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  • Writer's picture Rachel Smith

How to make the most of spring training with your horse

Updated: Mar 19

It’s finally spring! Who else is excited?! After a long winter, especially if you’re a fair weather cowgirl like me or live in the great white north where winters are freezing and thick with loads of snow, the promise of spring really brings the ambition and excitement to the surface again.

That freshness can be felt and seen with our horses too of course.

But it can be easy to get a little carried away and overdo it.

After that long winter off, or with minimal or reduced training for both you and your horse, it’s super important to make a spring training program that will be safe, fun and effective for both of you, to get you back in the groove and feeling strong.

After all, hose hay bellies won’t burn themselves off!

Here’s a few great tips to help you plan out your training program and make the most of your spring riding:

1) Start with the end in mind

Plan out the big picture of where you want your riding to go this year. Where are you starting from now and where do you want to get to. This can be fitness related, training/skills related, connection related etc. Visualize the journey in between and start to get a sense of the time you think it will take to achieve, the small milestones in between, and the commitment it will take. When you start with the big picture goal, you can reverse engineer. Knowing where you want to go will help you establish the roadmap to get you there.

2) Create a realistic time frame and set bi-weekly goals

Once you know what you’re hoping to achieve it’s time to start marking you calendar and planning your rides. If you’re wanting to go from total couch potato/hay feeder potato to running a 15 second barrel run in the coming summer rodeo season…. It’s going to take some time and conditioning to get there. Especially in the spring, I recommend airing on a longer training program than you think you will need.

It’s extremely important to progress slowly with your horse when bringing them back into active work. Plan for at least 2 weeks of slow work to start. Starting with some light ground work or free lunging then progressing to walk-only rides in the saddle. I do recommend non-weighted work to start with, meaning no riding, to get their bodies limbered up and strong before weighing down their backs and putting added strain on muscles and tendons that are still gaining back strength.

I use the snow to my advantage in the spring. My outdoor riding arena is usually full of snow and it’s a great workout for both my horses and I to spend some time just walking around in the deep snow.

After a few weeks you can get started under saddle and start moving up through the gaits.

A good rule of thumb is to adjust the heaviness of work or the frequency of training every 2 weeks. But listen to your body and your horse and do what will be best for your horse.

3) Build in consistency, routine and accountability.

Consistency is key. Not only is it important to stay consistent in actually getting out to the barn 3 days a week and creating a routine, but it is also important in the riding itself.

Stick to a true schedule for your training and make sure not to advance too quickly. If you plan for 2 week intervals in your training, keep to the full 2 weeks even if you feel like you and your horse are getting stronger. Often times we get over zealous from feeling good and we actually push too hard and this is when injuries happen. For example, if the working trot is feeling great after a week of working on it, don’t get carried away and start moving up to canter work. The consistency of each training phase will build strength and fitness that will support the body long term and at the next level.

Accountability will make the training process more fun. Have a friend, habit tracker, or check mark system to help keep you accountable. I know it sounds counterintuitive but it will help you keep your end of the bargain with your horse and keep you honest and committed along the way and you’ll be proud of yourself for sticking to it and seeing the progress of both of you along the way.

4) Set check points and celebrate milestones along the way.

Celebrate! You are committing to something challenging for both you and your horse. Increasing your fitness and training level is no small feat. Even in a short spring training program you are going to see major progress. Remember to recognize that progress and reflect on it along the way by choosing specific milestones to celebrate and feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s the 4 week mark, or when you work up to 15 minutes of trotting in a ride, you choose. But make sure to feel the joy and gratitude of your hard work and consistency paying off.

And my last tip….

5) Find the fun in every progression!

What’s the point of riding and creating goals and seeing progress with our horses if we aren’t enjoying the process and having fun and feeling enjoyment every time we ride.


An 8 week training program is a great place to start.

You'll want to determine the length and frequency of the work based on yours and your horse’s condition and the amount of training you can commit to in a week. Consistency is key and you'll need a minimum of 3 sessions per week to truly build muscle back and start to see a difference. I always recommend starting out with 10-15 minute sessions (this is plenty of time when just coming back into regular work) and you can move up by 5 minute increments per week if your horse is doing well.

Every 2 weeks you can move up to a faster more strenuous gait if you and your horse are doing well. This will compound more work and fitness per session by doing your previous work, plus adding on the work at the new gait. Keep in mind this will mean each session will be getting longer and you will need to commit more time with your horse.

For example: When moving up to the first week of trotting, you'll mix about 15 minutes of trot work into 15 minutes of walk work, moving through transitions but ensuring your horse is increase their output, making your total session 30 mins 3 times a week.

*ONLY increase the heaviness of work when you feel you and your horse have gained enough strength. If any fatigue, irritation, lameness, or negative behaviour comes up, back off and allow rest and perhaps stay on the current level of training program for another week.

Here’s a very basic structure you can follow:

Minimum of 3 sessions per week.

  • 2 weeks- non-weighted work (hand walking, lunging, free roaming etc.)

    • week 1-15 minutes per session

    • week 2-20 minutes per session

  • 2 weeks of walking work- under saddle

    • week 1-15 minutes per session

    • week 2-20 minutes per session

  • 2 weeks of trotting work- under saddle

    • week 1-15 minutes per session

    • week 2-20 minutes per session

  • 2 weeks of canter/lope work-under saddle

    • week 1 & 2-15 minutes per session * I don't recommend doing more than 15 minutes total of canter/lope work per session unless training for long distance riding, and this needs to be done more incrementally and takes more time to build to, past your 8 week mark.

You can add in additional elements to your training program such as pole work, side passes, small hills, backing up and working in deeper footing. But ensure that if you're adding in extra resistance or more difficult maneuvers, this will ask a lot more of your horse, so watch for signs of fatigue and adjust the program accordingly. Our goal is to build slow, sound, fitness into our horses and reduce the risk of injury.

Remember that as a rider, you need to be preparing both your body and mind for riding as well as your horse. It’s not fair to ask one partner to be carrying all of the weight right? Ensure that you are factoring in your own training and fitness into whatever plan you create.


If you’re ready to jump back in with your horse and get your spring training program planned out then I highly recommend my Free Equestrian Goal Setting Workbook. It will help you set those goals and visualize your journey.

If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments or reach out to me via Email or DM on socials.

I’m excited to see you progress, Rider!


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