I heard they call this weather “spinter”…when winter just won’t let go of spring! Training has been sporadic at best. The ground just gets dry enough to do a little bit of speed training and then it snows/rains again. I guess I should actually call it conditioning, as my horse has many miles of training and every spring it is really conditioning to get him race fit again.
Many people wonder what kind of training gets a horse fit to race up to 100 miles in under a day. There are many different methods and theories, so I will explain what works for me and my horse. I actually believe it is very similar to people training for a marathonm and if you relate what you do with your horse to people, you can’t go too far wrong.
I ride every other day and vary my training. One day, I will do sprint training, which is getting into a field and then varying my speeds at intervals. For example, slow jog for a mile, canter for a mile, slow jog for a mile, fast trot for a mile. I usually average 10 miles on these days. We do the slow jog as our recovery pace and it is also used in races for recovery, which is a speed of about six miles/hour.
The next training day, I will do hills. I go slowly up and down them. The hills are used to build strength and increase cardio with lower impact of steady pounding on joints. There is a saying that horses have only so many uphills and downhills in them so take care on the hills and make time on the flat. I actually did an experiment at one ride where I cantered my horse up all the hills in the ride (because she seemed to want to). By the end of the ride, she was very tired. The next year, I did the same ride and made her walk the hills and went fast on the flat. She finished the ride with plenty left to spare and in a faster time than the preceding year.
The next training day of the week, I will just go for a ride, varying my speed but working more on completing the varied terrain of 10 miles in a certain time. I used to use a heart rate monitor on my horse to evaluate fitness. It is an extremely valuable tool to use to learn training, the impact on your horse and how your horse recovers from the different types of training. Some riders use them during races, but I find this far too stressful and prefer just monitoring miles and speed with a GPS.
One of these days every two weeks I will go for a 20 mile ride. No goal in this 20 miles other than time spent in the saddle and enjoyment. This is a very important ride as your horse gets used to the hours you may spend in the saddle. It also brings home the main reason you do this….not just to train but because you love riding and spending time with your horse.
Many riders will ride every day worrying about getting enough training in. It is important to remember that a day of rest for muscle recovery is just as important as the training miles. Try going to the gym everyday and working different muscle groups. You will soon appreciate the day off of recovery!
We have had a few great training rides and we head to Manitoba tomorrow to go do back to back 50 miles rides to prepare for our 100 mile qualifier in the middle of May. No real goal other than to finish fit and well in a reasonable time. My horse is fit enough to do this but not to go out and race and finish first each day.
A hard lesson to learn but have your goals and stick to them. Finishing a ride is more important than winning. Especially if completing the ride helps you to achieve a larger goal. I want my horse to peak for Normandy, France in August and all of our rides leading up to France will be building up for the ultimate ask of speed in France.