Thehorse.com - Full Article
How to help performance horses of all types reach peak fitness.
By Nancy S. Loving, DVM | Apr 17, 2018
That competitive edge. It might look different for different disciplines, but this intangible has its roots in the same concept: conditioning. In short, conditioning develops the musculoskeletal, neurologic, and cardiovascular systems so they can perform athletic endeavors with the greatest efficiency and the least stress on the body.
In this article we’ll learn how riders from different disciplines condition their horses. While there is no magic recipe fit for all equestrian sports, the basic principles of conditioning remain the same across the board.
To get fit for competition, your horse needs to be “legged up,” which entails preparing the musculoskeletal system to withstand a certain amount of impact, speed, and duration of work. Then you build upon this foundation in a stepwise fashion, first increasing distance at the walk and trot and then increasing intensity to include canter/lope and gallop and/or incline work. The initial exercise demand (completed at the walk, trot, slow canter) is generally known as long, slow distance (LSD) training, and it develops the cardiovascular system and aerobic energy pathways to fuel the muscles.
Aerobic metabolism occurs when muscle cells use energy sources in the presence of oxygen. Higher intensity exercise, such as sprints, gallops, difficult hill climbs, or jumping efforts, requires rapid muscle metabolism that taps into other energy sources in the absence of oxygen.
Use a heart rate monitor to assess your horse’s progress in real time; heart rates between 130 and 150 beats per minute (bpm) indicate a range that will improve fitness.
Building on this LSD foundation, many riders integrate strength-training exercises (such as hill work) and interval training (IT) speed work into their conditioning program to stimulate anaerobic efforts. Interval training involves sprints over a defined distance and/or time. To reach a training effect that taps into anaerobic fuel sources, the horse’s heart rate must exceed 165 bpm for at least two minutes...
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