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  • Conditioning

    Ok, there was discussion about going to Foxcatcher made me go ahead and ask the opinion here.

    My boy is 5 and a half now, and has been started VERY slowly. We've done some trail riding, but at trail riding speed, not conditioning speed. Basically, we've spent most of our time walking and slow trotting in order to get those tendons and bones nice and strong. He's ready for more work, and as soon as we have a break in the weather, we will start.

    Last fall, we did a 15 mile CDR, and pulled at the halfway point. He was doing FANTASTIC considering it was his first distance event ever. I haven't done any distance riding in five or six years, I had forgotten the pace! So, we went faster and steadier than we had before. At the halfway point, he was just beginning to get a little tired, and I pulled him. I want him to enjoy distance work, and didn't feel tiring him out at his first event was the way to do it. We got a ride back to camp, and he was happy, energetic, and ready for more when we got back to camp. I was thrilled with how he did.

    But, would I be asking too much to do the LD at Foxcatcher this spring? We would go slowish, and I'm more than willing to pull if he's tired. Foxcatcher would be a good ride for us, it's right down the road and it's very familiar trails for us. But, I don't want to hurt the pony. He's the only one I have, and I plan on him being around and healthy for a long time. So, do we have enough time? What would your conditioning schedule be in this situation? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • #2
    You pulled at 7 miles because he was starting to get tired???

    Heavens to betsy, girl. Of course he was happy and energetic and ready for more when you got back to camp - he went less miles down the trail than most horses walk around their pasture.

    If you haven't done a thing this winter, then no - your horse will not be ready for Foxcatcher...


    ...you really ramp up your program starting tomorrow, start doing hills, start pushing your trot pace up to 7-8 mph, and 2 weeks before the ride you accomplish a 20 mile pre-ride in 5 hours and have his pulse down to 60 within 10 minutes.

    Read this to see what your conditioning program should be -- and follow it.

    And stop coddling your horse. He wasn't tired -- it was you. You need to get off the "I don't want to hurt my pony" bandwagon, climb in the saddle, point him down the road, and go. Not saunter, not walk - you trot him and you keep him trotting. Start getting rid of his baby fat and get some muscle on him. Get a heart monitor and learn to use it every ride. Get a GPS and learn to chart your miles every ride.

    Use those tools, use the schedule for fitness...and you AND your horse will be successful IF this is what you want to do. You should never ride to "fail" - you should only enter a ride with the goal of succeeding. Otherwise you WILL fail because you're already pre-motivated to pull for no legitimate reason.

    BTW - Foxcatcher may look easy, but it is deceptive. The terrain is lovely grassy fields but they roll continuously. There is no rest, nothing big enough to encourage you to get off and walk, very few areas where you can legitimately walk - although I've seen people at this ride just throttle back and walk anyway on the flat parts because the rolling terrain is tiring. When you consider taking the entire time to complete, please keep in mind a horse kept out for hours and hours and hours is more tiring than finishing an hour earlier because the longer they are on the trail the longer they have to wait to get a long rest.

    It is also tiring to the rider. Your body fatigues the longer you are on the trail, and that affect your posture and your riding which can translate to affecting your horse's ability to carry you. If you walk a lot, you are putting constant pressure on your horse's back. A trot offers relief, so that should be your gait of choice throughout the ride. If you have to walk, get off and walk alongside.

    You will have 6 hours to finish the ride, and that includes the hold times. Plan accordingly to finish in 4 1/2 to 5 hours as your goal.
    Last edited by gothedistance; Feb. 12, 2011, 11:09 PM.


    • Original Poster

      Yes, I pulled at 7.5 miles. I have a heart rate monitor. He trotted at a 7mph pace for the first 7 miles. His HR was runnning about 125-130 bpm, I might add, at Fairhill, so same terrain as Foxcatcher. The last little bit, his HR went up to around 140. I pulled him down to a walk to allow him to rest a bit, and his HR came down to 100ish. It hung there. His normal walking HR is 75-80. I don't know if the high HR was from starting to get tired, or because his friends left.

      Yes, we could have finished, probably fairly easily. But he'd gone a bit faster than he ever had before, and I decided i would rather take him back to camp than risk anything else. He was just turned 5, and had minimal conditioning. I was there to introduce him to the chaos of a ride environment, and see what he was going to do, not to win or anything else.

      I do the majority of my conditioning at Fairhill, or at Nottingham, which is straight up and down, so we are used to hills.

      I will always worry about hurting my horse. I will push him, and he will be conditioned, but there is nothing wrong with entering a ride unafraid of pulling at any time. I won't believe otherwise.


      • #4
        7 miles is not much, but trotting for 7 miles straight could be a bit much for a horse that is not conditioned for it. Its definitely not a good idea to go faster on endurance rides than you do at home. Make a plan on what you want your speed to be and stick to it, no matter what everyone else is doing or how fast your horse wants to go.

        I dont know anything about that particular ride, but if you have a few months, you should be able to get ready for an LD. There is nothing wrong with pulling if you are unsure, but if you make a plan and stick to it, likely you wouldnt have to.


        • #5
          Originally posted by saratoga View Post
          7 miles is not much, but trotting for 7 miles straight could be a bit much for a horse that is not conditioned for it.
          My thoughts exactly, but that would be for a pasture fat horse that isn't ridden.

          For all intents and purposes, however, the OP's horse was fine - 125-130 trotting is perfectly OK. The heart's purpose is to move blood to the surface to help the body cool. Even 100 bpm at a normal walking pace (without all the excitement of friends around him, etc) is OK. Some horses routinely have a hr of 80 or thereabouts *standing around* with the rider sitting in the saddle. It is all about cooling the body.

          At about 5 miles the heart would be getting in gear, moving blood to cool the body, etc. This horse's initial adrenaline rush with the crowd is typical - of course his hr is going to be up there, and of course he's going to act a bit down when they leave. The OP just needed to be prepared and to tell him to carry on. Throttle back the trot, but keep trotting to keep the air moving across the horse's body to cool him down. Keep the blood pumping to also carry that heat to the surface.

          If the hr had racked up to 160 or more and stayed there at the walk for over 5 minutes - and it wasn't beastly hot and humid -- it would have been cause for concern. But 100-160 bpm trotting is still fine. Baseline would be to try to keep the hr below 160. If the horse stops and stands for several minutes and the pulse doesn't drop, then the rider should start to worry.

          It sounds like the OP was using someone else's baseline for her horse and got frightened because the hr numbers seemed too high. Clearly, from the horse's attitude once back at camp, they weren't.
          Last edited by gothedistance; Feb. 13, 2011, 08:27 AM.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Arrows Endure View Post

            I will always worry about hurting my horse. I will push him, and he will be conditioned, but there is nothing wrong with entering a ride unafraid of pulling at any time. I won't believe otherwise.
            Good for you for not wanting to hurt your horse, and for not being afraid to pull. I can totally understand taking a newbie horse to a ride just to asses how he's going to handle things. A CTR is a nice type of ride to do that assessing. You've already come home knowing some things you need to work on - principally the emotional rush at the start (even tho CTRs do a controlled, individually timed start for each competitor - not the "shot gun" start of an LD or Endurance ride), and that your horse's specific hr is going to deviate a bit from the "home range" parameters you are used to seeing. Try getting out with more people when you ride, and ride as if you were in a regulated competition. See what the hr reads during those sessions, and that should give you a good idea what to expect in the real competition.

            However, please don't go to a ride and plan to pull because you failed to prepare your horse properly. You pull for lost shoes, lameness, equipment malfunctions, illness (yours or his), or unforeseen metabolics. If you stay home and work on conditioning your horse to meet your goals so that you ride to succeed, not to pull, then the only things that should take you out of the competition are the items listed above.
            Last edited by gothedistance; Feb. 13, 2011, 08:48 AM.


            • Original Poster

              I wouldn't go to a ride PLANNING to pull, but I won't hesitate to if there is a problem.

              My boy did awesome at the beginning of the ride. He was excited, but extremely controllable. He went the pace I asked, rated beautifully, wasn't herdbound, didn't insist on leading, didn't complain about following. We did discover an issue with being passed, but we are working on that now. He rode with his friends for 7 miles, and when I told them to go on, he didn't even fuss. We started out the ride trotting with a HR of 125ish. Which is normal for him. I've been riding him with a HR monitor for awhile now, so I know his normals. When, after 7 miles, the HR crept up a bit, I chose to slow him down, and when the HR didn't go back to his normal walking HR, I pulled him completely. I wasn't using anyone elses numbers, although I did ask their opinion of it, simply because the more knowledge the better.

              My last horse was a Paso, and his "trotting" HR was around 140. That was normal for him, but not for the current boy. He has that lovely arab HR and recoveries even though he's only half arab, and therefore seems to run a bit lower. What I couldn't determine was if the higher HR at the walk was because he was getting tired, or if he was just a bit upset about being out there by himself. So, not having experience with him in competition, I pulled him.

              Now, judging by his reaction after getting back to camp, I am inclined to think it was just because he was by himself. In hindsight, I would have been fine to continue. However, I'd rather err on the side of caution and live to ride another day.

              He was going faster than we did normally, and that's my fault. I had forgotten what competition speed is, so I didn't train him correctly up to that point. Ok, that will be fixed as soon as I can get his silly rear end out on the trail again. This winter has been horrid! We are planning on that happening this week, providing we don't have horrid snow or ice storms crop up. *sigh*


              • #8
                Now, judging by his reaction after getting back to camp, I am inclined to think it was just because he was by himself. In hindsight, I would have been fine to continue. However, I'd rather err on the side of caution and live to ride another day.
                Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it! I live by it in this sport!

                He was going faster than we did normally, and that's my fault. I had forgotten what competition speed is, so I didn't train him correctly up to that point. Ok, that will be fixed as soon as I can get his silly rear end out on the trail again. This winter has been horrid! We are planning on that happening this week, providing we don't have horrid snow or ice storms crop up. *sigh*
                I hear you on the weather. We are finally getting decent (warmer) weather here. No snow or ice storms in sight (they are actually calling for mid 70's by mid-week!!!!...but I'm not going to hold my breath because it is only mid February! Things can change at the drop of a hat.

                Hope you can get out soon.