How to Fitten a Horse

Bringing a horse in from pasture requires some special treatment. The horse has probably got fat and out of condition on a steady diet of grasses in his leisure time. Getting him fit for regular work is a slow and meticulous process requiring a healthy diet and exercise.

Make a weight chart to determine the horse's current weight and what his goal weight is. Estimate the horse's weight by measuring girth around the heart--times length in inches--divided by 241. To measure heart girth, wrap a measuring tape from just behind the horse's withers, down to the points of the elbows, and back up the other side. To measure length, measure from the point of the withers to the point of the buttock. Measure as the horse exhales and pull the measuring tape tight. This will give you a 90 to 95 per cent accurate measurement of weight.

Determine when you will be showing the horse in competition. Count the number of weeks you'll need to get the horse in shape plus an extra two weeks "just in case." it's better to make sure the horse is fit to compete. Expect a fittening program to run longer for very athletic horses and shorter for less active ones. A fittening program for schooling horses should take six to eight weeks. For hunters, eight to ten weeks. For distance and endurance horses, novice eventers and jumpers, plan for ten to twelve weeks of fittening. Three day eventers and steeplechasers will take about 12 to 18 weeks.

Keep the horse from getting bored by introducing variety with schooling, lungeing, trails and canter work.

Feed a maintenance diet for horses doing no work or very light walking and trotting for about four hours a week. Diet should consist of up to 10 per cent concentrates and the rest in roughage.

Feed a horse in light work, light hacking or schooling for four to six hours a week, a diet consisting of 25 per cent concentrates and 75 per cent roughage in the form of grass hays.

Feed a horse in light to medium work, basic schooling with some jumping and hacking at six to twelve hours of work per week, a diet including 30 per cent concentrates and 70 per cent roughage.

Feed a horse in medium work, hacking, schooling, show jumping and dressage six to twelve hours a week, a diet including 40 per cent concentrates and 60 per cent roughage.

Feed a horse in medium to hard work, that is schooling, show jumping, dressage and light hunt work 12 to 14 hours a week, a diet should include 50 per cent concentrates and 50 per cent roughage.

Feed a horse doing hard work, schooling, show jumping, eventing, point to point, hunting, or endurance more than 12 hours per week, a diet consisting of 60 per cent concentrates and 40 per cent roughage.

Walk the horse during weeks one and two, starting at 15 minutes and working your way up to 90 minutes. Feed 90 per cent roughage and 10 per cent concentrates, reducing to 85 per cent roughage and 15 per cent concentrates by week two.

Walk up and down hills at week three and introduce one to three minutes of strong forward trot. Feed 80 per cent rougage and 20 per cent concentrates.

Increase trot work, introduce short canters and add ten minutes of arena work by the end of week four. By the end of week five cantering uphill and jumping small fences are achievable. Finish week five feeding 60 per cent roughage and 40 per cent concentrates.

Working the horse in two one hour sessions or one two hour session is advisable for weeks six and seven. By week eight the horse should be ready for show.

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