Any athlete will tell you, the key to making the most of your workout is to warm up before and cool down after. The same goes for your horse. Whether practicing, competing, or just going for a long ride, properly tending to your horse’s body, keeps it healthy and helps it function at its best.

Warming Up

Warming up prior to working out increases blood flow, stretches the muscles and increases flexibility. Like humans, every horse is different, so alter your warmup routine accordingly. Consider things like your horse’s age and level of fitness. In general, your horse’s warm-up could include walking, groundwork and lunging – remember to keep a loose rein. This routine allows your horse to relax its muscles, which reduces the chances of injury. Don’t rush through your warm-up. Your horse needs ample time to prepare.

Cooling Down

Cooling down pulls lactic acid from the soft tissues and reduces inflammation which, in turn, lessens muscle soreness and allows your horse to recover from its workout. After exercise, walk your horse for 5 to 15 depending on the duration and type of work undertaken. If you’ve been working in canter or gallop, try a rising trot for a couple of minutes. Next, hop off your horse and walk next to it, keeping a loose rein and girth.

In hotter weather, hose your horse with warm water to gently relax its muscles. During the winter months, cover your horse with a moisture-wicking blanket to prevent its muscles from getting chilled. If your horse sweated during the workout, replenish its electrolytes by treating it to a salt block. Once your horse’s temperature and breathing have returned to normal, your cool-down is complete.

In many ways, the quiet times before and after serious exercise can be the most enjoyable. Knowing that you are keeping your horse healthy and comfortable are just the icing on the ride.