Exercising your laminitis horse

When your horse has or had laminitis, one of the recommendations you’ll get from your vet is to exercise your horse, so he’ll lose weight.
Where to start?

Before you start exercising

  • Make sure that the trigger for laminitis is identified and removed
  • Your horse is off all pain medication
  • You have a tested (low sugar) and balanced diet in place
  • Your vet has given you clearance for exercising your horse

Start where your horse is at

You may have to start really short walks in hand. With short I mean 5 minute walks. You can gradually build duration. Keep in mind that even a little exercise is better than none!

We have to start our horse somewhere. Starting with a short exercise regime can also help us build the habit of exercising our horse on a very regular basis!

Make exercising appetitive (fun!) for your horse

Exercising can be hard for overweight horses! They might not enjoy it. Using positive reinforcement can really help shift this for your horse.

In positive reinforcement training, you strengthen a behaviour by giving your horse something valuable for what he just did. When you use a bridge signal to ‘bridge’ the time gap between the desired behaviour and the moment you’re able to deliver a treat, your horse will pay attention to what he just did and do more of that behaviour.

Here is how you start clicker training your horse.

Use positive reinforcement to help your horse move

When your horse doesn’t want to move you can wait until he does a slight weight shift forwards, then click and give a treat. With a ‘treat’ I mean a sugar free food reward, something that is low calorie, yet still yummie for your horse.

The next step is to click for a step forwards. This way you can literary raise your criteria for a click and treat, step-by-step. That’s how I did it with Kyra. She was already clicker trained, so she understood that she had to take initiative and move.

I found it very rewarding to use clicker training to exercise my laminitis horse, because she didn’t want to move in the first place. Using force would have negatively impacted my good relationship with Kyra and I didn’t want that to happen. I’ve tried it at first, but it was clearly the wrong choice for us! She resented lunging and working at liberty in the round pen, so I had to come up with alternative ways. And I did.

Do you struggle with exercising your overweight horse and help get your fat horse fit?

Make sure you find a tribe that understand the struggles that you’re going through. When you are a clicker trainer, it can be extra challenging to exercise your horse using food rewards, because the majority of people, including vets an farriers, don’t understand this training method. They only see a horse that struggles with movement AND that gets ‘treats’.

Contact me if you would love to have support in getting your overweight horse in shape with clicker training.

Happy Horse training!

Sandra Poppema, HippoLogic

Clicker training 101: Tips for Treats

The most important thing about the treats I use is that it has to have enough value to my horse to reinforce the desired behaviour. After all it is the receiver that determines the reward, not the trainer: want the behaviour, my horse wants the treat. Let’s make it a win-win.

Treats can differ in ‘value’ for the horse, depending on circumstances. Not only the value matters when you use treats in training. There is more to consider when you choose treats for training.

Size matters

When you introduce the click or another bridge signal to your horse a small treat that can be eaten quickly is a good choice. If the horse isn’t very interested in the treat, try a higher value treat.

If your horse has trouble ‘finding’ the treat on your hand and or gets nervous about missing out, try a bigger size treat. One that he can see easily see and take off your hand.


The trainer can carry more treats if they are smaller. More treats means less refills. This can be handy on a long trail ride or during training sessions where the trainer doesn’t want to leave the horse (vet treatment, farrier).

A food reward shouldn’t take long to eat. If the horse has to chew too long it distracts from training.

If the treats are very small, like pellets, it can take a while before the horse eats everything. The last few pellets might be too small to eat safely. Consider just dropping them on the ground.

Value matters

There are low value treats and high value treats. It is always the horse who determines if something is high or low value to him. Low value treats can be normal dinner grain or hay cubes, high value treats are special treats that are extra tasty, like carrots.

Work with treats that are as low value as possible, but still reinforces the desired behaviour.

Use high value treats for special occasions. For example if the horse has to do something difficult, painful (like a vet treatment) or scary.

High value treats also make excellent jackpots.

If your horse gets greedy or displays dangerous or undesired behaviour like biting or mugging, try lower value treats.

Calories matter

For horses that are overweight, have a tendency to get overweight or founder easily low calorie treats are a healthy choice.

Deduct the amount of calories offered during training from your horses normal feeds.

Vitamin pellets are often a healthy choice, check the label. Most ones have a decent size, they are non sticky and are low in sugar and calories.


Practical things matter

Not all trainers like  to have sticky treats like apple pieces or sugar covered cereal in their pocket.

My horse Kyra likes soaked beetpulp, but I don’t like to carry it around. Sometimes I bring it to the arena in a plastic container which I put on the ground. Not very practical during riding, but perfect as jackpot in groundwork or during trick training.

Some treats, like sour apples, can increase the  amount of saliva in your horse’s mouth or can cause foaming saliva. Which can become messy. It can also increase behaviour like licking your hands. If you don’t like that, try avoid these treats.

If you bridge and reinforce a lot, cost can become an issue. Commercial horse treats are very expensive per treat in comparison to home made treats, dinner grain or hay cubes.

Join the Academy!

All HippoLogic’s programs are focused on building your confidence and provide you with  a step-by-step formula to train horses with 100% positive reinforcement.
Join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy if you want a supportive R+ community in which you’re encouraged to become your horses best friend and personal positive reinforcement trainer.
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
HippoLogic: Establishing, Enhancing & Excelling Human-Horse relationships.

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