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Lower level conditioning question

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  • Lower level conditioning question

    I ride NOVICE/school some training, not upper levels. So all the usual guidelines for conditioning are a bit over the top.

    Background/situation first:
    I have ridden for over 40 yrs, have evented for over 20. Novice rider who did a few trainings when I was not quite so old, but not young.
    The horse I ride is a big (17.2) mare I basically raised. TB/Hanv cross but built more like the Hanv, ie she is big in body too. Never been lame in her life, has ugly tree trunk legs and big feet. Very free sweater, always has been, so overheating is never an issue with her.

    My work schedule is insane so a conditioning plan of "M do this, T do this, Wed do this, etc" is not a reality. I work a couple of days (14 hrs on average so riding on work days is NOT an option) then am off some. I work anywhere from 1 to 4 days in a row (rarely more than 4) and be off anywhere from 1 day to as much as a week or a bit more. If there is any such thing as a pattern to my work schedule it is work 2-3 days, be off 2-3 days. But that is prob only applicable 50% of the time.

    Our horses are at home, so I don't have boarding issues at least. We have 80 acres, gently rolling in many places, flat as a pancake in others. Indoor arena with wonderfull footing (if I may say so myself). Some cross country fences but not alot. And stadium fences that I can set most anywhere.

    Her temperment is such that I can't drill her. I made that mistake a few years ago and "over trained" her. She is a bit of a mare anyway but she got really really witchy and sour, etc. So I do have to be a bit carefull about how much I do with her to keep her fresh and happy. Dressage usually needs to be 2 days in a row. First day usually sucks and then the second day is good. Sometimes I can add a 3rd day but again, I run the risk of "over training" her.

    I don't jump if someone is not here. Usually that isn't a problem though. (Part is safety reasons, part is I don't want to get on and off repeatedly to set fences!!)

    On our "conditioning" days what we usualy do is 3 min of walk, 3-5 min trot, 3 min walk, 3-5 min trot, 3 min walk, 3-5 min "gallop", 3 min walk, 3-5 min gallop. Then walk for about 5 min on way back to barn. Lately I have been upping the trots and canters to 5 min. But I am finding that in the last canter set she will "hit a wall" at about 4 mins. She isn't panting or seems in anyway any different than after her previous canter set. But at about 4 mins she just drops to walk. Not even a break to trot.

    She also has never developed her changes. And I am flying change handicapped so I am of no help. As such, most of her canter sets she is on one lead for the duration. Even with coming to trot to change she frequently wants back on whatever her original lead was. This isn't an issue on courses as the jumps break that up for her.

    Anyway, this system worked really well all winter and spring, and early summer. But now it isn't.

    She is on oral electrolytes and 707, eats Strategy Healthy Edge, dewormed regularily as needed, is otherwise healthy and in good flesh but not fat. I have started giving her a dose of some of the recovery pastes that race horse folks use after each ride but that isn't really helping either. She is out 24-7 with 2 other horses on about 10 acres. Fed twice a day, free choice salt block in addition to the electrolytes, yadda, yadda.

    She gets hosed off and turned back out after she is cool after each ride. After our gallop days I also do an absorbine/water sponge off. I try to do the gallop day at the end of my days off period so she has several days off after it.

    She is getting her hocks, etc done tomorrow since she just started being really stiff and resistant to the left, which has always been her easy side. She will have 4 days off after that since I am working 4 in a row. Then off one, then work 2.... Like I said, my schedule is screwy.

    This "week" we did some dressage yesterday, and again today (today was a disaster which I will write off to her being sore and needing jts done). Had planned on doing some "conditioning" tomorrow morning, before her appt.

    Any general ideas? Do I need to do our conditioning days differently?


  • #2
    I have the same problem as you regarding the schedule... only mine is 82 hrs in one week, then nothing for a week. Which.. is great that week off, but not fun during the week on. Though at least it's 3 days, one off, then 3 days, so I can usually ride the first day, give him two days off, ride the next two, then two days off.

    Wish I could move in with you though!! Your farm sounds lovely

    Maybe try doing a day a week (roughly) or just a LOOOOOOONG walk.. using those hills!! People underestimate the power of a 2 hr long walk! And it's not something that will "drill" her either.....

    Also, maybe try longer stretches of trot. Fleck and I usually do 15-30 straight minutes of trotting, then do our canter sets. He's probably a bit like your girl in that he needs wind work. Ie... he really feels like he can trot alllllll day long, but the canter work starts to get to him. So maybe try building up some fitness with that and then just gradually increase some of your canters. But it will take time.

    And maybe some of her "quitting" is just being sore. Perhaps she'll improve after her hocks get done. Oh... one other thing... the day after fitness stuff (like the intervals) is a PERFECT day for a long walk!!! I think it's actually better than a few days off. Though like you... I can't always make it work out that way.

    Good luck!

    I just did the Insanity work out and UGH.... I hate Intervals!!! Fleck did his yesterday, so my turn today


    • #3
      You sure it's not just the clock in her head that says "OK, we're done, time to stop now"? Gwen could time intervals to the SECOND and knew when we were doing 3 x 5s or 3 x 6s and would wind herself down right on time.

      If the mare is not really blowing or sweating excessively, maybe she's just bored or in a rut with the interval days. A Novice/Training horse doesn't need that much--maybe mix the interval work up a little--I used to do 15 minutes walk, 10 minutes trot, then the canter sets with walking in between. Try some hills instead, maybe a change of scenery?

      Breaking to a walk when she hasn't been asked to is just plain DISOBEDIENT.

      Can't help you on flying changes . . . if mine don't come with those installed, they certainly don't learn them on my watch.
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        If you're not having any problems with her fitness (and it sounds like you're not) or her dressage and jumping work, I'd say you're good.

        I would make a point of cantering/galloping her on her weak side. My horse is weak to the right, and last night when we did gallops, she kept switching. I know that's something that can be improved with strength.

        I guess my question is, what are you noticing now that you think is a problem?
        Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck; some nights I call it a draw. -- fun.

        My favorite podcasts: Overdue, The Black Tapes, Tanis, Rabbits, How Did This Get Made?, Up and Vanished.


        • Original Poster

          Originally posted by cllane1 View Post

          I guess my question is, what are you noticing now that you think is a problem?
          The fact that she is hitting a wall. Not like her at all so I know something isn't right.

          It isn't disobience. I know her well enough. She is tired but not blowing, etc.

          We do hill work. Actually where we are working is not flat at all. Nicely rolling with up/down/across hills.


          • #6
            I don't know if this applies, but as my mare got older being out 24/7 made her more pooped. You don't say how old she is, but something to think about. When my mare was young I could barely stay on her if she was living in at night (or day in the summer). As she aged, she was much "happier" and more willing when she had a stall to call her own.
            "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" Immanuel Kant


            • #7
              Depends on your mare (and it sounds like you know her well) but is there a chance that she's tired and thus getting lazy? Like the 'wall' that she hits is her way of saying "ok I'm ready to be done now I'm tired" - more behavioral than physical? Ive found that on some horses. And it sounds like yours checks-out health wise.
              “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
              -Winston Churchill


              • #8
                DMG?? as a supplement - very economical. It supports the horse’s normal muscle function and recovery. Helps transport oxygen that breaks down glycogen to fuel the ATP cycle, creating energy in the body. All the people who give reviews on this say that it noticeably increases their horse's stamina. We had a horse who hit a wall and this did work for that horse.

                Let us know what ends up working for you. I hate reading these posts, reading the advice and then not knowing what ends up helping the problems.
                Don't let anyone tell you that your ideas or dreams are foolish. There is a millionaire walking around who invented the pool noodle.


                • #9
                  Agree with FleckenAwesome - my Novice horses all trot for at least 30 min without a break, including hills. They don't gallop for fitness other than the odd xc school and events unless they are very heavy types.

                  If the horses live out and are in light work, I start with a 15 or 20 min trot set. Posting trot and some two point, not too fast, balanced and in a shape that builds good top line muscle and helps them be up in front. For some horses this looks like a dressage trot, for others its slightly higher in the head and neck. Whatever outline gets them engaged and up hill. The trotting should be improving your dressage training at the same time - no need to waste footfalls and time in the saddle not doing good training! (That idea might help your mare too, since she doesn't like to drill. Some horses learn better in a less structured environment.) My horses trot 3 or 4 times a week until they have done the trot interval 5 times, then I go up by 5 minutes. Between trot days they might hack, jump, dressage, whatever is right for the horse. Some days they do a little schooling in the ring after trotting. Again, depends on the horse. Since your mare lives out more days off will work better for her than my stabled horses.

                  My rule of thumb is that no horse gallops or school XC until it has done 5 days of 30 min trot - I want it for baseline fitness and to avoid leg injuries.


                  • #10
                    I have heavy horses (draft x and a big warmblood) who I have successfully conditioned for Training and Prelim, respectively.

                    You've gotten good advice from everyone -- lots of walking on terrain, incorporate a long trot, etc.

                    What I do is alternate a long trot (for novice, 20 mins on terrain is fine, for Training, 25, for Prelim 35 or 40) day with a sets day. So whenever you have a conditioning day (and if you can't condition at least once a week, I think it's probably not fair to ask her to compete at a level that does require conditioning), do whichever workout you didn't do last time....

                    Also, for Novice, I think you are not doing enough when you do condition. I usually do 3x5 minute trots, with 2 min walk breaks, followed by 3x3 minute canters, with two minute walk breaks. If she hits the wall at 4 minutes, I would definitely try 3 3 minute canters instead of 2 4 or 5 minute ones...

                    Do as much as she can do of that before she hits the wall, and then next time, push her 15 seconds longer each set (up to 3 x 3 minutes -- 3 4 minutes isn't necessary for Novice) until you get to your target.

                    Good luck!
                    The big man -- my lost prince

                    The little brother, now my main man


                    • #11
                      What happens when she "hits the wall" and breaks to the walk? Do you stop and go home? What does she do if you really press her to keep going? If she's showing no physical signs of distress, then I'm still unconvinced this isn't a form of mental checking out, possibly due to discomfort or just general "this is stupid" opinionated mare behavior.
                      Click here before you buy.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MeghanDACVA View Post
                        The fact that she is hitting a wall. Not like her at all so I know something isn't right.

                        It isn't disobience. I know her well enough. She is tired but not blowing, etc.
                        If she is hitting the wall NOW, and didn't before under similar workload, I'd call the vet to look at her.

                        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks all!! This is all wonderful help. Really what I need.

                          Update: Had her to vet today. Long story (and now short checkbook) she got both hocks and both stifles injected. Had some effusion in one stifle but rads were clean. Some changes in hocks. Left worse than right. After blocked out both stifle and then hock in L she was still off/sore in the rght but actually not worse and you really had to look to see it. Meaning it was mainly her left side. Which matches with what I was feeling and getting in our flat work.

                          She gets 4 days off, since I am working the next 4 days. So I will see how she feels on Wed.

                          As for her hitting the wall. She just flat can't do any more at that point. Physically, not stamina. And that just started the last couple of weeks. So I am attributing it to her being sore behind. When she does hit that wall I can kick, spur, smack all I want and she can't. If I give her a walk break for a couple of minutes she can pick up again but poops out pretty quickly again.

                          She is not an easy horse but I know her almost too well. There are subtle difference I can feel/know between her just being lazy, bitchy, "working me", or real. The wall hitting has been real. And now I know why (I hope).

                          As for her being out 24-7 and age. She is 14 now. But she really is an outside horse. She will tolerate being in but that is it: tolerates it. I wish at shows there was some way to have her out in a paddock instead of a stall. But I know that not realistic. So she sucks it up at shows.

                          DMG is a good ideal. I am running blood work her tomorrow at work too, just be sure there isn't something else. I know she "just a novice horse" and not even a very good one at that but she does try for me (most of the time) and figure I owe her the opportunity to be good.

                          I will try to update later. But senility often gets the better of me and it may be a couple of weeks?

                          Thanks again to everybody. Lots of good info and suggestions.


                          • #14
                            Just a thought and this may be a little off the wall, but is it a possibility that she might be a insulin resistant? Has she been tested?


                            • Original Poster

                              Doubt she is insulin resistant. No other signs suggestive of that. But will keep in the back of my brain.


                              • #16
                                I would have had the vet do some blood tests to, looking for systemic causes
                                -low grade infection
                                -chemical imbalance
                                -Lyme disease
                                -hormonal imbalance

                                I'd also discuss with the vet whether it makes sense to do a session of sucralfate to see if it might be ulcers.

                                Put you can address that after you find out whether or not the injections helped.

                                chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                                • #17
                                  What, exactly, is a "hormone imbalance" or a "chemical imbalance" and how does a vet test for this? Bloodwork is so very, very non-useful for most situations like this.

                                  If nothing else comes up, however, you could consider either a diagnostic muscle biopsy for possible PSSM, or an empirical trial of the "standard" PSSM diet.
                                  Click here before you buy.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Ok, an update.
                                    I did labs. Only thing off is she is every so slightly anemic. Still in normal range but barely. And low plaletes (confirmed by smear).

                                    Started her on Red Cell. Will repeat CBC in a week or 10 days.

                                    She got injected--both hocks and both stifles. She was sorest in the left. Blocked the left stifle and she was a bit better. Blocked the L hock and she was sound in the L but still ever so slightly off in the right. So did both legs.

                                    That was on a Friday. I rode her again the following Saturday (yesterday). Better but still sour when asked for canter and when I put my right leg on, and insist, she bulls up, won't go forward, or sideways. Will kick out at it. And the topper is she actually turned at BIT at my right leg. She was fine in long and low but problem was when I tried to pick her up onto more contact.

                                    Gave her some robaxin last night and this morning. Will see what she is like later today.

                                    Have an chiro and acupuncture appt for her first thing Monday (tomorrow) morning.

                                    Of course I have a show next weekend. Figures. I may just start her on some omeprizole today too. Just in case.


                                    • #19
                                      Get a heart rate monitor!

                                      They aren't that expensive. $100 bucks for a decent one.

                                      Do a warm up trot of about 15 minutes. See what kind of heart rate she has in general as you are going up or down hill--wherever you usually go when you trot. Have a two or three minute walk. Then do a normal five minute canter. Note how high her HR goes and then (this is important) how fast her HR drops below 100. It should only take a couple of minutes. All horses are different and you need to learn what she is normal for her. If it takes more than four minutes for it to come below 100 that is usually not normal except under extreme stress or illness/injury. At any rate, doing this will give you a baseline of what she is normally like.

                                      She could be having a low grade tying up episode when she drops to walk and seems like she can't do more. If she is, her heart rate will tell you that. It will, most likely, stay above 100 for longer than normal. It will also stay that high if something else is amiss like an injury.

                                      If she has an episode where her HR stays above 100 for longer than is normal for her while walking, wait 24 hours or so and then have your vet out to draw blood to check for tying up. You have to wait for at least 24 hours for it to show up in the blood.

                                      The stiffness she is having could easily be from mild tying-up.

                                      Read Hillary Clayton's book, "Conditioning Sport Horses." It will be very helpful in sorting this out. Heart rate monitors are really helpful for conditioning providing you know how to use one properly!

                                      Good luck!


                                      • #20
                                        The research that I did talked about build builders adding too much iron why I choose to try the DMG route.

                                        And DMG is said to work with tying up also. And it's so affordable and won't hurt to try it.
                                        Don't let anyone tell you that your ideas or dreams are foolish. There is a millionaire walking around who invented the pool noodle.