Last week I started a conversation about equine fitness, and about getting our pony partners ready for the upcoming year of lessons, shows, adventures, and fun. This week, I want to continue the conversation with some more wisdom from Equine Fitness, as well as my own program and experiences!
Who needs a fitness plan? NOT THIS GUY, apparently. Hills mean nothing to him.
First off, let’s review Week One.
Last week, I wanted to establish a baseline and figure out unevenness. I am a little ashamed/pleased to say that Murray blasted through our 3 min trot/1 min canter sets with absolutely no problem, despite the fact that I did them on hills, and he proceeded to have no soreness the next day. So clearly, we can start working a little harder. I am also fairly in touch with Murray’s unevenness: he is weak in his right hind and right front. He struggles to bend through his right ribcage, takes shorter steps with the right front, and suffers when he needs to strike off or step under with his right hind. (For example, if I ask him to turn on the forehand off my right leg, Murray will back up slightly as he does so, so that instead of stepping under with his right hind he can take a wide step over with his left hind and drag his right hind behind him.)
This week, we’re going to start incorporating different fitness exercises into our routines and develop a long-term plan.
What are your goals this year? Do you want to run Training at an event? Go to a dressage show and ride three tests in one day? Do a 50 mile ride? I know you will need to focus on fitness for the first two, and have a strong suspicion that you will also need to for the third…. However, you don’t necessarily need your BN horse to be Training-level fit, so consider your goals when making your long term plan.
This year, I’m aiming for a few beginner novice level three-day events. Some of these events are horse trials, where you do dressage and XC on the same day, so there’s even more need for fitness there. In addition, two of the events that I’m planning on are in the middle of the summer, so even more need for good fitness!
It is so blindingly white because it’s really, really, really hot.
Given these facts, my goal is to have Murray and I able to canter and gallop around for 2+ times the approximate time it will take us to run an XC course. Is this value based in anything scientific? Nope, I made it up. I’ll do some more research regarding whether I should shoot for more or less than this, but it seems pretty reasonable to me. XC is not just about galloping of course, there’s jumps in there, requiring a bit of added fitness. In addition, hot summer weather means more potential for heat stroke and health problems — so more fitness needed for that too.
It takes about 5 minutes to run a BN course, so that means 10+ minutes of cantering all in one go. (I actually started with 3x but 15 minutes of cantering seemed really terrifying!) I’m also going to be doing trot work, and I’ll try to work up to 20+ minute trot sets either direction. At the moment, I’m not sure whether I’ll be doing that trot and canter work on the same days, but I will do both trot and canter work on any given day regardless.
And water! My old lease horse, Quincy. He’s amazing.
Right now, we’re at 4 minutes of trot and 2 minutes of canter each direction (a total of 8 minutes trot, 4 minutes canter). Each week I’m going to add 1 minute of trot work and 30 seconds of canter work to our set. In the long term, this is what our work will look like
Start of week – trot / canter each direction = total trot / canter
Feb 2 – 4 min trot / 2 min canter = 8 min trot / 4 min canter
Feb 9 – 5 min trot / 2.5 min canter = 10 min trot / 5 min canter
Feb 16 – 6 min trot / 3 min canter = 12 min trot / 6 min canter
Feb 23 – 7 min trot / 3.5 min canter = 14 min trot / 7 min canter
Mar 2 – 8 min trot / 4 min canter = 16 min trot / 8 min canter
Mar 9 – 9 min trot / 4.5 min canter = 18 min trot / 9 min canter
Mar 16 – 10 min trot / 5 min canter = 20 min trot / 10 min canter
Mar 23 – 11 min trot / 5.5 min canter = 22 min trot / 11 min canter
Mar 30 – 12 min trot / 6 min canter = 24 min trot / 12 min canter
Apr 6 – 13 min trot / 6.5 min canter = 26 min trot / 13 min canter
Apr 13 – 14 min trot / 7 min canter = 28 min trot / 14 min canter
Apr 20 – 15 min trot / 7.5 min canter = 30 min trot / 15 min canter
(Note, I wanted to put this in a beautiful graphic calendar, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it small enough to not take up a billion pages but still large enough that we could read all the text…. #designfail)
Always taking the long spot, this one. Also note the golden brown hills of hot, hot California. I was wearing one of those chilly gel packs on my neck for this ride.
If I continue with this conditioning schedule, I’ll reach my basic conditioning goals by near the end of April. There are two possible events near the end of May, one in June, one in July, and one in August. Will I definitely meet this schedule? Probably not. Spring break is tucked away in there somewhere (end of March I think?) and I’m going on a week long vacation at the end of February so that will put me back at least two weeks in the schedule. I’m also inclined to forget things, so who knows. But I’ve got it on the calendar, so we’ll see how we progress.
I’m going to parrot another piece of Ballou’s advice here, which is to let your horse work in a relaxed and natural frame during these conditioning sets. Trust your horse to know how they need to hold their body during these sets — unless something is going really wrong. And if you’re wondering what I’m going to do during these sets, I’m going to be working on MY balance and position! I usually download some podcasts and songs on my ipod, and practice doing magnificent two-point during my canter sets!
Get that heart rate up!
Long trot and canter sets are far from the only way to contribute to your horse’s fitness. A key to increasing fitness is to increase the heart rate over short periods of throughout a steadier workout. This is also known as interval training, something you have probably heard Gillian Michaels or the bowclimbersteppermountaintreader espouse. You don’t just have to do sprint sets to increase heart rate, either. Many exercises — shoulder in, cavaletti, etc. — will increase your horse’s heart rate over a short period of time and can really contribute to your fitness program! So while I’m doing my standard flatwork, I try to work a little bit of “mini interval training” into it. As I go around the arena, I’ll do 5-10 strides of shoulder-in and then return to working trot for half the arena before another 5-10 strides of shoulder in. Sometimes I’ll mix this up and leg yield down one side and shoulder-in on the opposite side. I’ll repeat this exercise for 5 or more minutes at a time, making sure to work both sides evenly.
Here’s a couple of other exercise sets I plan to incorporate into my rides over the next few weeks.
Leg yield down one side, shoulder-in down the other (my old faithful)
Shoulder in to haunches in, each for 5+ strides (still working on haunches in at the trot)
5 long trot poles to 5 short trot poles on opposite sides of the arena
Trot poles on a circle (M and I have never done this together!!)
Good luck with your fitness goals this week!