Want to Build Muscle? Walk ’em!

Coming out of a sedentary life style, Kitt’s muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons are unaccustomed to physical stress. Even moving to a field with a hill was a wake up call for Kitty! With the goal of going from atrophied to excellent, my mind started to spin with the question- Where do we start??? The answer came pretty simply after watching all the sleek Kentucky Derby contenders march around the paddock. Kitt would build muscle the same way the thoroughbreds start- Hand Walking!

Why Walk?

For a horse who has no muscle to support his joints or protect his vertebrae, riding is out of the question. What Kitt needs is to activate muscle memory through an active stepping, loose backed, forward moving walk. This gait is the least stressful on his joints, yet the most effective in putting on muscle, as the use of muscles to walk is deliberate and slow. Walking in hand, I can also easily influence the correctness of his gait, encouraging him into a longer stepping walk, doing a little lateral movement, and transitioning activation within the gait.

Where,When, and How We Walk

Kitt and I walk everywhere right now! We are walking up and down hills, on the road, in the ring, in tall grass, and right before meals. With empathy and discernment for Kitt’s energy levels and muscle fatigue, we typically try for 20 minutes twice daily. Notably, we try to walk before meals because a horse’s digestion, absorption, and metabolism improve as circulation improves.

(muscle stimulation & increased heart rate= + Circulation= + Digestion & Absorption)


Hills work a horse’s hind end as he pushes up the hill and sits to balance down the hill. Forward movement up and down hills also encourages the horse to use his whole back with a longer, slower stride.

Road/Hard Surfaces:

In small amounts, walking on hard surfaces can help improve blood flow to the hooves (particularly in barefoot horses), and it helps to increase bone density and tendon and ligament strength, not to mention toughening soles! Be careful not to overdo the hard surfaces too quickly though, as they can be stressful on soft tissue.

Tall Grass/Water:

To get through these surfaces, horses need to pick up their toes a bit and engage their shoulders and hind ends. These surfaces also encourage a good, balanced stretch to the topline.


Transitioning within the gait (big walk, little walk, big walk) can help a horse’s coordination and his push/balance strength from behind.

Who Else Can It Benefit?

Everyone!!! People, fit horses, fat horses, retired horses, green horses, and everyone in between can benefit from hand walking. Horses are grazing animals by nature, meaning that biologically, they are built to walk and eat a little bit at a time all day long. Most people can respect the fact that small meals are better, but few stop to consider that a little walking in the middle of the day can help a horse’s circulation, muscle looseness, cardio, relaxation, and joint health. Not to mention, bulk up the backs!


Published by

Madison Maavere

Hello, I am a young professional in the equine industry with a passion for improving horses' physical health and emotional wellness. I grew up riding horses in north Georgia and by the time I was 10, I decided I wanted to ride professionally. This dream grew into the mountain that I climbed every day, striving to reach the top. Until I was 16, I did not have my own horses, so I began diving whole-heartedly into any barn that would allow me to work off rides, training, and showing. While this path may not have gotten me the most blues in the show ring, it opened my eyes and my heart to the vastness of the horse world and how perception based it can be. When I was 16, my family moved out on 6 acres so I could have my horses at home (IE, so my family could see me on a daily basis), and for this, I am truly grateful. Running my own farm, albeit small, was liberating and humbling, and it revealed to me that my passion was not so much for riding sport, but for the love of the horse. Fast forward 6 years, and I am well into my final year as an undergraduate Equine Science/Management major at the University of Kentucky. I have been so fortunate in the opportunities I've received here and the relationships I've been able to build. The cutting edge research, quality horsemanship, and innovative businesses located around Lexington, KY have given me a strong sense of reality, and inspired me to really look at where I can make an impact in today's horse world. What I've realized is that while I like equestrian sports, I love the horse. Moreover, I love to help the horse. I want it to be happy and relaxed, to be sound and comfortable, to eat well and be healthy. I want the horse to have every defense against pathalogical disease, and I want it to have skill sets that people value so it can live a long, loved life. In this love, I feel called to advocate for the horse. I want to learn everything I can about how to improve horses' sustainable wellness, and I want to share what I learn so that horsemen of all experience, backgrounds, and goals can feel inspired and enabled to improve their horses' lives. It is my true desire to initiate and spread a dynamic in which horses are not for the industry, but the industry is for the horses.

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