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Getting your horse fit for the Science Supplements Cup

You’ve got your place to the 2020 Science Supplements Cup, the dressage lessons are booked and cross country sessions in the diary, but is your horse going to be fit enough?

The cross country at the Science Supplements Cup will be longer than a normal BE90 or BE100 so having an appropriate fitness programme for your horse should be on the priority list. Being fit enough helps to prevent injury as it conditions bones, soft tissue and organs such as the heart and lungs. It’s also safer – tired horses (and riders) are not as alert and reactions are slower – plus being fit to do the job is more enjoyable for both you and your horse!

Where Do I Start?

We got advice from BE Accredited Coaches on how you can improve your horse’s fitness by creating a scheduled fitness programme:

  • A scheduled programme is the ideal way to build up an appropriate level of fitness for your competition.
  • A canter session should be completed every five days either on a gallop or in a suitable field.
  • A competition day can count as a canter session so simply resume your next set of intervals five days later.
  • These canter sessions should begin at least six weeks ahead of the competition, allowing for plenty of time for improvement, and a gradual increase in level of exercise.  

What Should Each Session Involve?

  • Your warm up should be around 10-15 minutes of trot work or a short hack.
  • The session pattern should ideally be three minutes of canter, two minutes recovery.
  • This should be repeated twice more with the final recovery a full cool down.
  • If your horse is particularly unfit start with two sets and build up to three in the following sessions.
  • Make sure that you are travelling at a pace that is appropriate for the level you’re competing at. For BE90 that is 450m per min and BE100, 475m per min. (See below)
  • Cool down for approximately 20 minutes, ensuring that your horse keeps moving and has stopped blowing.

How Do I Measure Pace?

You will need a measuring wheel to measure where you will being cantering  - if you are competing at BE90 mark every 450m and for BE100 competitors every 475m, every time you pass one of these markers one minute should have passed to be at your competition speed.

How Do I Monitor My Horses's Fitness?

A simple way to check the progress of your horse’s fitness is to time how long it takes for your horse to stop blowing after the final canter set. Once you have completed your final canter, set your watch and record the time from when you finished cantering to when he has stopped blowing. It is important to check after each session to make sure that the time is getting shorter and therefore your horse is getting fitter.

You should also feel that your horse begins to find the canter work easier. He should canter with his head up and finish feeling like he could carry on if you asked him to.

What Else Do I Need to Consider? 

As you increase exercise and fitness keep a close eye one your horse’s weight and energy levels, we spoke to the nutrition experts at Science Supplements for their advice on feeding. Ensuring your horse is not carrying excess weight is important for performance and preventing injury. Contrarily, you may find this extra work results in unwanted weight loss, and extra feed is necessary. 

When increasing feed, think carefully about what type of energy your horse needs: 

  • If he is naturally excitable and sensitive it would be a good idea to provide extra calories in the form of fibre (additional forage, Alfalfa, Sugarbeet) and oil (Linseed or Soya oil or micronized Linseed meal). These two energy sources will help to prevent unwanted ‘fizzy’ behaviour. 
  • If he is naturally laid back, and prone to being a little lazy, he may need some of his energy to come from cereals (competition mixes, Oats, Barley etc). 
  • Always aim to keep meal sizes small, feeding no more than a Stubbs scoop of hard feed, alongside a scoop of fibre per meal. If more feed is needed, increase the number of feeds per day, rather than the size of the feeds
  • If you are in any doubt about what to feed your horse contact your feed company and ask to speak to one of their nutritional advisers - they will be happy to help. 

Other feeding tips: 

Aim to provide a source of fibre before you do your fast work. If your horse hasn’t had access to forage or grass in the hour before you ride then two handfuls of chaff 30 minutes before riding should provide a fibrous mat in the stomach to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers. 

Promoting a rapid recovery 

It is really important that your horse recovers well from fast work, to ensure he can work and train the next day, but also maximise on the effectiveness of the fitness work. Promoting a rapid recovery involves ensuring:

  • The water lost in sweat is quickly replaced 
  • The electrolytes lost in sweat are quickly replaced 
  • The calories and protein that are needed to build muscle are provided by the diet 

Horse sweat is a little different to our own - it is far more salty. The result of this is the normal signal for thirst is not as strong as it should be. Promote water consumption especially on hot days by ensuring there is always clean water available after exercise. For tricky drinkers there are lots of products available now which can be added to water to make it more appealing.

As your horse is working harder and for more hours per week, he will be sweating more and losing more electrolytes as a result. Electrolytes should be given on a daily basis for horses in moderate to heavy work, not just around fast work. If you are not feeding label-directed volumes of hard feed, you will need to add some salt to the diet alongside a complete electrolyte.

Finally, providing good quality protein and energy after hard work will encourage muscle development and reduce soreness. A horse cannot increase muscle mass if he is negative energy balance (not eating enough calories for his workload). Keep a close eye on the condition and tone of your horse, taking weekly photos is a great way of monitoring for minor gains and losses. 


It is important to allow your horse time to rest, both physically and mentally. Recent research suggests allowing two consecutive days off to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.

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