Video: Assessing Your Horse’s Fitness

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Do not rely on huffing and puffing as an accurate fitness measurement. Too many riders gauge their horse’s adaptations to exercise by whether or not he breathes heavily when being ridden, and unfortunately this is not an adequate assessor. While respiration is in fact one of several fitness markers, it is by no means a sole determinant of a horse’s conditioning level.

Physiologically, the primary role of respiration is to shed heat. A horse huffs and puffs to cool himself down, not necessarily because he is out of shape. Other factors contributing to heat build-up and therefore higher respiration rates include air temperature, direct sun exposure, humidity, a heavy coat, excess weight, and emotional state. Especially for arena disciplines, it is quite possible for an unfit horse to exercise moderately without breathing heavily, or for a relatively fit one to become elevated in respiration during a sustained effort, given the contribution of these other factors and his need to shed heat.

horse breathing

Estimating fitness based on breathing rates provide only a vague guess. A more accurate means to determine actual conditioning is the use of a standardized fitness test performed under the same conditions at regular monthly intervals. In addition to respiration, you will measure heart rate, coordination, mental alertness, and recovery speeds. Together, these offer a more complete status of the horse’s condition.

Remember that, while it is tempting to prioritize breathing efforts when measuring fitness, this can lead to inaccurate assessments. It is also worth noting that horses make swift cardiovascular adaptations when placed in to an exercise program. Their cardiovascular systems show measurable gains as quickly as ten days after introduction to training, whereas their bones and soft tissues and muscle function requires up to six months to make similar improvements. This is one more reason to not rely soley on breathing rates for a full picture of health. Respiration rates are one small piece of a much larger equation when it comes to fitness timelines.

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JEC ARISTOTLE BALLOU is the author of 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider. 

 

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