This year I`m aiming to do more stamina training with Otis, as we always end up tight to the time cross country, or flagging towards the end.
I`m not in a hurry to go eventing or anything so I`ve been doing a lot of dressage and flat work in January, and he`s now barely coming out in a sweat after an hours intense dressage lesson. But galloping muscles are completely different.
Now the weather is starting to get better and hopefully drier, I`ve decided to begin doing some interval training. Last year I had a useful field, but it`s still too soggy for that, so I boxed Otis over to some local all weather gallops.
Interval training with horses is a lot like interval training for humans, and it can become a precise art form…
I kept it simple though. Mainly because the gallops was slightly less than a mile and I didn`t have a stop watch. As it was our first session and the ground still a bit squelchy I didn`t want to risk his tendons in deep ground, so I chose not to work on Otis`s galloping speed too much, but rather his stamina.
We began with a trot once around the gallops; a swinging, open stride to get us both warmed up. Then we went round twice in an open, easy canter in light seat. I didn`t need to push him at all, and it felt very comfortable until the last half lap, which was a good estimation of Otis`s baseline fitness.
Next we had a break for half a lap. This is the boring part as there isn`t much to see or look at on the gallops, and I felt that Otis was recovering well. The idea behind interval training is that you work your horse for a specific length of time (I used laps) and then allow them a set time to recover, but they won`t fully recover, before working them again for either a longer time or at a faster gait. This improves their cardiovascular fitness because it is not allowed to fully recover before being stressed again.
Back to my session. After half a lap of walking, well perhaps it was slightly less, I asked Otis to gallop up the hill, and then we walked the last stretch, which was the boggiest. We probably galloped between a third and half a mile.
When we reached the next lap, we set off into another easy, open striding canter. After a whole lap it was back to trot on a long rein and two thirds of the way round we walked and then I took Otis out for a walk down the road until he was fully recovered.
In total I was on the gallops for almost forty minutes and Otis was definitely hot, with his veins up, and sweating around the shoulders, under the saddle and girth, but he wasn`t exhausted. Which wasn`t the aim of my ride. I wanted him to work his galloping muscles and to find a baseline level of fitness for future reference.
Since Sunday I`ve done some more reading about interval training to remind myself of the ins and outs. Ultimately interval training is a procedure that has fairly vague guidelines and everyone has their own specifics, depending on their discipline, horse and hacking availability. Initially I want to increase the duration of our work, as opposed to the speed, and then fit in some sprint sessions, whilst leaving the rest periods the same. When this is becoming easier for Otis then adding in some hills (which may mean finding another field or set of gallops to use) will increase the demands on his cardiovascular system.
Here are some links I came across which you might find interesting: