Two weeks ago this blog was about getting yourself in shape for the wagon train adventure.  If you are planning to participate in the 4-H Wagon Train, I know you’ve been getting active and putting some miles on those hiking boots!  Hopefully you’ve been keeping track of your miles for the 200-Mile Challenge, too.

On my own hikes I’ve been making a plan – if I want my horses to be in the best condition possible for the wagon train adventure I need a plan for their fitness too, and a timeline and some resolve… because when I get home from work every evening, I’m too tired to think about it.  I just gotta go do it!  If your horse(s) will be participating in the wagon train, you may want to create a similar outline with your own plan of action.  There are only 9 weeks until the Tune Up Trek, and only 13 weeks until we hit the trail for the big “Barlow or Bust” Trek!

Here are some things to consider – I asked a few Teamsters and Riders who regularly participate in the Wagon Train to give me their best advice about getting horses and mules in shape for the trip:

  • Start every exercise session with warm up time and end with cool down time, increase/ decrease circulation gradually.
  • Depending on your horses current condition, you’ll need to add duration and difficulty gradually, building up to longer rides/ drives and adding hills and trails – doing too much too soon may lead to injury, but not doing enough will not lead to an increase in fitness level.
  • Mix it up – mentally and physically you and your horse will benefit from “cross training” in different activities rather than doing the same thing every session.
  • While every horse is different, horses need to be worked more than a couple of times a week over a period of many weeks to get in shape for wagon train – make time for it, all of you preparations will make for a better trip.
  • Work with your horse with not only physical fitness in mind, but also the mental-work of wagon train – walking quietly on a lead rope, riding with other horses and accepting slower paces on the trail, eating and drinking in unfamiliar surrroundings (with unfamiliar water!), high-lining, etc.
  • Look now at what needs to be scheduled over the coming weeks to make sure your horse is healthy from head to hoof – call the vet for a basic musculoskeletal exam, get teeth checked, think ahead for vaccinations, worming, shoeing or boots, etc.
  • Take a good look at the equipment you’ll be using and how it fits, then monitor how it fits as your horse gets into better condition.  Also, it has been said many times but it’s worth repeating, if you are getting new equipment, get it now and use/test it long before the wagon train!
  • Review your feeding plans and whether your horse is getting the right amount and type of feed for the work you are doing.
  • Monitor your horses body condition and be on the lookout for soreness and/or swelling.

If you have other advice about how to get a horse into the best condition possible for the wagon train, or other wisdom you’d like to share related to equine health and safety on the wagon train, please share in the comments of this blog.

May the sun shine on all of your exercise sessions!

NEXT:  A Trip To The Auction