hot and tired trot sets

After our cross country run at Twin I was surprised at how little Murray was sweating and how low his breathing rate was — we had just run a 5:50* XC course and the boy was barely sweating!  Then I found out I had 13 time penalties (aka 33 seconds over time), and watched the video and realized we did the first 3 minutes at a slow canter and realization dawned upon me.  Murray wasn’t out of breath because we hadn’t run anywhere.

does anyone else feel kinda cheated when their cross country
courses are sub five minutes?
when optimum is like 4:19 i just feel like i’ve been tricked into getting less time
doing the funnest part of the show.
so a 5:50 optimum is awesome for me.

It wasn’t that I thought Murray was super fit, by any means.  But I was surprised at how fit he appeared to be, based on the very, very minimal work we have done this year.  Like, pleasantly surprised at my pony’s baseline level of fitness!  Look at him go, fit thoroughbred pony, not needing any prep for his first rated even in 18 months!  So I guess, yay that he was fit enough to do that, but really… if you aren’t fit enough for BN you’ve got to re-evaluate your pony priorities.

like maybe just a skosh less of this, mmkay?

My regular rides probably range from 30-50 minutes, but that typically includes a bit of ground work, lunging (before dressage rides), and a fair bit of walking.  I’m trying to integrate more extended trot sets and dynamic transitions into our regular work outs, but there’s only so much I can do to think about timing/length of time I’ve spent trotting while also attempting to dressage.  My mind may be mighty, but it’s not that capable.  Plus, the best reward for Murray when he offers up good dressage is a walk break.  It hardly seems fair to keep him trotting and cantering and trotting on when he’s trying to be good in the fetid black tack.  So this weekend I made a concerted effort to put in some fitness hours for me and the pony, even though it was hot and I knew it would be kinda boring.  Because fitness is important, and I hear that if you’re doing it right you can work cardio fitness while also practicing some of those all-important dressage skyllz, and it’s super fun.

And Murray was great, and more than handled the trot and canter sets.  Based on the advice in Equine Fitness, we did two 3 minute canter sets sandwiched between 6 minute trot sets.  It was the first kinda warm day of the year (we burst out of winter and RIGHT into 90 degree weather, wtf), so I was terribly unmotivated to do anything much longer than that.  We both sweated, my left leg hurt from all the two-pointing, and we went both directions.  I consider that conditioning ride #1 success.  I really should get a TPR baseline on him, but (wouldn’t you know it) it’s a little hard to approach Murray with a stethoscope.  Put a foreign body up his ass and he’s totally fine with it, but auscultate near where the girth goes? NO THANK YOU.

I’m firmly of the belief that part of conditioning isn’t just the slow and steady increase of cardiovascular capacity and stamina, but also the ability to persist and work through tiredness.  Tired and sore muscles are a legit thing for athletes, but nobody is stopping on cross country for a walk break.  So if we want to be successful (I mean, probably not at Novice but maybe in the future we’ll get beyond that?!), Murray and I both need to be able to behaviorally manage lactic acid build up and fatigue, by knowing what pace will allow our muscles a bit of a break.  But we also need to know how to mentally push through the pain and unpleasantness of the lactic acid build up and keep jumping and running.

Another piece of the puzzle, on my side of things, is becoming a good enough rider and horseman to manage a tired Murray.  I’ve heard this on the live stream nearly every time I’ve watched Rolex, but the horse you have in the last two minutes of a 4* course is not a horse you have necessarily ever ridden before — they are so tired and so spent that you have to manage them fence by fence as you go.  I’m not trying to say that running BN is anything like running a 4*, but as we move up the levels managing a tired pony is something I’ll have to think of.


9 thoughts on “hot and tired trot sets”

  1. Obviously we’re in a different discipline, but I think a lot about what you say in that last paragraph- the horse I have on the Sunday of a show is not the horse we trailered in. Not as drastic, especially not that we’ve both built more fitness, but still something to think about when we’re on course.


  2. ugh yea i’ve been thinking about fitness a lot lately. i’ve kinda purposefully not worked much on the cardiovascular side of things with charlie yet. he’s had so much work to do in letting go of his race muscles and rebuilding his body for this new way of carrying himself, and i honestly don’t think very green horses need to be (or should be) extremely fit.

    but – as you say, the part about managing a tired horse, learning to keep working even when we’re a little sore or battered or worn out… that part is pretty important. and it’s still a bit of a question mark for the big guy. all good food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great thoughts! I work a lot on fitness with Dino – we regularly ride out on the trail for 2.5-3 hours and I make conditioning rides with trot and canter sets a weekly thing for him. Partially to keep him fit because he is a round little pony with metabolic issues and not an easily-legged-up TB, and partially because without the mental break from work thrown in there he gets REAL CRANKY. It also helps ME stay fit, which apparently I need to work on since I was legit tired near the end of our (very short) course last week!


  4. Do endurance and eventing. Murray will be fit af. Eugene literally does not get tired. There is no tired for that horse. Nilla is also pretty fit, though not quite Eugene condition. Me on the other hand? I’m dying after like 2 minutes.


  5. Ever since KY Classique announced a long format BN and N in 2018, I’ve been thinking about fitness as well. Marcus is pretty fit but honestly he probably would need conditioning for a long format. At least at Novice. I try to do conditioning once or twice a week but I gave up because I couldn’t find intervals that really made him work-I would do 3x 9 minutes trotting, 1 walking and then 4/1 for cantering and the sucker would barely break a sweat. And on top of it, he would get bored and try to spin me off.

    I’m going to give it a try this summer again and see if I can find a program that works.


    1. Aaaaah yes! Not going to lie, a novice three day in my area next year is definitely part of my motivation!!

      I couldn’t tell from what you said, but one thing equine fitness recommends is doing trot-canter-trot sets or the other way around so you don’t go straight to walk after cantering. Increases cardio strain (in the good way) or something like that. I love that book! I highly recommend it!


  6. H/J riders do not keep their horses fighting fit, which is a shame. When I had Carlos and an Eventing Trainer moved into the barn and she became my friend, my training regime began to emulate hers, because fitness is so important. I am looking forward to that kind of training regime again. Yay trot sets!


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