Designing a fitness program requires a lot of thought & detail. Things you will need to consider include:
1. The facilities available to you.
2. The amount of time you can dedicate to training.
3. The time of day you’ll train (especially during winter when daylight hours are short).
4. The horses’ soundness & any limitations on their training.
5. The horses’ current condition, breed, age & experience.
6. A nutritional plan to scale up/alter as the workload increases.
7. A farriers plan to fit shoeing dates around competitions & change in seasons.
8. Recovery strategies, therapists for different problems, & a good vet!
9. Fitness Tech (ie, your HR monitor, GPS tracker, speed monitor).
10. A big whiteboard with lots of coloured markers!
You’ll need 3 things :
– an arena (or flat area) to work on in all conditions,
– some showjumps,
– a hill, undulating track or paddock, a flat track/beach (I have a short steep hill of 100m, a longer less steep climb of 300m, & overall undulating track of 2km).
– somewhere to XC school.
Eventing is time consuming to train for, because of the 3 disciplines requiring different training set ups. If you’re lucky enough to have all the necessary facilities at home, less time will be spend floating to & from venues. Riding for 20 minutes 3-4 days a week is also not going to condition your horse to produce its’ best, so expect a minimum of 45-60 minutes, 5 days a week. Careful planning will help you organise your time efficiently – it’s all about being organised ahead of time.
WEATHER & DAYLIGHT.
During the hotter months, do your fitness sessions in the morning to avoid a stressful effort & recovery in the heat, & watch the ground isn’t becoming too hard or stoney. Coming into autumn, daylight will be diminishing, & so will the warm weather, so horses take longer to dry off. There’s also less time at the end of the day to jump in natural light, & the ground may become slippery/boggy. As the seasons change, you’ll need to adjust your timing & possibly venues, so be prepared for plan B (& C!).
This is possibly you biggest consideration. Every horse is different & it’s often a case of management, but an eventer will take a fair workload/pounding to produce! They are an athlete & should be treated as such – their body is made up of the same bone/soft tissue & organs as we are.
There’s no point following a fitness program if it’s not suited to your horse. Soft tissue injuries may require harder ground, & arthritic joints may require softer going, so you need to consider your horses’ individual needs. Alternatives such as swimming, steeper hills or aqua treadmills can be very useful for such horses. This is why a gradual increase in work is so important – you don’t want to break your pony by doing too much too soon!
One thing that is absolutely imperative, is a completely thorough knowledge of your horses’ legs, joints, lumps/bumps/scars, & normal way of moving/behavior. You need to be onto an abnormality, before you make it worse by working the horse or leaving it untreated. You’ll learn what to panic about (eyes!), & what to leave & watch for the next 24 hrs… don’t ever assume near enough is good enough!
CURRENT CONDITION, BREED, AGE, EXPERIENCE.
Younger horses & those getting fit for the first time, as well as older horses, will take longer to get fit. Younger horses may still be physically developing, whereas older ones degenerating, & both will require the right amount of prep so as not to break.
Each breed also has its purpose – heavy breeds are bred for strength & not speed, so their bodies will work harder to carry their own weight, put more stress through their joints, & struggle with speed. They may however have a better temperament & be perfectly suited to lower level competition.
Starting the season with good weight coverage on your horse is important if you intend on a busy competition schedule. Travel, overnight stays, galloping XC, & more work will quickly ‘tighten up’ a horses condition. They may need to knock weight off from a rest over winter, or keep weight on as the work increases.
If you or the horse need to gain experience, then you just have to do the miles. You can’t beat time in the saddle, but be smart about how you do it. Choose the best surfaces, be diligent about recovery strategies, & do only as much as you need.
The human fitness industry is saturated with various diet plans, & the horse world is no different! Regardless of your horses’ needs or your opinion, take the time to understand how your horses digestive system works, & the requirements of their body under the workload you’re expecting them to endure. Be prepared to alter their ration as the workload & seasons change, & try to keep it simple – this can be hard with specialised athlete requirements sometimes! You may need to feed 3 times a day, paste supplements they won’t eat, try different hays or pellets for fussy eaters.
In my opinion, I always ask a nutritionist the how, where, why & whens of the suggested ration, which helps me to troubleshoot & make changes when required.
This poor bloke will be on speed dial, & I suggest keeping the Nespresso at the stables to keep your farrier on-side! Your farrier is responsible for keeping you horse comfortable, alligned, & he needs to see the horse moving to really understand the mechanics of its movement, & he may also appreciate seeing an xray of the foot to ensure correct pedal bone angle. Stone bruises, stud holes, over reaches, sprung or pulled shoes, pads & a myriad of other variants to your shoeing will keep you out of Jimmy Choos & your horse in them!
Look forward at all your proposed due shoeing dates, moving those that lie less than 4 days before a comp (make them earlier not later), make sure you ask the farrier to drill studs holes, keep the last set of shoes as spares for when out at comps, & make sure you trot the horse up for soundness after shoeing.
This is the guy you need to have on your team!
THE VET, THERAPISTS & RECOVERY STRATEGIES.
The closer you get to your end of season championship/CCI, the more calls you will make to your vet. Guaranteed. A great vet will help you manage all the niggles that eventing creates, & do the utmost with the horse you have. Ask questions. Be curious.
Therapies may include physios, chiros, acupuncturists, bowen therapists, bio scan, massage, solarium, magnetic wraps, icing, poulticing, compression… the list is long & varied! Each horse will respond to different therapies depending on their issues, & the right one can be the saviour of your season. Research & practice things like bandaging for stabling vs exercise, icing post fitness work, warming & drying techniques for cold days, & healing pesky little rubs quickly.
You can measure distance, time, but without a Heart Rate Monitor you can’t measure intensity. It’s my go-to piece of equi-geek-tech that I can’t do without! My phone (& Garmin 910XT HRM watch) can track a map of the workout (did you know a horse can do 15km’s in an hours lunging?!), show me the elevation, amount of turning, speed, as well as HR.
A digital thermometer, set of scales (big ones for the horse, small ones for feed, & yes, a set for me too!), & deep freeze to keep bags of ice & ice boots frozen, will all make monitoring your horses progress a whole heap easier.
Plan ahead. Write your schedule in December, to begin in January & cover the next 6 months. Of course there will be setbacks, delays, rained off training or comps, but a well planned program that leaves plenty of time for fitness & training. Work backwards from your key target event, add in comps, training days, lessons, fitness work days, farriers appointments, vaccinations, days off, entries close dates, weight, feed changes, & any other notables. You’ll be so organised even iCal will be envious!