Thursday, March 3, 2011

Conditioning

The past couple of years, every Spring it seems, I keep coming back around to the subject of conditioning. But, I never seemed to come up with any sort of a set conditioning program.

Well, in my this month's Barrel Horse News, I think I read one of the most down to earth, reasonable conditioning programs for barrel horses I have ever come across. It was written by Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, SD...

'...I do a lot of long trotting. I wouldn't say that I keep track of the miles or anything like that, but I try to judge what my horses need by the experience of being an athlete myself. I start out slow and then long trot a lot, and then graduate to loping. In order to make sure their wind is built up, I think you need to lope your horses. Now with that said, it is a proven fact that long trotting exercises more muscles in the horse's body than just loping.

I try to do a lot of riding at both the long trot and the lope. Depending on how rushed I am, I would say that from the time I leave the barn to the time I come back is somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes. Of course, that allows time to warm up just walking and then time for the horse to cool down. You don't want to jump out and start on a stringent exercise program that is too much for your horse. You need to build up to the maximum workout times. Just make sure you incorporate all gaits in your workout.

I also really like to turn my horses out and allow them to have enough pasture time to keep them happy. Turn-out time helps them relax...

...If you're wondering if your horse is in good shape, you need to assess how winded he gets when working out. If you can lope a horse to build their stamina and then, every once in a while, go maybe a quarter of a mile at a faster lope, you are covering your bases. You have to gauge your horse and see how long you have to ride to get him to sweat or get their breathing labored....'


I have always kind of thought the rigid, I do this for this long and that for that long type of conditioning just didn't jive. I suppose that is why I just never could get with 'the program'. Every horse is different and if you try to make each one perform a set standard, you have a good chance of either ending up with a horse that lacks what they need or ending up with an injured horse because you expected too much.

Since I have multiple horses that need rode, I have to focus on getting the most effective workout for each horse, in the most efficient time-frame possible. I also have horses all over the board in terms of condition. If I tried to ride Frosty the same as I do Moon, he would probably fall over from a heart attack. Spooks is getting there, but still he can only take so much. Turk will keep going no matter what and I have to be careful of that because he has been unbalanced for so long, that I don't want to re-injure him or make him unnecessarily sore.

You have to pay attention to what your horse is telling you, but you also have to know your horse. Over-achievers need to be backed off, lazy horses need to be pushed. I ride 4 horses the same mileage every day, but it depends on the horse as to what I ask for in those miles. I have the opportunity to add miles as my horses gain condition, as I have a lot of pretty much endless riding areas within a few miles of my house, but I am not creating endurance horses. I need a horse who has the physical ability to run, rate and turn in short bursts, so that is what I gear my conditioning toward.





10 comments:

Danielle Michelle said...

I'm a huge fan of the long trot and short sprints. It's what I used to do when I ran - jogged then sprinted, then jogged, then sprinted, then walked...etc

It helps if you have a sandy area also!

Cut-N-Jump said...

One size does NOT fit all. Just like one training method doesn't work on all horses, or work for every one of us.

It truly is an area that needs to be personalized depending on the horse, the rider and what kind of competition you are going after.

Rising Rainbow said...

Reading this it very much fits what I want to do with my horses. Sure mine is different in that I want my horses to be able to do very collected work but the principles are still the same AND unlike many who show horses, I don't want my horses to be tired when they work. I want them to be fit enough they can take the rigors of a horse show and not be exhausted. I think exhaustion leads to unhappy horses and I don't want my horses to hate horse shows, I want them to like them. That means they must have the stamina to deal with the crazy schedules of schooling and classes that horse shows bring. Those short sprints you mentioned are very helpful in that regard.

in2paints said...

I've been trying to put together a conditioning program for Lilly too. I think I've always done too little, but I don't know when it turns into too much.

I'm contemplating the purchase of one of those heart rate monitors so I can see how long it takes for her heart rate to return to normal.

Chelsi said...

Great post and great article, thanks for sharing... sometimes I just need straight forward, simple advice that isnt so complicated that it leaves me more confused in the end than I was to begin with!

Right now my biggest struggle is to ride enough (mostly because of a weather issue) and not riding enough makes it hard to give good works on the day you do ride because then I am worried about over doing it.)

fernvalley01 said...

Great post and sound advice!

cdncowgirl said...

I've always been a fan of long trotting. When I started running barrels I started adding in sprints.

Crystal said...

That sounds like a lot of good advice there, I have never really thought about how much or how long, I just seem to do quite a bit of trotting with some loping in, some need lots of trotting before loping and some seem to just need more loping.

cattypex said...

Great post!!
When I was a teenager I used to show H/J, and also did a lot of trail riding. I was fortunate enough to board at a place that had 65 acres with trails, and those trails kept going on "friendly" land. I did a LOT of trotting and cantering up hills, and on the flat, in a 2-point position, which was great for the horse AND me. I used to win egg-and-spoon all over the damn place, and had a really balanced independent seat. *sigh* Those were the days. My horse was super fit and happy, too.

I got my first "adulthood" horse last year and boarded at a primarily western pleasure barn. There are about 24 horses on less than a dozen acres there, and the only place to ride is the indoor arena. Sooo my horse would go out (hardly at ALL in wet weather - he stood in his stall for a solid WEEK, which about caused me to blow my stack, but I just moved him instead) in a couple-acre drylot with some buddies, he had a problem with thrush all winter, his arthritis made him very stiff, and his eyes were watering from the intense... ODOR... in the barn. His topline just SAGS. Of course it's all par for the course for the WP people, where they get on a couple times a week, crank their horses' heads down, and lopelopelopelopelope. Then spend big bucks on chiropractic for their horses' tilted pelvises. Common practice around here.

So I moved him a week ago to a place with over 50 acres & about a dozen horses. The BO is a trail and endurance rider. Even the pasture puffs look fit. My horse's legs aren't puffy anymore, and 5 days of pasture, WET WET WET pasture mind you (we are having bad floods this spring), have cleared up his thrush almost 100% already.

My whole point: You can't beat hills for conditioning. No amount of trotting over ground poles can replace that. Show and race people can often lose sight of the simply-gained benefits of frequent riding over natural terrain, for both mind and body. It's not rocket science. I had a non-horsey, athletic friend who applied human conditioning principles to his mom's homegrown TBs, who almost immediately started doing pretty well on the local racetrack. So I have no idea what's going on in that world, except it's not any kind of scientific or common sense athletic training....

Funder said...

So are there really barrel horses that can't get out and trot/lope 3 miles without getting winded? They have nothing but sprint in them? Seems really shortsighted to me to expect a horse to gallop tight turns without building up the legs with some trail mileage.