Robin Morris’ mule, Beau, is an incredible example of great conditioning due to their extensive trail riding mileage

What is Conditioning?

Conditioning is a process whereby a horse is trained to endure increasing amounts of stress on its body, while returning to pre-exercise respiratory shape quicker and with fewer lasting affects.

Like humans, equines are highly individual animals. Of the numerous horses I’ve met in my time, I’ve yet to find two who were exactly the same! A horse’s level of conditioning is just as individual as the horse, itself. Read on to learn how you can determine your Top Trail ride’s level of conditioning, and, maybe even pick up a few tips on keeping your equine in Top Trail Horse condition along the way!

Of all the animals we breed, horses are the only ones specifically bred to be athletic. And, as athletes, it is necessary they be properly “conditioned” to perform the activities asked of them by their riders.


As Top Trail Horse competitors, many of our mounts are already being exercised regularly, and the need to gradually work our horses up to a proper level of conditioning has been attained, in that, we work as a team with our horse, and we’re keenly familiar with its ability to handle a particular amount of mileage or an unusual situation.

Now, for those of you reading who are NOT so certain, then this is for you! 😃 I’ve found a few quick and easy ways to help you judge whether your ride is in top athletic condition, or if you might be over or even underworking him.

Dawn’s Easy Tip to Know if You’re Overworking Your Equine:

After a normal ride, check your horse’s sweat. If it’s thick and foamy, you’re probably in need of better conditioning. If, however, your horse looks more like he or she is glistening with sweat after a good workout, and you note the sweat is clear and slightly salty (yes – I’m suggesting you TASTE it!), you can rest assured that your ride is in great condition! Horses breathing heavily and exhibiting a foamy run-off, are actually releasing a mix of toxins through their sweat. This foam dissipates as you introduce more and more conditioning exercises into your training routine. He’ll get there! But, only if you’re there to do it with him. Horses don’t exercise themselves, and consistency is key in all areas of horsemanship 😊🐴

Should your horse be lacking in his level of conditioning, work on gradually increasing the length and level of your workouts, including activities that build his cardio system, build muscle, and maintain suppleness to the touch.

Here are some easy ways to increase the big three systems (cardio, strength and suppleness):

  • Warm your horse up for at LEAST 15 minutes, riders. We don’t go straight to the freeweights at the gym, do we? (well, I don’t actually GO to the gym, but you get the idea!) Your partner needs an equally invigorating warm up.
  • Try maintaining a fast-paced trot through thick sand, or any surface that doesn’t promote shin splints, for longer and longer periods (up to 20 minutes per workout, for a horse who is first being conditioned or is getting back into peak condition). You’ll work all three of the systems mentioned above with this workout. BONUS: if you post the entire time, you’ll work your thighs, calves and behind; all while they build theirs! It’s a win-win!
  • Walking uphill (yes, WALKING) works strength and suppleness. Horses are more prone to trot or even run uphill because it is easier on them, so hold them back to build up those muscles.
  • Get on that trail, if you haven’t already, and start putting on miles just one mile at a time, to begin. Increase your miles with every ride, and don’t forget to start your GPS tracker so you can upload those miles to your Top Trail account when you return. Every mile past one from your starting point counts with Top Trail Horse.
  • Learn to take your horse’s pulse (heart rate). You want between 60 and 80 beats per minute at rest, and at 10 minutes post-workout.

Taking your horse’s pulse:

Right after your workout, reach down to the back of your horse’s pastern and feel for the artery located there. Count the beats you feel for 15 seconds (on a timer), then multiply that number by 4. That gives you her pulse (otherwise known as heart rate). It could range between 100 and 160 beats per minute, depending on your workout, and how well you cooled your horse down prior to returning them to the barn.

Ten minutes after your return, check it again. The goal is to have their heart rate return to between 60 and 80 beats per minute. If it hasn’t, put your horse in a halter with a lead rope and walk that baby out a bit more. You don’t want to damage their tissues by putting them away before they’re ready.

  • Whoa! Cool that ride DOWN, partner! Rode hard and put up wet? Not on your equine’s life! If your horse is still breathing heavily and foaming with sweat, your ride isn’t over! Your horse’s respiratory system needs to be checked, so dismount; switch to a halter with a lead; loosen the saddle; then, take that horse for a walk until his breaths have returned to normal (12 to 20 breaths per minute).
  • And, be sure to cool down properly in a gradual fashion in future rides. When you’re at a canter, slow to a trot, then to a walk; when your at a trot, you slow down to a walk., and so on. Never EVER run back to the barn.

Did You Know? A horse’s breaths per minute can increase from 12-20 at rest, to up to 180 breaths per minute under heavy stress or workouts

You see, a horse’s level of conditioning depends on many factors: all of which fall to the rider to maintain, and, all of which are different in every horse. A rider needs to be cognizant of certain physical readings, including determining their heart rate, and respiratory breaths per minute, and more. The well-trained rider will be certain to keep as good care of their horses as they do themselves (and vice versa). With time it will help you build a sympatico with your Top Trail Horse that no one can break.

I do hope you found some informative tips in this article. I can’t replace a professional trainer or your vet, but I can tell you what I’ve learned over the years. I’m still in the process of getting my Layla into peak performance condition, and I’ve used all of the above while working with her, so I look forward to the day she and I finally bypass some of these other Top Trail equines who’ve been giving me competition this year! (Ladies, you know who you are!)

RIDE ON, Everyone!! Until next time.


See what all the other trail riders are talking about at

Top Trail Horse Challenge 
Leaderboard is monthly, based on total mileage for the month, has three divisions, awards given

Top Trail Rider Challenge 
Leaderboard is quarterly, based on total mileage for the quarter, has three divisions, awards given

Trail Master GPS Rider Challenge 
Based on the number of rides logged by the rider for the quarter, has three divisions, awards given

Ways to win with Top Trail Horse

2 2 Comments

  1. Awesome article Dawn. I’d like to address the subject of elevation… some of us are fortunate enuf to live near some good mountains. There are some 10-12 mile rides that we never break out of a good fast walk but due to elevation change, its still a super work out for my horse. Of course, we can’t control the place where the elevation steepness is, sometimes its near the trailer. And sometimes, there’s not really a good flat place to walk him out…. its a challenge! But we deal with it… some of those trails are WORTH it!

    1. Great point, Deirdre!! Thank you for sharing that 😊🐴

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