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Fitness of the dressage horses?

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  • Fitness of the dressage horses?

    Just asking. From what I have seen so far it seems to me that a lot of these horses are not really that fit. I know that they are probably strong, but I think stamina was left out of the preparation equation. Especially considering the fact that heat and humidity were known factors for these Games.


  • #2
    I'd like comments on that too from people closer to the action - armchair athletes aside -

    It seemed to me that the horses did not look "fit" in the normal sense of the word. They looked overweight, or chunky by build, and their stomachs were not tucked up. The test is long and requires sustained muscular energy and in the heat and humidity I can see, in the collected movements, that breathing would be hard - just struck me. Not meant to be a criticism, just a question, like the OP.

    Does a GP dressage horse ever get to work out at the strong canter or gallop, or do hills, etc?
    Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


    • #3
      Nothing but an armchair rider here. But the GP dressage horses are FIT, particularly strength wise, but also cardio. If you were to poke them, they'd be very solidly muscled. GP is very taxing, and straight dressage people tend to warm up a lot longer than, say, eventers, so horses come into the ring later in their workout. They do tend to be chunkier by build (but not overweight...their ribcages are really widely sprung) and a large number of them were hanging out in Europe this summer with less heat and humidity.

      I think it was the commentator during the eventing mentioned that the horses' body temperatures - a measure of exertion - were higher after dressage than XC. And if that's true in super-fit event horses doing a 3rd level test, I can only imagine what doing a GP-level test is like. Plus, the GP test is about 8 minutes long, as long as a XC course.

      I wouldn't consider huffing and puffing as a sign of lack of fitness, rather as a sign of the extent of the exertion. Also, the regular 'snorty' sort of breathing is a sign of relaxation (the rate of breathing more a sign of exertion). The two GP horses I've had the pleasure of knowing were schooled about 1 hr/day and taken out for a long walk for another 30-60 minutes/day, six days a week, plus a half day of turnout. Some riding/schooling on trails and hills - for both mental and physical reasons. No real galloping, not sure if that would be the right sort of conditioning for a dressage horse? I'm no expert.


      • #4
        That's an amusing suggestion.

        The horses were making a noise when they breathe because they were excited and up in the arena. I also think there was the heat.

        The key is that their breathing was in rhythm with their strides. As long as the breathing and the strides match rhythm, the horse may be working hard, but is not working under duress.

        There can be, however, a higher pitched or louder breathing sound that even in rhythm is of concern. I only heard that with 1 horse, and that horse has had a tieback surgery and may always make something of a noise. You would need to know in more depth how the horse sounds every day when it comes out and works to be really sure what was going on.

        I think people here would be absolutely appalled at what most of the grand prix horse's exercise and work program is like. They do an immense amount of very hard work. They work up to it gradually, over years, of course, but they work extremely hard.

        When I got my lease horse, he was so fit he would climb the walls if he wasn't worked, and i mean his a** worked off, every day. He needed an hour a day of walking, turnout sufficient for him to have a real wail, AND an hour of work. 6 days a week, or he would hit the ceiling, that's what he was doing where he came from. And he was a third level horse.

        I laughed so hard I practically busted a gut, comparing how that horse was worked to the way the horses are worked at some of the local/regional barns I've been at. Those guys are serious how they work the horses. The horse had muscles on his hind end like granite.

        When we looked at horses in Europe, there was none of this, 'let's give Sparky the day off, I want to go shopping'. It was a very serious business and all the good horses worked very hard.

        I was told by a GP trainer that my horse had to be capable of cantering and trotting, non stop, in collection, with going from ext to med to collected gaits, doing changes, pirouettes, half steps - continuously, what he referred to as 'riding your a** off', for 45 minutes without a walk break, 5-6 days a week...to do third level....and as she said, 'I work my GP horses harder than that'. They all got galloped weekly and most were worked twice a day, not once a day.

        You do see some people working them lightly, but it's usually an 'iffy' horse they're trying to 'spare' to keep it going for a given competition...competitions....

        If you see a fat unfit dressage horse, it's usually because they are being ah...'spared'. There are a few horses that are just tubby and are fine, sound and fit, but they have muscles on them, muscle around the stifle, muscle on the back, muscle on the top of the shoulder...

        I used to work for a trainer whose GP horses were not fit - he barely ran thru the movements at a very slow gait with very little energy - no extensions, no mediums, and very little work on pirouettes - each horse was ridden for about 15-20 minutes 3 times a week, no longeing, no redoing things, very rarely turned out, usually hand grazed. Both horses had leg problems and it was just kind of 'on a wing and a prayer' all the time. He used to be the 'master of keeping going'. He used to get out of the truck at the show grounds, go walking around and see if the drug testers were there, and if they were, come back and scratch the horses and go home....
        Last edited by slc2; Aug. 14, 2008, 04:42 PM.


        • #5
          Does a GP dressage horse ever get to work out at the strong canter or gallop, or do hills, etc?
          You should watch Jan Brinks train. Most of his stuff is done in trails and big fields. very little arena work. Kyra K talks alot about it too. How you have to combine strength training (which can be considered collection work in and out of gaits) then cardio for horses.
          Anyway, yes........ its a big part of it with some.
          But then again, this is different from race horse fit (lean), so I think that is why some think they are "fat."
          Home of Puerto D'Azur - 1998 NA 100 Day Test Champion
          "Charcter is much easier kept than recovered"


          • #6
            They're fit, just not endurance fit.
            Boss Mare Eventing Blog


            • Original Poster

              Okay, but considering the heat and humidity...do you think anyone would have upped the aerobic component of their fitness routine to build stamina? Or if "sparing" the horse is an issue, do any use swimming to build stamina?


              • #8
                I don't think you can compare the 'stamina' without knowing the *recovery rates.*

                A very fit dressage horse might be soaked and blowing at the end of a test, and might have a perfectly normal heartrate and respirations very quickly after. Of course, they have to be cooled... but...

                It's different muscle mass entirely. What looks like 'not tucked up' is incredibly well developed abs and loin. Well worked upper level horses develop what we lovingly refer to as 'the FEI bump' behind the saddle--muscles build up. So the more fit the horse gets, the thicker they get. Same for necks. There's a reason Brentina looks like a stallion.

                Compare it this way, the dressage horse is more of a wrestler, the eventing horse, more of a kick-boxer. Both are fit, just different *types* of fitness.

                Oh, and yes, many dressage horses get out for a good gallop quite regularly. Not all, but many.
                InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs

                Bits are like cats, what's one more? (Petstorejunkie)


                • #9
                  I find it somewhat perplexing that people are asking if these horses are fit. Most of them are worked 2x per day. They are VERY fit. They are on high performance diets and heavy work out schedules. They are huffing and puffing because they have been flown half way around the world to the most air-polluted place they could possibly compete. Add humidity and heat to the mixture after LONG and taxing travel time - and you have horses that are blowing hard regardless of previous work out regiments simply from air quality issues alone. Don't kid yourself.....these riders have prepped relentlessly not only for these games but for regular international competition. You wanna see a horse "blow"??? Check out the finish line of the cross country. Those horses about about to keel over and they are totally fit. GP Dressage - just like GP showjumping and eventing are enormous workouts for horse and rider. Nobody in there is out of shape I would venture to guess....


                  • #10
                    Also, no amount of cardiovascular fitness can prepare a horse's system for the amount of humidity in HK. (especially when they come from north america or GB, or parts of europe)

                    You can take a horse as fit as possible, and without a couple months (yes, months) to acclimatize to the change in humidity, and also to recover from the very exhausting trip, they will not come out 100%.

                    it is foolish to think that just because a horse is reacting to extreme stress, heat and humidity and breaths a little harder, it isn't fit.

                    those horse are unbelievably fit!
                    Nothing worth having comes easily.


                    • #11
                      They were legitimate questions - not foolish - when you want to know something come to COTH and get some answers and some other comments, esp. in dressage.
                      Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                      • #12
                        I don't know... some of those baroque horses were downright chubby. I mean I appreciate the stoutness of those breeds but they were fat and I agree with whoever posted in the other thread that they were just poor representations of the breeds.
                        "I loved you all, but Horse Racing was my first love" -Vic Stauffer


                        • #13
                          If one is used to seeing lighter horses like TBs, the dressage Warmbloods can look pretty heavy and lumbering to the unfamiliar eye. The draught influence is very noticeable in some of the horses, too, and that creates a different look in their bodies and in the way they move. As far as the breathing goes, some would say that the training methods employed by some dressage riders contribute to breathing difficulties--what I have seen at the Olympics with the dressage riders has really made me think about whether the training methods have a negative impact on breathing, but then again, it is ridiculously hot and humid for those poor horses. Another consideration is that some of these horses are much more massive than ordinary horses and are having to cool a much larger body mass in general. It's amazing to me that they are performing as well as they are. Not to mention the general atmosphere that would probably freak me out completely, much less a horse. That alone could make any horse sweat and breathe extra hard.


                          • #14
                            ...however, since I was in love with Invasor at Athens, it is great that these breeds are being shown at the top level and getting the scores to justify it. Portugal and Spain are proud of their horses - good on them. (Chubby, crests, yes!)

                            Actually, Cara Whitman commented that Kyra had taken some pounds off Max and that he was going better for it, so that answered some of my question. Bonaparte was my favorite.
                            Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                            • #15
                              newrider, there is no 'draft influence' in warmbloods. They are not part draft horse and never were. they are bigger, stronger more muscular horses, but draft blood was not used to create that.


                              • #16
                                but the blood of agricultural horses was, ie Gelderlander.
                                Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                                • #17
                                  Sorry, I should have said farm and carriage horses rather than draught horses. And I was referring to their roots not recent history of the breeds.


                                  • #18
                                    Even in their 'roots'. No draft horses.


                                    • #19
                                      I guess I am not clear on what differentiates a horse bred for farm labor (look on many of the WB breed sites and this is clearly stated as part of their breeding history) and a draft horse. My confusion probably comes from things like this definition from Wikipedia: "A draft horse, draught horse or dray horse (from the Anglo-Saxon dragan meaning to draw or haul) is a large horse bred for hard, heavy tasks such as ploughing and farm labour. There are a number of different breeds, with varying characteristics but all share common traits of strength, patience and a docile temperament which made them indispensable to generations of pre-industrial farmers. Draft horses and draft crossbreds are versatile breeds used today for a multitude of purposes, including farming, show, and other recreational uses."

                                      The whole point I was trying to make originally is that if you are used to seeing eventing or foxhunting or other more Thoroughbred-type horses, the dressage horses look very different, in part because of their breeding. And because they don't look like they would be able to go on, for example, a four-hour hunt, someone who is not familiar with the high level of fitness required for what they do might look only at the massive bodies that don't move with speed and agility as much as suppleness and power (although they are agile too, it just looks different on an 18hh Hanoverian than on, say, a 15hh Anglo-Arab) and think that the body type indicates a lack of fitness.


                                      • #20
                                        ..I got your point!
                                        Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique