Most horse owners have a regular training routine for their equine companions. From weekend trail hackers to high performance athletes, horses give us their best physical fitness time and again. But have you ever wondered how regular exercise and training benefits your horse in the long-term?

In addition to well-known cardiovascular and muscle building benefits, regular exercise supports digestive function and healthy weight maintenance in horses. Proper fitness training also helps reduce the risk of injury and improves bone mass in working horses.

But the benefits of exercise go beyond physical fitness and sports performance. Regular activity is also key to your horse’s mental well-being, reducing stereotypic behaviors, providing mental stimulation and building trust between horse and rider.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of exercise for horses, as well as some of the top training practices to keep your horse in great shape, regardless of age or ability.

Why Do Horses Need Exercise?

Horses evolved to graze continually, covering vast ranges of land in search of vegetation. Research shows that wild horses travel approximately 17.9 km (11 miles) per day when in their natural habitat. [1][2]

However, domestic horses walk much less than this, covering only 7.2 km (4.5 miles) per day when turned out in a large field (40+ acres). Horses that are housed in smaller 2-acre fields cover even less than this, averaging only 1.1 km (0.68 miles) per day. [1][2]

Many horses also have limited turnout, spending most of their day confined in stalls. Some elite equine athletes, such as Thoroughbred racehorses, spend nearly 23 hours a day in stall confinement, only getting exercise during athletic training sessions.

This stark contrast highlights the importance of appropriate exercise routines for domestic horses to ensure they remain active, prevent health issues, and address psychological needs for movement and environmental stimulation.

17 Benefits of Exercising your Horse

Exercise is key to maintaining the health and well-being of horses. Whether they’re galloping across open fields or participating in structured workouts, regular physical activity offers a multitude of benefits for equines of all ages and lifestyles.

Here are the top 17 health and wellness benefits of regular exercise for your horse:

1) Improves Cardiovascular Function

Regular exercise promotes heart health in horses. Fitness training leads to cardiovascular adaptations, strengthening the heart and circulatory system and contributing to improved athletic performance.

An equine heart rate monitor can be used to measure some of these beneficial changes in cardiovascular function.

One important fitness indicator is the horse’s velocity (speed) when its heart rate reaches 200 beats per minute (V200). Fit horses achieve a faster speed before reaching this heart rate, showcasing improvements in their cardiovascular health. [3]

Recovery heart rates are also valuable for assessing fitness after an exercise bout, with fit horses returning to their resting heart rate more rapidly than their less fit counterparts. [4]

Exercise training also reduces heart rate during moderate intensity exercise, as demonstrated in Thoroughbred horses engaging in treadmill workloads after a conventional training program. [5]

Regular exercise also enhances your horse’s endurance and overall fitness levels. One study showed after six months of yearling race training, key indicators of cardiovascular health improved and were maintained even after a period of detraining (when the horse is not regularly exercising). [6]