Let the (conditioning) games begin!

Now that we’re getting close to competition season, hotter/ more humid weather (it’s Texas, it’ll be here by April), and with Coconino boldly written on the calendar, I’ve amped up Henry’s fitness regime. It doesn’t really take much to get a TB fit for Novice, and our twice weekly half-hearted conditioning rides worked just fine last year.

This year though, with the demands of a full long format 3-day (granted, only at Novice) and a move-up, the bar is raised a little. I also want to see if making Henry more fit helps him with his breathing issues. For those of you who don’t know, Henry has some scar tissue in his lungs (the vet thinks it’s leftover from an illness when he was young) that makes it a little hard for him to get enough air when his respiratory system is super taxed. Usually it’s really only evident when it starts getting really hot and humid… his core temperature never rises, but his respiratory rate goes through the roof pretty quickly. I’m hoping that just by increasing his base level of fitness, his respiratory system is less taxed and therefore he can breathe a bit easier. We shall see. For this particular horse, especially considering his career, I’d rather err on the side of a little over-fit.

nice fro, bro

But I also want to preserve his legs as much as possible, so we do a lot of walking and trotting. Specifically, we do at least one long trot a week and then another day of w/t/c intervals or a long walk. We’re up to 40 minutes on the long trot, and I’m not going to lie… it’s BORING. Now I know why they always made us working students do most of the conditioning work on the upper level horses when I worked at an event barn. It’s totally mind-dumbing.

Lately we’ve been able to ride in a big hay field, which is great. I love riding in the field because Henry seems happy to get out of the ring, I’m happy to get out of the ring, we get some changing terrain to practice over, and the bigger space means bigger turns and less stress on his body. But still… even in the big awesome field you find yourself checking your watch every two minutes. What I eventually figured out was that each lap is almost exactly 5 minutes. Then it was just a matter of breaking it down by laps. Eight laps sounds a lot better than 40 continuous minutes.

Then I figured… why not spice up each lap? And that’s how The Conditioning Games (may the trot be ever in your favor) were born. This is a testament to how boring my life is.

Every ride seems to spawn a new game or two, but so far I’m up to:

  • Zig Zag
  • Wham
  • 2 point
  • Forward and back
  • How many steps
  • Point to Point
  • Lopsided

Some of them are pretty simple… zig zag is just 10-20 (I pick a number) steps of leg yield left, then leg yield right, then go straight, then leg yield left, right, go straight, etc for the whole lap. 2 point is exactly what it sounds like – a lap of 2 point. I usually do that in the beginning because it’s the most boring.

Wham is a little more fun…

not this kind of Wham

I pick a point, usually a particular little clump of grass, and try to run it over dead-on. Kinda like if you were jumping a skinny, but it’s more fun to run over things and say WHAM!

This kind of Wham

Forward and back is also really simple, just lengthening to medium to a more collected trot and back again between the three ad nauseam. I also pick a certain number of steps for this, just like Zig Zag.

How Many Steps is something I do in the ring all the time – I pick a point in the distance (in this case a tree, a stick, a bush, a shadow, a clump of grass) and try to guess how many steps away it is. Way more fun at the canter but it works at the trot too. It makes you more aware of your rhythm, anyway.

Sometimes we play “Try to keep up with Halo”

Point to point is trying to hit exactly the same points at exactly the same times on each lap. So if I pass this bush at the one minute mark, I try to hit the same bush at exactly the same time on the next lap. That weird spot in the fence at 2:00, etc. Kinda like minute markers on XC.

Lopsided is dropping one stirrup at a time, or putting both reins in one hand and putting the other behind my back. The barn I grew up riding at did this a lot and called it Horsecapades. Whatever you call it, it seems to help me sit up taller and, despite the name, sit more evenly in the saddle. Plus it makes things really exciting when your horse spooks and you get to play a bonus impromptu round of “Don’t Fall Off”.

As the spring wears on and trots get longer, I’m sure more games will be added to my repertoire. Because I don’t know how the hell anyone can just trot around a giant field for more than 10 minutes without getting bored as hell.


Titillating stuff, this. Try to contain your desire to run out and try it yourself.


29 thoughts on “Let the (conditioning) games begin!

  1. Love the Teddy’s Tack Trunk saddle pad. 🙂

    Speaking of, Dexter, Sassy and I are loving the Leistner brushes we got.

    Right now our fitness goals include being able to canter for 5 minutes without huffing and puffing. 40 minutes of trotting sounds like torture. But it sounds like you’ve found ways to make it fun. Which always helps.


    1. I love the saddle pad too, it’s perfection. Glad you love the brushes! I really believe in TTT and their products so I’m glad to hear when other people like them too.


  2. Still giggling over “may the trot be ever in your favor”. People at work think I’m weird. So nothing new.

    Love the ideas though…and whilst I’m not at the stage where I am conditioning anything (including myself) I will keep these in mind.


  3. ha totally stealing this…. if we ever can ride outside at our home turf ever again…. my mare is CONVINCED that there are horse eating gremlins in our big field, but perhaps changing things up via games will keep her mind off her clearly imminent doom via gremlin?


  4. You need to find yourself an endurance friend to condition with. They will teach you all about trotting for insane periods. I went out with a new eventing friend last week and she couldn’t understand how we trotted for 2 hours/12 miles without stopping. It’s a skill. Of course you won’t find me jumping anything solid without pooping myself, so you eventers still win. 🙂


  5. Such great ideas! Hey, whatever keeps it interesting. I do similar things while running a treadmill because that’s utter torture as well. Mostly it’s just sprints for x amount of time or faster/slower for x time. But same idea anyway. Good luck with conditioning!
    Also, have you tried the nose strips on Henry? I’ve never used them, and probably would have zero affect on his lungs, but figured it might be worth mentioning.


    1. I don’t like to play music while I’m riding out in the fields/near the road. It’s probably the cyclist in me, but I feel like it’s important to be able to hear what’s going on around me, for safety’s sake.


      1. This is why I listen to podcasts. They keep me engaged but don’t drown out the surrounding ambient noise. So, I still notice when my dogs start to run away or there’s a deer crashing through the woods at us.

        I also listen to them while running (in the big city) and have found them unobtrusive enough to still be safe.


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