Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Conditioning for Shows.

Walk and Talk

Ooh I have questions to answer so look out, it's coming at you. The first one was basically how do I get my horses fit for shows so we can discuss this today. I don't really have a fitness regime. I have tried to implement them before but I just like to ride so they end up going by the wayside. Luckily for me, I actually enjoy all parts of horse riding, so I don't mind schooling, like I know some people do. In fact I really enjoy schooling, I find the progress very satisfying.

Now I guess I will use the horses I have to start the season with, as sort of examples for this. I wont mention Rascal because that's Kim's responsibility, but I imagine she will have a long slow build-up as she had so long off last year and she is quite stiff and unbalanced from being lame for so long. We can start with Kate. Now Kate being a TB, is naturally more fit than any of the others and her fitness will improve very quickly, compared to them. So this time of year with the ground being a bog, we tend to do lots of road work and track work around the farm. We also go over the paddocks because going over once doesn't do much damage really compared to going in circles. This is a great way to start your fitness regime, providing your horse is reliable enough to go out even though he is a bit fresh.

Ideally, as the weather improves and the ground conditions do, and when I get off my butt and get the truck back on the road I will travel to all weather surfaces. So basically I start with lots of hacking out, which is predominantly walking with some trotting and (rare) cantering. Already with the little work she has had, Kate is far more toned than she was when she arrived. Ok so anyway, I like to do lots of schooling, at least a couple of days a week. Because Showjumping tends to be more explosive but shortlived efforts it's important to create carrying power muscles, you need more strength than you do endurance. Schooling is one way to achieve this.

Your strategy going into the arena has to take into account the fitness of the horse. Kate who doesn't have the schooling I like is just getting started, so it's predominantly walk work to teach her what I mean and trot work to build strength. Lots of trot work, nice and round and soft is great for fitness, providing the horse is carrying itself and is forward. Once Kate understands what I'm asking for, I will increase the difficulty- add the canter, changes of pace within the gait, start added in more lateral work, shoulder-ins etc. So with her as she gets fitter the work she is asked to do Will naturally progress. It's fairly easy to tell when your horse isn't fit enough for what you are asking because it will feel awful. The quality of the work you do is important to build the correct muscles, and to get genuine fitness improvements. Collected work is very very taxing and it's important to ask for little bits at a time once you get to collection work. take lots of breaks and when the quality of the work you are getting starts to drop, it's usually time to stop. By quality, I mean you are losing some jump in your canter or your horse is needing more help to stay soft and engaged.

-As an aside- I would specifically mention hillwork but as everywhere I go around here has a hill, it's sort of a given. Hillwork though is powerfully good exercise. I like to trot up because that creates roundness and slow cantering is also really good. Then it's always nice to have a gallop. Galloping is important for cardiovascular fitness, but for a horse like Kate is probably only necessary once very couple of weeks. I also like to do laps when the grounds good. Find a big undulating paddock and do a couple walk, then some trot, and a few canter. The specific numbers of how many laps, depends on the horses fitness. It's quite nice to do this with a friend and have a bit of a walk and talk.

I don't tend to jump a lot. Horses that know how to jump don't need a lot of jumping. I feel like a horse has a finite number of jumps in them and you don't want to waste them. For the same reason I try, where possible, to walk down hills. That being said, once the ground improves I will probably jump Kate one a week coming into the season to get to know her because she is new. Generally, once the season starts unless an issue arises, I don't jump between shows.

Now if you consider Connie who reverts to the minimum of fitness with any work off the strategy will be somewhat different, especially as this year I want to get Connie eventing fit to see if I can get more out of her. By eventing fit I guess I mean I want her to be really hard and fit beyond what is needed. However, I also believe that horses should be slightly fitter than their job requires because we want them to enjoy their work and to find it easy. If they are struggling to do their jobs, you can create quitters.

So for Connie, I plan to do probably twice the hillwork I will do on Kate and she, once fit enough, will probably be galloped or fast cantered on hills once a week. The basics that I'm putting on Kate now, Connie already has, even this unfit I put leg on and move her body over and she softens into the bridle and lifts her back. So I will do more hacking/outside work to get her fitter before I start schooling her. Kates fitness will increase as the difficulty of her schooling increases, whereas Connies fitness will need to reach a certain point before we start schooling on her. Especially because Connie was starting on collection when she got turned out and this takes a lot out of her.

I may jump her once or twice before the season starts just to see what I have got. Still while we are out hacking I will ask her to be round when we do trot work to start developing these muscles. You can do an awful lot of schooling out hacking, with leg yields and changes of pace between gaits and lots of transitions etc. You don't neccessarily have to slack off, though it nice just to go out and have a nice loose relaxed walk.

I don't neccessarily target their fitness to a certain competition, I just aim to have them at a level where they are able to do twenty minutes of canter work really easily, as the season starts. Once they start competing they will get even fitter and I don't want to take too much out of them before it all kicks off. And we will be starting easy anyway, Connie will surely start back at 90cm and with Kate who knows, depends how brave I feel I guess.

I think it's also good to say here that I always try to ride the day before a show. Sometimes a hack, or a light schooling session, just something to take the edge off so they aren't bouncing around because they have just had a day off. Stops them being so spooky also. It's especially good I feel if you can do a light schooling session in the warm-up at the show, it just makes life easier to see what bothers them there (if anything) before you add in 10 other horses.

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