Most riders, I`m pretty sure, don`t have very exact records of how many hours each week they actually spend riding any given horse. One result of not knowing this is that I`d estimate most horses are less than fully fit and well conditioned for the tasks they are expected to perform.
We all know, or should know, the mantra that LSM (long, slow miles) are the basic building blocks of fitness, and that these should have been thoroughly “installed” before we ask for SFM (short, fast miles). This is because unless hooves, bones and muscles, the structures that support tendons and ligaments have been hardened, we put those tendons and ligaments at higher risk. We all know about the enormous carnage to young race horses, and one major reason for this is that most young thoroughbreds get galloped for fitness, but few go for long walks, over weeks and months of time, before speed is introduced. (There are other reasons, like being too young.)
There are all kinds of reasons that riders shortchange their horses on the basics of fitness. One is a true lack of available riding time, especially for those who try to squeeze in an hour before or after work or school. Another reason is that what we may think we do is different from what we really do. Let`s say that we plan to ride for one hour. We have to go get the horse. Then we have to groom him, assemble the tack, and tack him up. Then we go to wherever we get on. Now, let`s assume that we were planning to ride from about five to six. Did we actually get on at five? Very often not, I`ll bet. One “quick phone call”, some other “quick” interruption, and five minutes, ten minutes, gone in a flash, so now it`s 5:12.
Now we start to ride, and we do whatever it is we were planning to do, but there`s a warmup period, and a cool down process, and perhaps we get off to walk him out at 5:55, that`s a cumulative 17 minutes of our riding “hour” when no riding took place. Repeat that two or three times a week, and if we ride five days a week, that horse gets what, about four hours each week of actual riding? He probably should get about double that to really address the fitness issue.
Another reason so many riders don`t hack out, don`t go for hour and a half rides, is that they are stuck on some postage stamp piece of land where hacking out isn`t possible. Traffic, congestion, these are the new American reality in many places, and who wants to circle one small field 47 times to get in 90 minutes of riding?
One thing I`ve started doing is actually making a log of my riding hours. I have three in work, two warmblood coming six year old mares, and a coming six year old Morgan mare, and my goal is to average one hour and twenty minutes of ACTUAL riding time per horse, six days a week, which is eight hours a week per horse. Some days I ride all three, many days Natalie Klein rides Simply while I ride Atti. But, we are getting the work done, and all three mares look good, and feel great, and they are clearly very much fitter and stronger than back in January.
There`s no one magic formula, apart from the well established LSM precedes SFM old saying. Start writing down your actual hours of riding, and do this for several weeks. Perhaps you`ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you are riding, or maybe you`ll be disappointed, but either way, you`ll have something reality based as your litmus test.