Sometimes schooling in a blistering hot, dusty arena fills you with more dread than excitement—especially after a long day when all you really want is to have a bit of fun in the saddle. But if you have access to an outdoor area to ride, spending some time on the hills can make a huge difference to your horse.
It doesn’t have to be a steep or even particularly long hill – although if you do have those then you can go wild! A paddock that’s slightly sloped will work too, and you can even gain benefits from a bank or mound somewhere.
So, in support of changing up your routine and improving your horse, here’s why you should be doing hill work from time to time.
1. It Builds Strength
Have you ever tried running up a hill? It’s much more tiring than running on flat ground, and the burn in your quads and calves is there to remind you of that the next day.
There’s a similar effect in action for horses. Working up and down hills means your horse has to use his muscles more in order to propel himself up the hill.
So it’s great for building topline as well as adding muscle and condition to the hindquarters. But hill work actually improves musculature across the whole horse. Think how hard the shoulders have to work in an uphill canter, for example, or how the neck works to help the horse balance when trotting down a hill.
2. It’s Good Conditioning Work
Variety is always good. If your horse does the same work and exercises each week, he uses the same muscles and soft tissues over and over again.
Adding in some hills means that different muscle groups can get a workout. Your horse’s legs will benefit from the change in terrain too, strengthening soft tissues like ligaments and tendons. This makes him less prone to injury and strain, and means that he’ll be a better overall athlete. Just like top swimmers who also train in the gym and do strength exercises!
Plus there’s the undeniable fitness benefits. If you’re planning on getting your horse ready for an event or want to build his fitness to improve his endurance and way of going, hill work can help. Incorporating different workouts into your horse’s routine improves overall cardiovascular fitness, and having a bit of extra fuel in the tank can make all the difference when you’re into your second jumper round at a show or you need a bit more impulsion to get that half-pass perfect.
3. Hill Work and Balance Go Hand in Hand
Hands up—who’s ridden a clumsy horse? If you’ve got one of those goofy types who sometimes stumbles over his own shadow, hill work is invaluable. It’s not just the going up, but the coming down, too.
Hills force your horse to pay attention to his feet and to shift his weight and body around to compensate for the varied footing and gradient of the ground. Doing this regularly can help your horse improve his agility and make him more coordinated.
Hills can also help you produce a horse who is more balanced to ride. The more agile, muscled, and coordinated your horse is, the better his balance will be. Essentially, you improve his athleticism and make it easier for him to do his “day job.”
4. It’s Food for Their Minds!
Doing something different helps keep your horse keen and interested in their work. Just like variety keeps you interested at work or school. Getting outside of the arena and working different muscles (or even going for a nice canter or gallop if you have a long hill) or doing in-hand work up and down slopes can give your horse a mental break and make them feel more ready to tackle your usual schooling the next time around.
Plus, exposing your horse to different work in different settings also helps them to become braver and more confident. So by incorporating hill work into your routine, you’re building a better overall athlete and a horse who is more rideable.
Ready to start scouting out your area for the nearest hill, slope, or mountain you can find? Let us know what you love most about hill work for your horse by leaving a comment.