10 Drills/Exercises To Get Your Horse Back In Shape

Posted by Lynnsy Johnson - Saddle Up on Mar 26th 2020

Spring has sprung. Wake up and smell the flowers! The weather is finally starting to warm up and the saddle is calling your name!

All of us horse lovers dread winter. Our shows slow down and most of the time, it is too cold to go ride. It is extremely hard to keep a horse in shape. So the first sign of sunshine, we are out working our ponies. There are many different drills and exercises you can do to help your horse get back into shape for Summer. There are 10 that I personally love to do and find they are both fun and beneficial for my horse. We will go over them and I have added pictures as well. 

It is important to remember to start slow and don't rush into exercise. It can cause more harm than good. For example, if you start vigorously working out, you end up super sore and could potentially injure yourself. It works the same for your horse. You should always start with a warm up and end with a cool down. Do not push it. Be sure to gradually increase exercise and work these drills into your regular routine slowly. Something else to be mindful of is the weather. Don't over do it in the heat or the cold as it can cause illness for the horse and even you. 

Always make it fun! Having different exercises makes it exciting and less boring. It freshens your ride and the horse's outlook. You can always do the basic stuff like lunging, jogging in circles, and long trotting. I do these too, but these drills keep are very beneficial to my horse as well. I always do the drills in both directions and I love to go on a trail ride after, even if it is a short one to relax my horse and I. These exercises improve responsiveness, suppleness, and muscle tone. It also helps improve your horsemanship skills. Always remember, go at the pace you and your horse are comfortable. Now let's get into it! 

1. The Basic Figure 8 

In this exercise, you can either set up objects such as barrels to help visualize the pattern or you can do it without, whatever you prefer. I have a younger horse so I like to set up two barrels. I started doing this at a walk and slowly increased it to a slow lope. You can do it at any speed, but it may be easier to start at a walk till you get it down. I then pick a barrel and start going in a medium sized circle around it. I like to bend my gelding's nose and make sure we are keeping the circles round and even. I go around the barrel a few times and then you transition them to go to the other barrel with your circle going in the opposite direction. You repeat everything at the second barrel, keeping the circle rounded and equal in size to the previous one. This will form a figure 8 pattern.

This exercise improves bending ability for your horse and you being able to guide him. It also teaches you to keep them bent to the curve of the circle. It also helps with learning leg cues and rein cues. 

2. Big Circle - Little Circle 

For this exercise, you will go down the side of your arena or pen. Start off at a walk. First, make a smaller circle in one corner. Circle a few times and work on bending the nose and using your legs. Then, proceed to the diagonal opposite corner and make a larger circle. You can increase speed as you become comfortable with the drill. Switch it up and pick different corners. 

This improves bending to various degrees. It also helps to make your horse supple because it teaches them to balance in various circle sizes. It will also help with leg cues. 

3. Loopy B 

For this one we again go down the side of the arena. You turn the corner like you are going to make a circle, but instead you angle back to the fence. Go straight a few strides at the fence and angle back out. Then, circle around toward your starting point. Try to make each end of the loop the same size and shape. This one is a bit confusing so check out the picture below for a better visual. 

This drill helps improve bending and straightening your horse. It increases listening and awaiting your signals, instead of assuming. 

4. Snaky Serpent 

With this drill, you ride in a series of connected S shapes back and forth across the arena. Really focus on each turning point and use your legs at each direction change. Make each S the same shape and size. Remember to do it both directions and I would start this one off at a walk. 

While doing this drill, you are improving bending skills, flexing skills, lightness, direction changes, and the ability to change rein position. It also helps your horse listen to your cues. 

5. Off The Rail Rectangle 

Ride in a parallel path down the fence, about 8-10 feet to the inside of it. Start a walk, then trot, then lope. It is more challenging as you increase speed, but it is a fun drill.

This helps your horse learn to keep straight between the reins and rely on your cues.

6. Spiral/Cork Screw 

This is my all time favorite exercise to do! I feel my horse benefits from it so much and it is super fun. So you start out in a big circle. After you go around a few times, you move from the outside of the larger circle to a smaller circle. You then spiral toward the center and then back out. I like to do it at a walk, then trot, and sometimes a lope. Really focus on using your legs to move your horse in and out. Do it both directions. 

This really improves lateral cues and bending. It also helps collection, responsiveness, and learning to balance (both you and the horse). It also helps your horse to learn to engage his back end. 

7. Longways Serpent

Make a serpentine in the length of the arena, rather than across it. Do this at a walk to start. At the mark (see picture) do a maneuver. It can be anything. Do a stop, side pass, pivot, literally anything. Then continue down the line. Turn back up the fence in the other direction and do it again. 

This really helps keeping your horse straight down the center of an arena. It will help them with traveling straight, bending, and transition skills. I like this one because my horse tends to assume the next step rather than wait for my cue. This type of drill really makes them rely on you, especially when stopping them to do a maneuver. Switch up what you do, don't always perform the same thing. 

8. Cadence Builder 

Start by riding down the side of the arena. Increase speed down each side, but then slow down and collect going around the short sides. Do both directions. You can even spice it up a bit and do a circle when you slow them down. Then continue straight after the circle. The goal is to increase/decrease speed without excitement. They should be calm and smooth. 

This exercise really helps them learn how to increase speed and decrease speed smoothly. This is super beneficial for a barrel horse. It also helps with collection.

9. Transition Tuner 

Work your horse on the fence, performing gait transitions and the midpoint of each straightaway. You can do walk, jog, lope or walk, jog, walk, whatever you would like. The goal is to have smooth transitions and focus on overall control.

This drill helps maintain focus, improve collection, and build hind muscles. 

10. Squared Off Circle 

For this exercise, you ride in the pattern of a square with rounded corners. Start off by riding straight to each corner. Then bend your horse around the corners and through the turn. Then realign him. Start off at a walk and do it both directions. 

This keeps you thinking and focusing on really riding. It also helps your horse with the difference of bending and going straight. 

I hope you enjoy these drills/exercises and that it helps you and your horse! Remember have fun with it and don't be afraid to put your own twist on it! Now go soak up the sun and enjoy your horse!