I received this question, the first in the Ask a Question on Monday series,which I will attempt to answer from my point of view as an equine massage therapist, not a trainer. The question is from a rider who is aiming to compete at the 2 star level this season:
“I was wondering if you could explain the correct process of building a proper baseline of fitness in an event horse before starting with the fast-paced gallop sets when conditioning for competitions.”
I met Jack Le Goff at Malcolm Hook’s, our very popular event announcer, in the 1990’s, as he often gave clinics there. Jack developed the science of interval training for 3 day horses.
When a horse is fit, the heart and lungs carry blood and oxygen to the muscles. Oxygen converts into lactic acid that is then used for energy.( This is a simplified description.) When there is not enough oxygen getting to the muscles, the muscles tire ,which puts stress on the attached ligaments, and puts the equine athlete at risk for injury. In my work, I do all I can to keep muscles and ligaments stress free, but the rider needs to monitor their equine athlete’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rates.
Interval training is used to challenge the horse’s cardiovascular system by asking it to do bursts of speed, followed by periods of cool-down to allow the heart rate to return to slightly above normal before starting out again. Keep a chart! It takes at least 6 weeks to build up before galloping sets can be started. Whole books have been written on this subject, so rather than trying to get into specifics here, I would suggest you read more on the subject:
Thanks for opening up this very huge topic! I will be at April Twin Rivers and May Woodside to start the competition season, so feel free to find me there, email me here, ask questions, schedule body work or cold laser, etc.