respectively. Lactate response was more sensitive in elites rather than amateurs and its recovery was reversely reacted. Exercise intensity estimated from heart rate was significantly higher in elites ( <0.05). The similar pattern of calorie consumption during riding between amateurs and elites was shown. Horse riding possibly induces various physiological (muscle strength, balance, oxidative capability, flexibility, and metabolic control) changes within body and is thus highly recommended as combined exercise for women, children, and aged as therapeutic and leisure sport activity.


Horse riding (HR) is a particular sport activity that requires to be harmonized between rider and horse. This physical activity is also considered as an effective intervention to improve postural control balance preventive for falling ( ; ). HR is categorized as therapeutic rehabilitation exercise and training physical fitness exercise. Riders exchange signals with horses by giving those to various parts of horses for controlling orientation and speed.

Riders control the movement of the horse by maintaining equilibrium between hands to upper-forearm of riders and reins-bit. Riding requires rhythmically continuous physical movement with horse. High muscle strength of hands to upper-forearm and back-strength are ameliorated by horse riding. HR is quite efficient exercise for whole body because lower body strength is also highly required to adhere to horse while riding.

Reported that horse rider can have therapeutic benefits from the aspect of walk and postural balance reaction by means of rotation, up-down and left-right movement of riders through harmonized pelvic movement pattern with horse walking ( ). Many studies reported that horse walking is similar to human pelvic movement while changing of horse walking speed and orientation stimulate rider’s balance reaction ( ).

Reported that balance reaction of head to body control is ameliorated by HR ( ). Therapeutic benefits to medical regeneration by horse riding are also raised because improving not only physical traits such as muscle strength, agility, weight sustainability, coordinability between organs, but also mental, emotional, cognitive traits such as self-confidence, sensor coordination, spatial sense, etc are obtained by HR. HR causes rhythmical and repetitive movement and this improves blood circulation and muscle strain of the rider.

Riding is an aerobic exercise because horse riders have the similar respiratory capacity compared to soccer player. reported that indoor horse riding apparatus improves women’s muscle strength, muscle endurance, balance, flexibility and remarkably femur muscle strength and its endurance ( ).

HR consumes quite a lot of energy and reaches about 75% of maximal oxygen consumption during Jumping ( ). HR also raises 40–80% of maximal metabolic rate ( ) and shows 136–188 heartbeat/min ( ). About 2.5 to 6.5 times of metabolic rate for riders is usually increased while the horse continues walking to trotting ( ).

As reported in previous reports, various physical changes by consuming remarkable energy would be caused with 90 sec of acute riding. However, there are quite rare reports regarding the effect of HR from various aspects. Thus, we aimed to investigate comprehensive ranges of parameters such as change of lactate, heart rate, calorie, VO max, skeletal muscle mass, body water, body fat, etc between amateurs and professionals to emphasize HR not only as a sports training but also as a therapeutic aspect.

Subjects recruitments

We recruited each of 6–7 for amateur and elite horse male riders experiencing range from 1 to 23 yr ( ). Age variances are from about 20–37 yr old. We performed 3 experiments for comparing physical fitness, body compositions, lactate value, heart rate and calorie consumption change before and after HR between amateurs and elites.

Physical fitness parameters and those measurements

We designed the experiment 1 for obtaining physical fitness data to compare between amateur and elite riders. The physical fitness consists of left and right grip strength, back strength, push-up, sit-up, trunk forward flexion, side step, standing on one leg with eyes closed, VO max (mL/kg/min), and shuttle-run. These parameters are for comparing muscle strength, muscle endurance, cardiac capability, agility, balance, and flexibility of amateurs and elites. Each subject tried 2 times for both grip strength. Better value for back strength was obtained followed by 2 trials. Trunk forward flexion (T. K. K. 5103, Takei Co., Japan) was measured as 0.1 cm unit and standing on one leg with eyes closed was tried with 0.1 sec unit.

Body compositions and lactate values

Body compositions (AVIS 333 PLUS, Jawon Medical, Korea), such as body weight, body water, skeletal muscle mass, body fat were measured before and after HR ( ). Lactate was analyzed (Biosen c-line, EKF Diagnostics, Germany) at rest, just before riding, on peak of exercise, and 5, 15 and 30 min of post-HR. Recovery of lactate rate is obtained from below formulation ( ).

The recovery of lactate values after 15 min and 30 min horse riding between amateurs and elites. The recovery of lactate level was higher in amateurs compared to elites in both 15 min and 30 min after horse riding (HR). However, there was no statistical difference. In 15 min later of HR, the recovery rate of lactate was shown as 87% and 53% in amateurs and elites, respectively. Those were increased 114% and 91% in corresponding subjects after 30 min of HR. Data were described as mean±standard deviation (S. D).

Table 3

Change of weight, body water, skeletal muscle mass, and body fat between Amateur and Elite riders after riding

Recovery rate of lactate={(lactate value at all out-lactate value at measured time after HR)/(lactate value at all out-lactate value at rest)} ×100

Heart rate and calorie consumption

Heart rate (Polar F1 heart rate monitor, Pola Electro, Finland) ( ) and calorie consumption (Cosmed Quark b2, COSMED, Italy) ( ) were measured during Show Jumping which consists of a course including 3 min rest, 2 min walk, 5 min fast, 3 min walk, jump, and recovery. Exercise intensity was assumed as a ratio of heart rate to maximum heart rate ( ).

Exercise intensity by % of maximal heart rate. Exercise intensity during horse riding (HR) was pursued by calculating % to maximal heart rate. Average heart rate of amateurs was about 82% and that of elites were about 89%. Elite has significantly higher exercise intensity during HR compared to amateurs ( =0.037). Data were described as mean±standard deviation (S. D).

Comparison of calorie consumption (kcal/min) during and after horse riding between amateurs and elites. During Show Jump that consists of rest, 2 min walk, 5 min fast walk, 3 min walk, jump, and 5 min recovery after horse riding (HR), calorie consumption was measured. Average values of calorie consumption in amateurs were higher in whole periods of HR compared to elites. However, there was no statistical significance. As exercise intensity goes higher, calorie consumption was also increased. Data were described as mean±standard deviation (S. D).

Statistical analysis

All data were described as mean±standard deviation (S. D.). Each parameter group between amateur and elite groups was compared by Mann Whitney test. We also obtained values for and by using below formula 1 to offset the age gap between amateurs and elite riders and those obtained values were compared by paired t-test. SPSS Version 18.0 was used for whole statistical analysis. The statistical significance level was set at <0.05, <0.01 and showed the exact value for all analysis.

Formula 1: (value obtained after riding-value obtained before riding)/value obtained after riding

Characteristics of subjects in each experiment

We compared physical fitness, body compositions, heart rate, calories consumption, lactate values between amateurs and elite riders by series of 3 experiments.

In experiment 1 ( ), ages of amateur and elite riders are 24.57±7.44 and 20.29±0.49, respectively. Heights are 176.00± 4.93 (cm) for amateurs and 172.29±3.86 (cm) for elites. Weight differences between amateurs and elites are 68.14±7.56 (kg) and 66.71±9.53 (kg), respectively. Amateurs are 1 yr experienced and elites are approximately 3.14±2.34 yr.

In experiment 2 ( ), amateurs are 20. 67±2.42 yr old and elites are 37.33±4.41 yr old. Heights of amateurs are 175.50± 8.18 (cm) and 173.17±5.49 (cm). Amateur weight (kg) is 68.63± 15.62 and elite weight is 71.15±8.55. Amateurs have approximately 4.83 yr experiences and elites have about 23.17 yr HR experiences.

In experiment 3 ( ), ages are 25.57±7.44 and 20.29± 0.49 for amateurs and elites, respectively. Heights (cm), weight (kg), and experiences (year) of amateurs and elites are as follows; 171.17±4.83 vs 175.17±6.97, 62.65±7.48 vs 73.70± 8.79, and 10.50±11.34 vs 15.83±11.20.

Physical fitness parameters in experiment 1

As physical fitness parameters, we compared both hands grip strength (kg), back strength (kg), push-up, sit-up, trunk forward flexion (cm), side-step, standing on one leg with eyes closed (sec), VO max (mL/kg/min), and shuttle-run of amateurs and elite riders ( ).

Table 2

Right grip strength has 14.6% more in elites than amateur and left grip strength is 6.4% more in elites than amateurs. Elites in back strength are 21.5% more than amateurs. Whole values are better in elites than amateurs even though there was no statistical difference ( ). Interestingly, balance test examined by standing on one leg with eyes closed has almost 2 times more in elites.

Body compositions and lactate level in amateurs vs elites

We classified changes of weight, body water, skeletal muscle mass, and body fat as body compositions and those parameters are compared between amateurs and elites before and after HR ( ). Further, we analyzed lactate values and its recovery rate during and after riding ( and ). Riding as exercise intensity was also measured by % of maximal heart rate ( ).

Comparison of lactate level (mmol/L) according to time course between amateur and elite horse riders. Lactate level was measured during and after Show Jumping: rest, just before riding, all out, after 5 min, after 15 min, after 30 min. There was no statistical difference during the measurement. Amateur average values were 9.6% higher than elites, however, Elite values of lactate were higher compared to amateur values in the whole period of Show Jumping afterward. The data was shown as mean±standard deviation (S. D.)

In , we just focused on the extent of change because one of big factors such as a difference of age between amateurs and elites can affect the body composition parameters ( ). We thus output the values of each parameter from the formula 1 described in Materials and Methods. There was no change of body weight between amateurs and elites before and after riding ( ). The change of body water was 16.7% greater in elites than amateurs after riding, however, there was no statistical difference. Skeletal muscle mass also increased in elites about 40% after riding even though there was no statistical difference. Both amateurs (−0.086 kg) and elites (−0.061 kg) were lost their body fat after ridings even though the statistical difference was not shown between the decreased values.

In lactate changes during riding ( ) and its recovery rate after riding ( ) between amateurs and elites, we could not find statistical difference. At rest state, lactate of amateurs is about 9.6% more than that of elites. When HR started till finished, lactate of elites increased averagely 0.97 mmol/L more than that of amateurs ( ). Lactate recovery rate after 15 and 30 min riding shows that amateurs are more susceptible to lactate recovery. About 87% of recovery was shown in amateurs after 15 min of HR. Around 53% of recovery was shown in elites at the same time ( ). When 30 min passed after HR, 114% and 91% were shown recovery of amateurs and elites lactate values, respectively.

Exercise intensity was produced as the ratio of average heart rate to maximal heart rate during HR. Elites and amateurs of exercise intensity shows in . Amateur is almost 82% and elite is almost 89% compared to corresponding maximal heart rate ( =0.037).

Comparison of heart rates and calorie consumption between amateurs and elites

We obtained data regarding heart rates and calorie consumption from the course of Show Jumping described in Materials and Methods ( ) ( ).

At rest state, heart rate of elites is significantly lower than amateurs ( =0.037). During 2 min walking, heart rate of elites was significantly lower than that of amateurs ( =0.021). After 2 min walking, elite heart rate was lower than amateurs, however, there was no significant difference. Elite heart rate was lower than amateurs during whole period of HR. After 5 min of HR, the recovery of heart rate was faster in elites rather than amateurs ( <0.01). In order to offset the difference of biological factors such as age, etc of subjects in experiment 3 described between amateurs and elites, we also use the formula 1 shown in Materials and Methods. Increase range (value, [After-before]/after) of elites were only greater when the riders were at the 5 min Fast and the 3 min Walk to Jump (practice) and Jump (practice) to Jump ( ).

Regarding calorie consumption, averagely 0.84 kcal/min was more consumed in amateurs compared to elites during HR ( ). There was no statistical difference shown for calorie consumption.


We designed 3 different experiments to examine the positive effect of HR, which results in varing from 10 components of physical fitness 4 body compositions, lactate value, heart rate, and calorie consumption. These data were obtained before and after HR between amateurs and elites. Around 3 yr riding experienced elites are preeminent at balance capability compared to 1 yr riding experienced amateurs even though there was no statistical significance. During 18 min HR, it did not suggest that statistical difference would be shown between body compositions, however, skeletal muscle mass and body fat were interestingly increased and decreased, respectively ( ). Coincidently, lactate response was more sensitive in elites rather than amateurs ( ) and its recovery was reversely reacted ( ). Exercise intensity estimated from heart rate was significantly higher in elites ( = 0.0037). In change amount comparison in order to exclude other influential factors between subjects such as ages, heart rate changes did not show significant difference between amateurs and elites ( ). The similar pattern of calorie consumption during HR between amateurs and elites did not show significant difference ( ).

Lactate values and exercise intensity

Lactate values are higher in amateurs at rest state and lactate of elites continuously increased more than that of amateurs till finished ( ). We also traced the lactate level in experiment 1 and the results were converse as the lactate was higher in elites at starting point and it subsequently showed reverse response compared to the results in (data not shown). Compared to recovery rate 30 min after HR between experiment 1 and 2 (data of experiment 1 not shown), the results were reversely shown even though there is no significant difference. Recovery rate of elites in experiment 1 is shown as about 23% higher than that of amateurs, however, it was about 23% higher in amateurs at the 30 min recovery after HR in experiment 2. We suggest that these results in experiment 2 probably related with the fact (slower and faster response of lactate recovery and lactate expression, respectively) that exercise intensity is significantly higher in elites rather than amateurs shown in ( =0.037) (However, we could not measure the exercise intensity resulted from heart rate in experiment 1). We strongly suggest that this reverse data between experiment 1 and experiment 2 comes from others factor such as age differences between elites and amateurs in each experiment ( ). For the aspect of inflammatory and oxidative stress dependent intensity of exercise ( ), we suggested the different metabolic responses caused in elites and amateurs in different experiments. Lactate increases in mechanical overload to induce oxidation in heart and slow fiber by transporting monocarboxylate transporter (MCT) 1 and MCT4, which stimulates as a cascade of muscle hypertrophy regulation even though it was initially considered as a metabolic waste and a fatigue causing substance ( ; ; ; ). It can be suggested that lactate is recognized as a signal medium involving protein anabolic mechanism to muscle hypertrophy ( ). In experiment 2, we possibly speculate that lactate in elites is continuously produced to efficiently accelerate the metabolic systems rather than amateurs ( ).

Physical fitness measurement in amateurs and elites

Generally, elites have better physical functions of test parameters ( ). It suggests that HR causes effective physical fitness ranging over various aspects, such as not only muscle strength, muscle mass, cardiorespiratory endurances, agility, but also balance. These results reflect the characteristics obtainable by HR: Holding reins with erected posture on the horse strengthens hand muscles, back muscles, and the sense of balance to have control over horses for Show Jumping game.

Changes of body compositions, heart rate and calorie consumption during Show Jumping

We examined body compositions, heart rate, calorie consumption before, on the way of riding, and after the riding of Show Jumping. Compared to the subjects of experiment 1 showed in , those of experiments 2 and 3 have substantially different age ranges of subjects ( ). Thus, we used each values calculated from Formula 1 described in Materials and Methods to compare only increment before and after HR and to eliminate the possibility causing the effect of age difference ( , ). It is interesting that subtle body compositional changes such as body weight, body water, muscle mass, and fat were caused by only less than 20 min HR exercise and it suggests that HR during Show Jump is more than moderate to severe exercise ( ).

We also could measure heart rate ( ) and calorie consumption ( ) in real time before, during, and after HR. While Rest and Walk, heart rate between amateurs and elites was similar. Higher heart rate was shown by elites compared to amateurs during Jump period. It suggests that skillful elites are involuntarily trained to only focus more at necessarily proper moment to evade failure of the game.

In calorie consumption, elites were consuming less calories during Show Jump. It suggests that elites are more rhythmically harmonized with their horses without unnecessary caloric consumption compared to amateurs. It suggests that those test parameters are not mainly affected to the results of game, but supposedly more affected by skillful control of elites.

Limitations of this study

Physiological and psychological nature, genetic properties such as individual physique, its condition, etc were not totally controlled. Different subjects in this study were allocated into each experiment.

In conclusion, we found that long term HR experience possibly improve various physiological changes such as balance capability. During 18 min HR, skeletal muscle mass and body fat were delicately showed its positive changes. In metabolic changes during HR, lactate response was seen more sensitive in elites rather than amateurs and its recovery was reversely reacted. Coincidently, exercise intensity was estimated from heart rate and it was significantly higher in elites ( =0.037). Calorie consumption tested in real time during HR, which has the similar results with the intensity of HR exercise. HR induces physiologically positive effects such as muscle strength, balance, oxidative capability, flexibility, muscle-nerve integrated control capability as well as psychologically positive changes and thus highlighted as combined exercise for women, children, and aged as therapeutic, rehabilitative, and leisure sport activity.

What is Best to Feed My Horse to Put on Muscle?

There are 21 amino acids involved in the growth and repair of soft tissues, including muscle and topline. Of these protein building blocks, 12 can be made by the body, but the remaining nine must be provided in your horse’s diet.

These are the essential amino acids, such as lysine, methionine and threonine. As their name suggests, they are imperative in the production of protein, but for more than just one reason. Essential amino acids:

At first glance, feeding protein appears simple as muscle is made of 70% protein. However, simply adding more protein into the diet may not be enough if the quality of the protein is poor.

Only with high quality protein, containing the correct quantities of all nine essential amino acids, can your . So, how can you choose the best protein source?

Every and forage contains protein. In the case of commercial horse feeds, protein is usually listed as a percentage of total ingredients. The challenge for is determining the quality of the protein that’s present.

When selecting a to add quality protein to your horse’s diet, you must also consider energy, vitamins and minerals. If the commercial doesn’t provide enough energy, your horse’s body will be forced to use protein as an alternative energy source.

Together, energy and protein enable the equine athlete to perform. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist to select a commercial or supplement that provides highly digestible protein to replenish energy, increase muscle mass and repair muscle damage.

Feeding for Condition

What horse feed is best to feed for weight gain?

With winter and the colder weather it can be hard to maintain horses in peak condition. Regularly weighing and assessing your horse’s body condition score (BCS) ( ) will help you to spot the signs of weight loss early.

Before making changes to your feeding programme, it’s important to eliminate other possible causes of weight loss such as a parasitic burden, poor dental condition or equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Alongside a feeding regime, it’s also vital to ensure that your horse is given plenty of forage, ideally ad lib, to help maintain a healthy digestive system. Another benefit of feeding ample forage is that it will help keep your horse warm during colder weather. This is because heat is produced when fibre is fermented in the hindgut.

What do I need to feed for weight gain?

Like humans, horses gain weight by consuming more calories than they use. Therefore, when selecting a feed for weight gain one of the most important factors to consider is its energy (calorie) content, which is measured as mega joules of digestible energy per kilogram of feed (MJ/ kg DE) – the higher the number, the more calories it contains. Typically, feeds marketed at promoting condition, such as , contain around 12-13.5 MJ/kg DE.

It is also important to consider the recommended feeding rate. For example, has a similar calorie content to yet when fed at the recommended daily rate (e. g. 0.5kg of PerformaCare or 4kg of Competition 12 Cubes for a 500kg horse) the latter will provide 8 times more calories and be a more calorific option for individuals that need to gain weight.

Which ingredients are most effective for weight gain?

Almost all the ingredients in a bag of feed will contribute to the overall calorie content including; cereals (e. g. oats, barley, maize), fibre (e. g. sugar beet, soya hulls, wheatfeed) and oil (e. g. linseed oil, soya oil). Of these ingredients, the most calorific ingredient is oil, which provides approximately 2.5 more calories than cereals; conditioning feeds tend to have a high oil content (approx 5.5-8%). Oil can also be ‘top-dressed’ onto a feed such as Foran Equine’s or . If feeding extra oil you should check the amount fed with a Nutritionist, as adding too much can result in other nutrient issues.

It is important to consider the quality of the ingredients and the processing techniques used to make the feed to ensure it is as digestible as possible for your horse. All of Connolly’s RED MILLS feed are produced using only the best natural ingredients and our five-stage process, known as . The unique RED MILLS manufacturing processes of steam cooking, extrusion and double pelleting ensure maximum digestibility and that all nutrients are readily available to the horse during digestion.

Cereals (for example oats and barley) provide what is commonly referred to as ‘fast release energy’, as they are digested and absorbed into the blood stream relatively quickly. High cereal feeds may exacerbate ‘fizzy’ behaviour in horses that naturally have an excitable temperament, although the reasons for this are not fully understood. On the other hand, fibre and oil are broken down and absorbed relatively slowly. Consequently, they are known as ‘slow release’ energy sources. Nervous, excitable, or stressy horses can often ‘waste energy’ and as a result may lose weight. To help these horses maintain optimal weight and promote an even temperament a feed that provides energy from fibre ingredient (e. g. sugar beet, soya bean hulls, alfalfa meal) and oil will be more suitable than a cereal-based ration. In these situations, Connolly’s RED MILLS and , which are specifically formulated to contain lower levels of starch, are ideal.

How quickly will my horse put weight on?

Weight gain will not happen overnight; it takes time and will depend on how much weight the horse needs to gain. The National Requirements for Horses suggested that it takes 16-20 kg of weight gain to change a horse’s body condition score by 1 unit (based on a 500 kg horse; 1-9 scale). Consequently, it will usually take at least 3-4 weeks before horse owners can see noticeable weight gain. It should be noted that severely emaciated horses will require specific dietary and veterinary support as they can suffer from an often fatal condition known as re-feeding syndrome.

My horse’s weight is ok but he is lacking muscle, what can I feed him to help him develop topline?

Topline consists largely of muscle, which is predominately made from protein. Protein is made up of non-essential and essential amino acids. The latter cannot be made in the body and must be provided in the diet. Good quality protein is rich in these essential amino acids and plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle tone, as well as repairing exercise-induced muscle damage.

When selecting a feed to help support topline development it’s important to look at both the crude protein level and the list of ingredients, both of which will be listed on the bag/label. This will help you ascertain the overall protein content of the feed and, more importantly, the quality of this protein. Good quality protein sources (e. g. Hi-Pro Soya or Full-Fat Soya) should appear high up on the list of ingredients. For good-doers needing topline a conditioning feed is likely to be too calorific and in these situations a feed balancer such as is an excellent choice. This will provide a concentrated source of quality protein (30% crude protein), whilst limiting calorie intake.

It’s important to remember that it can take a few months to build topline on a weak horse and feed is only one piece of the puzzle. A suitable exercise regime that targets the correct muscle groups is also essential.

If you’ve got any questions on your feeding regime or how to feed for weight gain and condition, with .

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  1. As your horse gets fitter you can use raised poles and change distances to require more collected gaits which will make your horse work harder and help him gain fitness and muscle mass. Lunging or long reiningHacking or Trail Riding. Hill work. Interval training

  2. Riding on ground or raised poles This encourages the horse to actively lift the legs and engage the hindquarter muscles to improve ground clearance and range of motion. Hills The most challenging hindquarter strengthening is walking or trotting uphill

  3. You will start with hand walking then gradually move to trotting and finally to more advanced work. It usually takes about 8 to 10 weeks to restore a field horse to his previous level of fitness although it may take a little longer if he has been injured

  4. Begin with short trotting sessions interspersed with awakening. Begin trotting in both directions for 5 10 minutes a day first with a slow easy jog and then moving to a faster trot possibly a long trot as your horse continues to progress

  5. You can increase your horse’s statistics such as health and stamina by equipping him with better equipment saddle and stirrups: you can buy or find new equipment in cities and around the world. When you travel fast your main horse will travel with you

  6. It takes years to develop an endurance horse to peak fitness. Riders must follow a consistent training program that includes at least two to three months of LSD followed by strength and speed training. A safe approach is to ask the horse to gradually increase the distance or difficulty every five days

  7. An ideal topline can be described as well m uscled with a full rounded athletic appearance free of concave or sunken areas capable of sustained autonomic transport. This region of the horse is a good visual indicator of the amino acid status of the entire body

  8. Hill work is an excellent way to build the top line under the saddle. Uphill and downhill work increases the activity of the hind back and abdominal muscles. Slow trotting or walking is most useful in the early stages

  9. As a minimum form of exercise about 15 20 minutes a day is sufficient for some horses . A couple of hours of exercise a day will keep the horse in excellent condition

  10. When entering the active or rest period you need to consider the horse as a whole. Take about two weeks to come down from the current level of form gradually decreasing both exercise and diet

  11. Horses need to work on their fitness and recovery time to improve athletically. Lunging once or twice a week is great for this purpose and will suffice as part of the work routine. Lunge work is more challenging for the horse and sessions should last no more than 30 45 minutes. Also add lots of stretching and walking

  12. You can increase your horse’s statistics such as health and stamina by equipping him with better equipment saddle and stirrups: you can buy or find new equipment in cities and around the world. When you travel fast your main horse will travel with you

  13. Alfalfa is an especially popular food for endurance horses because it is both a good source of digestible fiber and rich in quality protein

  14. Like any animal the horse learns through operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the learning process by which behaviors are modified through reinforcement and punishment. Operant conditioning was studied by a psychologist B.F. Skinner in 1938.

  15. The key to this is the apples. If you spur the horse too long without the apples the horse will buckle and bolt

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