How To Bring Your Horse Back In To Work: Advice From Racehorse Trainer Harry Whittington

Fitness is a key factor for successfully managing your horse or pony. Making sure their fitness levels match the activities you have in mind for them not only contributes to their performance but also reduces the likelihood of them suffering an injury too.

We wanted to bring you some help on this topic – who better to ask than Cheltenham winning trainer Harry Whittington and his team? Below, Harry shares 5 top tips for bringing a horse back into work so you can have them back to full fitness as efficiently and effectively as possible.

  1. Work on building your horse up to full fitness very gradually starting off with slow, steady work. It traditionally takes 9 weeks of cantering before a racehorse is fit and ready to run in a race. Broken down, this consists of 12 weeks if you include road work and up to 15 weeks if you include the walking exercise to start with, which we like to do. Happy hacking! Don’t forget your hi-vis when venturing off the yard.
  2. Roadwork is a great way to get your horse started. It is vital to have the consistency of a flat, hard surface to help strengthen the horses’ legs ready for faster work. We are very fortunate to have quiet roads around the yard which we can hack on. We like to make the most of these by starting off all the horses who come back off from a break, having gone on the walker each day for a few weeks, they then go up and down the roads each day, building up the length of time you’re riding and the distance you cover as you go. There are some really helpful apps you can get on your phone if you want to be specific with this.
  3. Introduce hill work if you have access to one! We have a long stretch of road which goes up a gradual hill very close by to the yard. We find this is fantastic for building up their topline and other key muscle groups. So, if you do have access to a hill for this stage, in particular, it is very beneficial.
  4. Use this time to get yourself organised with vaccinations, dentist, shoeing, worming, etc. as soon as your horse comes in from a break then you will be set to carry on when your horse is fit enough to compete or whatever you have planned. We work on syncing all of our horses up onto the same pattern each year with vaccinations, worming and dentist in particular, as it really helps things run a lot more smoothly. Could you tie any of these appointments in with someone else on the yard? It may even make it cheaper as call out fees can be split between everyone involved. Do you have horse insurance in place and does it cover the activities you have in mind for the season?
  5. Find a pre-season routine to suit your horse, specifically taking into account all factors such as age, previous injuries, how much time they have had off, your long-term goal, etc. 1 to 1 focus on each horse’s regime is paramount to get the best of them and getting them to reach their full potential.

Best of luck for the season ahead!