How Long Can A Horse Trot? Tables, Facts, Science

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trotting horse on a farm

How long is too long for your horse to trot? This is a very difficult question to answer and there are a multitude of variables that go into answering this question. Frankly, the distance or amount of time your horse can continuously trot is determined by multiple factors including by not limited to age, fitness, weather and more. 

An average horse can trot for a maximum of 12 hours in one week. They can usually undertake a moderate trot for up to one hour at a time. There are factors to look out for when trotting, that your horse is being overworked – for example, a horse trying really hard to catch their breath.

Just like humans, every horse has a different physical threshold. You will find that on a bright mild day you can run 3 miles with moderate effort, but on a cold windy day when you’ve slept poorly the night before, you’re lucky if you can withstand a 2 mile jog. Horses are very similar in that their exercise thresholds vary. Instead of trying to put an exact number, let’s see what these factors are and how they affect our horses. 

Estimating Work Level In Horses

According to the Nation Research Council – there are basic categories of work for our equine partners.

They are as follows:

Examplesrecreational riding, horses than may occasionally compete, and beginning training as in young or green horses recreational riding, horses than may occasionally compete, and beginning training as in young or green horses lessons, recreational riding (with a little more work involved), polo sports, and light ranch work lessons, recreational riding (with a little more work involved), polo sports, and light ranch work ranch work of higher intensity, polo (of higher intensity), hoses that are frequently competing in higher level competition, lower/medium level evening, and race training ranch work of higher intensity, polo (of higher intensity), hoses that are frequently competing in higher level competition, lower/medium level evening, and race training 
Amount of Hours3-5 hours/week4–5 hours/week1 hour/week dedicated to improving speed time
6-12 hours week slower and less intense work 
% of Work at Each Gait 40% walking
50% trotting
10% cantering 
30% walking 55% trotting
10% cantering 5% low level jumping, cutting or other skill 
varies among the disciplines/sports 

That all being said let’s take a horse in moderate work. 

Let’s say you ride your horse every day after work or school during the week for approximately 1 hour. Maybe you take a lesson here or there and jump around a bit when you can. 

If you are riding for roughly 5 hours a week on average you are spending 165 minutes per week trotting.  

If you have a similar ride each day, you will spend an average of

33 minutes of your ride trotting. 

Now, this is not the average for everyone. It’s possible that maybe you’re really working on a skill that’s done at the trot so you’re spending more time in the trot than you are at the canter. You could also be rehabbing a horse who is only allowed to be ridden for 20 minutes and can only trot the long sides of your ring. This is not concrete, just numbers to think about!

trotting horse in a field

Can I Trot That Long Without Stopping?

So you can, but it’s probably not in the best interest of you or your horse. Like all athletes, horses (and humans) need recovery periods within a training session. This allows the heart rate to come down, the body to relax, and for muscles to take a minute to stretch. 

For training purposes, it may be difficult for your horse to be in “correct” form for that extended period of time. For example, if you stand on your tip toes for 1 minute, you are likely to be able to maintain good balance for that entire minute. If you had to stand on your tip toes for 10 minutes straight, chances are you will probably get tired and you may sway from side to side or even fall out of that position. 

Horses are the same in that holding a correct position for long periods of time may sacrifice quality for quantity.  This is especially true for young horses or horses in training. Allowing walking breaks helps make the time you do spend trotting productive and correct. Having the horse moving correctly in or out of the saddle is important for proper training and soundness. 

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Trotting for Too Long?

Every horse is different, some may not complain and will just go and go until you tell them to stop – especially horses that are higher energy breeds or horses accustomed to heavy work. 

Labored breathing is usually a sign of heavy work, so listen to your horse throughout your ride. Huffing and puffing is normal in horses that are working heavily to a certain extent. If your horse sounds like he’s working really hard and you can hear him trying to catch his breath over the sounds of him trotting, he may need a break. It may be best to walk for a little until his breathing has slowed down before you start up again. 

Sweating may also be a sign your horse is working hard. Some horses naturally sweat more than others, and obviously the weather can play a role in that. If you notice your horse is sweating more than usual, or they start to have white foam on their coats, this may indicate to you that your horse needs a break. 

Lastly, your horse just not wanting to trot may be a sign that he’s had enough. Of course some horses can be stubborn or you could have a horse that’s more whoa than go.  These lazy loafs will probably stop trotting at any given opportunity to do so. However, if you usually have a horse with his own motor who is taking more of your energy to keep going or is voluntarily “breaking” the trot to walk, he may be tired and need a break. If this becomes an ongoing issue you may want to examine your training schedule, look at the amount of food you’re feeding, and/or consult your vet or trainer. This could just be behavioral, but it’s always best to cover all potential causes [Source]. 

How Age Affects Trotting Time

Young horses 2-3 years old are still growing and still learning. These horses should be worked lightly as excessive physical stress could affect their growth and integrity of these bones and muscles. Once they have reached skeletal maturity (which your vet can help you determine),  they can ease into heavier work [Source]. When you add a saddle and a rider, the work increases so it’s best to take your time and limit training sessions to short durations of quality – even as short as 20 minutes. 

On the other hand, senior horses may also need more time to warm up their muscles and longer recovery periods during training sessions. Every horse will be different and it’s best to make decisions based on your horse’s fitness level and health/soundness. 

How Weather Affects Trotting Time

In a series of experiments done by Oklahoma State University, results supported that horses’ lungs can be damaged when worked hard in colder temperatures [Source]. That being said,  trotting time should be limited due to the longer amount of time needed for the horse to warm up their muscles for work as well as the extra energy expenditure needed to stay warm and to warm up inhaled air. Keep riding to light work with walk breaks and keep your overall time in the saddle to a lower duration.  

As far as the heat is concerned, it is recommended to avoid riding when the combined air temperature and relative humidity is over 150 [Source]. This is especially true if your horse is not used to the heat in general or this is the first really hot day of the season. Just like in the cold, horses need to expend extra calories to keep themselves cool, and it may require them longer to cool down and return to their baseline heart rate.Similarly, keep your training sessions short and sweet and provide your horse with lots of walk breaks. 

There is no set time or distance limit for trot work in horses. Tailor your time trotting to your horses individual training level, fitness and the forecast!  You can slowly build up your horse’s endurance over a long period of time with a gradual increase in trot time.  So saddle up and happy trails! 

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