PHILADELPHIA—With the new wave of COVID-19 regulations affecting gym hours and capacity, time-strapped, upwardly mobile young professionals are ponying-up for the latest indoor/outdoor fitness craze: Horse-Fit.

“My gym has been closed or working on really limited hours since the COVID-19 pandemic began, so I did some research, and realized a Horse-Fit class was being offered at a stable not far from my apartment,” says Ashley Banks, a 27-year-old marketing professional and self-declared gym rat. “I thought, why not?

“After the first session of mucking, turning out in the Back 40, and raking the indoor arena, I can say for certain, Horse-Fit is the hardest workout I’ve ever done in my life,” Banks continues. “It’s harder than Barre, it’s harder than High Ride Cycle or Shred 415. I couldn’t lift my arms above my shoulders for the next three days!”

The brainchild of certified Philadelphia riding instructor Carole Gillespie, Horse-Fit is based on the interval training method, with three-hour workouts spanning the full range of daily horse care activities.

Running about $50 a session, a typical Horse-Fit workout might require a participant to muck five stalls, sprint up to the hillside paddock to bring horses in from overnight turnout, unload a partial truckload of hay, then act as the jog-along assistant for one of Gillespie’s up-down lessons.

Then, the circuit repeats.

“I just wish I’d thought of it sooner!” chuckles Gillespie. “I’ve got a group of eight or so kids here for three hours at a time, so between staggering the indoor and outdoor work—I mean, circuits—meeting state social distancing guidelines is a breeze. Plus, all my morning chores are done by 10 a.m—and they’re paying me!”

Although a minimum amount of horse care knowledge is preferred, Gillespie offers a monthly orientation program for Horse-Fit newbies with zero equine experience to help familiarize them with their new, 16-hand workout partners. Then, they’re off and running, literally, often with Gillespie shouting out words of encouragement along the way.

“It definitely took some getting used to; Horse-Fit is boot-camp style, no question, but I’ve never felt more motivated!” Banks says.

“Yesterday, Carole told me she’s seen a blind chimpanzee do a better job power-washing her jumps than I did. But instead of crying, like I might have done a month ago, I just bit my lip and hustled harder.

“I haven’t quite mastered fence painting, tack cleaning, grooming, or scrubbing troughs, yet, to Carole’s satisfaction, but that’s why we’re here, right? I’ve always subscribed to the fact that excuses don’t burn calories. Spreader-leveling, though—now that sure does!”