Just as it would be with with us, it would be unfair and unreasonable to have a horse rest for most of the winter, going largely unexercised, only to pull him out in the Spring and expect him to be able to carry you up a mountain for twelve hours a day. Just like us, it is best to prepare a horse for physical work, conditioning his body.
Back in the 2007-2010 range, when I was a teenager, I rode a horse named Angel almost every day, summer and winter, all over the Utah mountains and trails that surround us at Rising K Ranch. Angel is an AQHA register quarter horse and at the time she was about 10 years old. She was in average shape to begin with and is a pleasing horse to look at as far as conformation is concerned, so I wasn't starting with a lame horse or a truly out of shape horse to begin with, which is very important.
I watched a few old western movies back then and, what was more influential, read a lot of Louis L'Amour books, leaving me with the notion that I wanted Angel to be able to ground tie anywhere no matter what, think nothing of gunfire, climb up an down practically any mountain, and be able to run for a long distance without tiring. I then read several magazines such as "Perfect Horse," "Western Horseman," and even a few Performance Horse magazines from the 1970's (I believe the best one was actually called "Performance Horse.")
At any rate, I eventually formed an exercise regimen for my horse that consisted of walking, trotting, and loping over the course of about an hour. Thankfully, I was able to use mountain trails and valleys rather than circling the arena over and over again, which made it a lot more fun as well as better for my horse's mind.
The horse exercise regimen was pretty simple. I do not remember it exactly but it basically went like this:
With a stopwatch or timer in my vest pocket I would, for the first week or so, walk a 5 minute warmup, trot 20 minutes, lope 5 minutes, trot another 20 minutes, walk the last 10 minutes to cool her off.
The next week, I would trade some of the trotting time for loping, so that it was 7 minutes of loping instead of five. Over the course of about four months, Angel was at the point where she cold lope across the valleys for 45 minutes, and as long as the temperature was 65 or lower, she wouldn't even break a sweat doing it. Everyone who ever happened to see Angel, even if she was simply tied to the hitching rail, would undoubtedly remark how muscular she looked and how shiny her coat was, especially in the summer.
As with all things that relate to horses, preparation, diligence, and patience are keys to success.
Thankfully, here at Rising K Ranch, we are open all year for both summer horseback riding as well as winter horseback riding in the snow. We are certainly not as busy in the winter; but our horses never really have to go into retirement for months at a time.
I hope this article has helped you in some way and I hope to ride with you someday on our Utah mountain trails, right here at Rising K Ranch!