I was the fat kid from my birth until… well, right now actually. I hated gym class, was sucky at sports and slept through high school health class. So when I said, “Oh jeez, I need a fitness plan for my horses,” I went for the big guns.
Enter Dr. Stephanie Davis, my small-but-mighty (and adorable) savior.
The lady Dr. Davis (Steph and her husband, Chad Davis, are both vets and awesome), in addition to being an extremely competent veterinarian, events the upper levels on her wonderful warmblood mare Tall Chai Latte. They just made their intermediate debut and were third after dressage, bitches, so the girl’s got skills.
Add that to an extensive education in all things equine-feed related, working with both Pennfield Equine (leaders in grain manufacturing and research) and Haygain (hay steamers to the equine superstars), and Steph was my gal Friday to do a fitness plan makeover. Or, rather, a fitness plan make, since there really wasn’t one before, so there’s really no need for the “over.”
Step 1: Trot Sets. I call her up and say, “OK, I’m ready. Lay it on me.”
“They’re already in work, so after a 10-minute walk warm-up, start by trotting for 20 minutes straight. Then cool them down. If they’re dead, do less the next time. If they’re not, do more.”
This does not sound very scientific.
But that’s really all there is to it. Trot. Change your diagonal periodically. Work your way up as fit as you need (guessing about 40 minutes, but who knows), 5-minute increases every 2-3 weeks. Hills are great if you have ‘em. Doesn’t have to be big hair-on-fire trot; normal, on-the-bit trot. Be careful down the steeper hills. Don’t do anything stupid. Cool them down enough at the end.
That’s it? That’s all? Yep, that’s it, that’s all.
So we start. Midge just does the trot stuff; he’s plenty trained, and I feel like he could probably use at least a little mental break. He’s a little tired at the end of Day 1, but not bad. Day 2, he feels great. And Day 3 I decide to do just a little arena work first, and he feels AMAZING; light and keen and happy as a clam. Two days and he’s already a new man. Wow.
Ella and Tres I modify down to less trotting, because I want to do work with them in the mornings. So I ride Ella, and Allison rides Tres for about half an hour on the morning of Day 1 and then decide to do 10 minutes of trotting in the afternoon. Then the plan is to give them Day 2 off from trotting and instead put them in our exerciser to just walk, then go back to trotting on Day 3.
Ella is super, bright eyed and bushy tailed. She’s a little sore-feeling in her back on Day 2, but she’s also not NEARLY as fit as Midge, as she’s still on her way back from her leg-funk-induced down time. But she’s phenomenal to work the morning of Day 3, and is even chipper in the trot set. She’ll go in the exerciser tomorrow.
Tres is another story. He, too, is on his way back from some down time but has been fairly bright eyed about it all. But the 10 minutes of trotting on Day 1, according to him, is ANIMAL CRUELTY, and when Allison goes to ride him on Day 2 he looks like he might have the vapors, complete with a dramatic back-of-hand-to-forehead faint.
So we’ve backed down on him even more, only doing the trot sets on the days when we do them, and working him as normal on the days when we don’t.
All three horses are going in the exerciser together every other day to walk for an hour, half and half in each direction.
Midge goes to his first real show at Grand Prix (wahoo!) in about two weeks, so he’ll do the trot stuff for another week or so, and then I’ll put him back in training until the show. The other two don’t have anything on their dance cards for a while, so I think it’s Fitness September, and we’ll reevaluate at the end of the month.
Step 2: Diet Consult. Stephanie will be out early next week. I’ll report back then!
WARNING: Just like they say at the end of all those TV exercise program informercials, consult your (veterinary) physician before beginning an exercise program.