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Are trot/canter sets really necessary?

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  • Are trot/canter sets really necessary?

    Excuse me if I come across ignorant - I'm an eventer stuck at a hunter/jumper barn with a great cross-country course . I don't know the eventing lingo , and yes, I still use my hunter tack . I've competed through training level and will move up to Prelim this year.

    That being said, I had never heard of "sets" until joining this forum. I ride my horses 5 times a week (more if I can manage it with my all-consuming job). I jump them each once, maybe twice , a week, and the rest of the time, I alternate between dressage schools and hacking out in the field/woods (it's very hilly). I take one lesson a week on each horse, and so far, I haven't had any fitness problems. One thing that struck me when reading about sets is that I already trot and canter for longer periods of time than the sets. In addition, I'm constantly doing transition work. So, my question is - what's all this business with these sets? Is it just a fancy name for what I'm already doing? I could be misunderstanding something, but it seems to me that if I followed the typical "training level" conditioning advocated in some of these other threads, my horses wouldn't be working as hard as they already do. Am I missing something?!

  • #2
    Excellent question! I moved up to training last year and found I needed to add conditioning sets after talking to more experienced, trusted eventers about it. I ride 5 days a week on average. My flat rides usually are no longer than 30 minutes. He's good, and I don't pound him. I try to do at least one conditioning set a week as well. Then jump or hack the remainder. I think my guy needs the conditioning, maybe it's because I don't ride him hard enough during my regular rides. I discovered that what worked at Novice most definitely was not good enough for me at training.

    Comment


    • #3
      It is a form of interval training, with the aim to primarily improve the horse's fitness. This is of dubious benefit below Training level, at least from the purely fitness point of view, especially with a horse that has a lot of TB and finds the slower cantering of the lower levels easy.

      However, the move up to Prelim is a big one, and a lot of that is the SPEED required to make the time. It is a considerable jump up, and the horse is no longer really cantering, but GALLOPING on much of the course. Fences are not so much something to "set up" for, but are meant to be jumped out of a gallop.

      So sooner or later both horse AND rider need to be perfectly comfortable GALLOPING for long stretches, keeping a rhythm, keeping balance, and tackling obstacles at speed. No, it's not racetrack speed, but it is no longer a show canter and it is REALLY important that both members of the team are very comfortable and competent at this gait.

      So intervals or canter sets give both horse and rider the opportunity to gallop for sustained periods, reaping the fitness benefit AND learning how to balance, steer, and just move along efficiently at speeds higher than a canter. No, canter sets are not done at Prelim speed (unless you're nuts) but they are done at a brisk Training level pace, and if 450mpm is the fastest you've ever gone, well, 520 mpm is going to feel FAST and this is the place to learn how to handle it.

      Of course nobody would go out and do canter sets without a really solid base of fitness on their horse, which is where trot sets come in. For a full TB maybe regular hacking a few days a week is enough, but NO horse can fail to benefit from a very solid base of trotting 20-30 minutes a couple of times a week in preparation for faster work.

      Your trainer could probably give you more specific workouts tailored to you and your horse.
      Click here before you buy.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by PrinceSheik325 View Post
        I ride my horses 5 times a week (more if I can manage it with my all-consuming job). I jump them each once, maybe twice , a week, and the rest of the time, I alternate between dressage schools and hacking out in the field/woods (it's very hilly). I take one lesson a week on each horse, and so far, I haven't had any fitness problems.
        This sounds like a great program and exactly what I'd like to see for a Novice/Training level horse! DeltaWave's post was great about the jump to Preliminary so all I'd add is that if you structured one of you hacking days once a week it could easily become a "fitness" day.

        Instead of randomly hacking grab a watch and and turn your trotting into regular bursts of activity with regular intervals of rest in between. Three 6 minutes sets of trotting with 2 minutes walking to recover between each set is a pretty typical warm up for the galloping. Most Prelim horses can then do three 6 minutes sets of galloping at 425mpm +/- with 2 minutes between each set of walking. Obviously you build up to this.

        The general idea behind interval training is you stress the system then make it work again before it is fully recovered. It lets you build more fitness with less work and physical stress. A trainer could help you tailor the basics to you and your horse and your terrain. Jimmy Wofford's "Training the 3-day Horse and Rider" also has good information about this subject.

        There is nothing wrong in being ignorant, especially when you are so willing to educate yourself!!

        Comment


        • #5
          A thing to note, besides all the previous accurate posts is that you will not only be galloping between obstacles, but also that on some courses, you will have to back off to almost a canter, and then move back out again at a gallop. In other words, you must be able to rate your horse. This is taxing for both horse and rider.
          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.

          Comment


          • #6
            100% agree with subk - you are on the right track. It depends on your horse's breed as well - high % TBs are usually easier to get & stay fit, whereas heavier horses may require quite a bit more.

            For Prelim horses at the beginning of the season, I usually start with at trot warm up, then 3 sets of 3 minute canters at 400-425 metres per minute, with 4 minute breaks. Generally with a bit of a hill if the horse is used to hacking & hills; if you are coming from the indoor, then start hills at the trot and introduce them gradually. (This shouldn't be too taxing if they are doing regular dressage and jump schools).

            I then build up from there, changing one variable at a time. (i.e. I might do 2 sets of 3 minutes and 1 set of 4 minutes; the next time, I might do the same set but incorporate a steeper hill; the next time, do 1 set of 3 minutes and 2 sets of 4 minutes; the next set, increase the speed for the last 30 seconds of the 1st and 2nd sets; the next set, I am doing 3 x 4).

            Generally for the season beginning I am doing 3x4 at about 425-450. Each competition I count as a "gallop day." Generally I do the sets 5 days apart (e.g. gallop on Sunday, then next gallop day would be Friday), unless the horse is heavy (low % TB). As the season progresses, I may do a bit less as far as length of time, but a bit more as far as hills, or a bit more speed at the end of a set.

            If aiming for a 3-day, or for a heavier horse, I would do a gallop every 4 days instead of 5.
            Blugal

            You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng

            Comment


            • #7
              The only place I've seen trot sets utilized routinely is by a trainer that owned numerous horses and couldn't personally ride all of them each day. She rode her highest quality ones, and had her students do trot sets 2-3 times/week on the others.

              The higher quality and/or upper level horses were worked 5-6 days per week.
              -Jump once or twice a week depending on education level.
              -Dressage work maybe 4 days week for 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hour.
              -She would often do 1 day of only 30 minutes ring work, and then hack for 45 minutes with maybe half of the hack being power walking up and down hills, and the other half on the buckle easy walking just for some nice bonding time.
              -And 1 day a week would be conditioning with galloping intervals.

              Comment


              • #8
                With both my current horse and my previous horse, I did very little regimented conditioning work for training and below. I hack quite a bit and ride them pretty rigorously when I school. Both are/were little TBs with a history on the track (old one trained but didn't race, this one raced for a bit), who get fit very, very easily.

                When my old one was gearing up for prelim, his hacks got more "aggressive" with a bit more of a plan to them (lots more trotting). He also started galloping a bit more in between events (at first, I didn't have access to a good space to do lots of long canters, so he would do wind sprints up a hill). This was enough to keep him quite fit for horse trials. Six weeks out from his three day, I started with weekly sets (I still didn't do canter sets every week, but climbed a longish, steep hill instead. If you search the fitness threads, I talk about it). Went to every 5 days a couple of weeks out from the 3 day.

                I will probably do something very similar with my new guy as we start thinking about prelim. For training level, he doesn't not need to do a lot of "real" fitness work as his hacking and schooling keep him PLENTY (too) fit for that level. But I will increase it a bit and make it more structured as we near his first prelim.

                As with everything in horses, it depends It depends on their type (I would be galloping a heavier horse a lot more for training), and, as riderboy says, it does depend on the rider. I school my horse pretty hard (he's fun to ride on the flat so I get kinda into it!), so I may make him work harder than riderboy would in the ring, but riderboy does some sets, while I just hack. We probably come out the same in the end. So, it depends!
                Amanda

                Comment


                • #9
                  I do not and never have used trot sets. I find the gait to be very jarring to the horse. I am old school and use interval training at the canter. I believe it is important to train the horse in the gait it will be required to exert itself in. I also use three minutes in the "rest period" between sets.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    As many say, depends on the horse. I did 3 long format CCI*s on a TB with no sets of any kind, but we would trot for 30-40 minutes at a time working on his dressage He was very easy to gallop, so didn't do much of that either
                    OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      In addition to what snoopy says, I forgot to add that I don't do "trot sets" per se, as I school dressage enough. I do trot while I'm hacking, and prefer hills & good footing. If I do a long jump school, I may count that as a canter day, or even just add another longer canter to the end and count it.
                      Blugal

                      You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Blugal View Post
                        In addition to what snoopy says, I forgot to add that I don't do "trot sets" per se, as I school dressage enough. I do trot while I'm hacking, and prefer hills & good footing. If I do a long jump school, I may count that as a canter day, or even just add another longer canter to the end and count it.


                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Wow - thanks for all the EXTREMELY helpful responses!!! Both of my horses are high-strung TBs. My older one raced out in California before I got him (I'm proud to say he's a direct descendant of War Admiral ). He's 20 now, but still looks and behaves like a baby. It's kind of difficult to read his tattoo, so sometimes I wonder if we may have papers for the wrong horse - maybe he's younger! He could gallop for days and never get tired. He lives for it. My younger one never raced, but stays fit pretty easily. I've noticed a couple occasions where I have tired out the younger one, but both of those came at the beginning of the season, when we were just getting started.

                          I keep my horses in pretty consistent work year-round. I don't jump as often in the winter, but we still go out on trails and ride over uneven terrain quite a bit. In fact, in winter, I almost never ride in a ring. Most of my dressage work is done on the grass, too.

                          I guess I just want to make sure I'm giving my horses the best opportunity to succeed that I can. It's easy to get bogged down in fitness do's and don'ts, so I really appreciate hearing everyone's individual experiences. I'm definitely going to start doing more regimented set work and see where that takes us. Thanks again, guys!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I've never done "sets" or fitness work per se on horses at Training level and below - but I tend to ride full TBs who stay fit by breathing. If I had followed Jimmy's suggested canter intervals as I was fitting up my TBs for a CCI* long format, they would have been unrideably fit. Even when we were getting one who was 3/4 TB fit for a CCI***, we didn't do as long a canter sets as are in Jimmy's book. While that might work for a heavier kind of horse, I've found it's just too much for most of my TBs - my one star horses were both doing 20 minute trot plus 3x5 canters in their last week before their one stars, I think the three star horse might have done one set of 3x6, but he also swam. With a horse going Prelim who has raced or been very fit before, I find they do fine if I add to their regular work one trot day a week (2 15 minute trots on very good footing), and a canter set every 10 days (starting with 3x3 canters and working up to 3x4). Mine also do a ton of hacking out, both before and during the season.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I think you have gotten a lot of good advice.

                              The jump up to Prelim is big. The conditioning work is what you put on your horse to allow them to be both competitive and to build up to avoid injury. Just like any other athlete.

                              I have never done many trot sets...but only used the trot to warm up before doing my canter sets.

                              I consider hill work different. I ususally did my initial canters on rolling hills. I was told galloping up hills is more like sprinting work...and to be done after you have an established base.

                              You will get that base on pretty easily with TBs who have been fit. (like OTTBs). Takes longer with others. I generally would start with 3 sets of canter with 3 minutes in between. If that was easy...I would start adding a minute to one set. I'd like to be doing 3 sets of 5 minutes canter before my first HT and build to 6 minute sets.

                              Ideally cantering every 5 days but I've done it fine just cantering once a week.

                              But every horse is a bit different. Best thing to do is to educate yourself. Lots of conditioning books out there. This isn't something you have to make up or figure out on your own...but you need to understand the process so you can evaluate what is working for your horse and how to adjust for your specific needs.
                              ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by bornfreenowexpensive View Post
                                I think you have gotten a lot of good advice.

                                The jump up to Prelim is big. The conditioning work is what you put on your horse to allow them to be both competitive and to build up to avoid injury. Just like any other athlete.

                                I have never done many trot sets...but only used the trot to warm up before doing my canter sets.

                                I consider hill work different. I ususally did my initial canters on rolling hills. I was told galloping up hills is more like sprinting work...and to be done after you have an established base.

                                You will get that base on pretty easily with TBs who have been fit. (like OTTBs). Takes longer with others. I generally would start with 3 sets of canter with 3 minutes in between. If that was easy...I would start adding a minute to one set. I'd like to be doing 3 sets of 5 minutes canter before my first HT and build to 6 minute sets.

                                Ideally cantering every 5 days but I've done it fine just cantering once a week.

                                But every horse is a bit different. Best thing to do is to educate yourself. Lots of conditioning books out there. This isn't something you have to make up or figure out on your own...but you need to understand the process so you can evaluate what is working for your horse and how to adjust for your specific needs.


                                agree....

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Since this might not "go without saying" -

                                  - pay attention to your horse's breathing
                                  - if in doubt, quit while you're ahead
                                  - watch out for signs of tying up
                                  - keep an eagle eye on your horse's legs
                                  - be picky about footing
                                  - be on top of your shoeing
                                  - make sure he isn't getting back sore
                                  - he may need more feed to make up for the extra work, don't wait until he starts losing weight

                                  I have found that if you are religious about the above, and your fitness program, that small hiccups can be easily avoided, and if not, overcome (e.g. a week off due to an abscess, stone bruise, or sore back).
                                  Blugal

                                  You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    If you can, try to use a heart monitor. And keep a performance log. Its a great way to learn/feel about stress/recovery. After a while, you won't need the heart monitor, or even the watch... you'll just know.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      I've never done trot or canter or gallop sets. I've evented everything from full TBs, warmbloods, Irish XB and ponies! to 3* level (well, not the pony, she only went 1*). But, like the OP, I have hills. As long as I have done the work to harden the legs, the hills get the heart rate up without having to gallop (and put strain on legs).

                                      I would agree with some of the other posters that the benefit of gallop / canter sets is to the rider who learns what the speed feels like and how to move smoothly between the paces. It does sound as if you are doing a great job. Don't get them over fit - it doesn't help you dressage!

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I agree...being over fit is just undo wear and tear on your horse. As far as dressage is concerned, it can also be a problem with having to ride that much longer or more often to get them relaxed enough to do the test. Again more wear and tear.

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