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It’s hitting the peak of the season but is your horse at peak fitness or condition?

I was talking to someone the other day who was out competing at a 2DE who told me their horse didn’t need much work.  Curious I asked “why”?  And they said “because he knows his stuff so I don’t need to keep going over it…”  I asked them what they did with him and they told me one jump lesson and one flatwork lesson a week plus two rides at home.  I asked them if they ever did gallops or cantered the horse for 1.5 – 2.5km and they said no.  My question to them (and you) is if you don’t train for it, how can you expect your horse to do it at a competition.
Now we’re talking eventing but it’s the same for everything.  If you have not cantered your horse non stop for the same distance as your XC course, then how do you know they’re fit enough to actually do it out at a competition?   If you’ve never ridden your horse for 20km or even 10km what makes you think they can cope with a baby endurance ride?  And if you ride your horse in the arena and only have a break at the end when you stop, what are they going to think when you’re at a competition, warm up and stop and then ask them to do a test??

Fitness purely means “being suitable to fulfil a particular role or task”…….. but conditioning is a process whereby a response becomes more frequent or predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement.  This can be muscular conditioning, aerobic conditioning (where the heart and lungs are trained to pump blood more efficiently) or behavioural conditioning.  Conditioning develops the musculoskeletal, neurological and cardiovascular systems so they can perform athletic endeavours with the greatest efficiency and least stress on the body.

Everyone has different ways of getting their horse (or themselves) fit for purpose, but a lot of the issue I see with muscle pain, strain and injury in the performance horse is that people don’t actually understand what getting their horse fit for purpose involves, or how to go about it.
And as much as I’d like to include a step by step process of getting your horse fit or conditioned here, it’s really dependant on the discipline you’re doing and the level you’re at.  What I will say though is that all horses need a “legging up” period when they come back in to work.  This entails preparing the musculoskeletal system to withstand the type and duration of work you will require it to do.  The time frame will change depending on how long thee horse has been off work, but no “legging up” period should be less then 4wks.

Here are some words of wisdom from some of the greats to give you some inspiration!

  • Michael Jung (World Champion Eventer) – “If you only ride for 20-30mins you have done nothing more then warmed up”.  Michaels fitness regime is a 7 day per week schedule with day 7, the rest day being a 1-2hr hack out!
  • Carl Hester (World Champion Dressage Rider) – “Even dressage horses should gallop and hack out”
  • Megan Jones (Australian Olympic Eventer) – “There are no short cuts to getting your horse fit”
  • Nancy Loving (International FEI vet) – “Even with flatwork only horses it helps to incorporate ground poles and cavalettis to improve coordination, rythm and agility”.