“My horse is quite fit, but when it comes to the XC phase of eventing we never seem to be inside the time. He gets ridden 6 days a week so I was just wondering if you have any good ideas on how to get my horse fitter?”
Oliver answers: Horse fitness is always a conundrum as you want to get the horse as fit as possible without injury.
The fact that you ride a horse 6 times a week doesn’t really mean anything, as it depends what you are doing in that time. Someone can go out for a gentle run 6 times a week and then someone else can go at a serious pace for a longer distance. Both individuals worked the same amount of days but in very different ways, thus resulting in very different fitness levels.
You should have a mix in your training week: dressage schooling 2 days, jumping day, hacking days and gallop days. Gallops – which we do as interval training, up a hill and every 5 days, building up the distance slowly. At all times the horse should be working.
You don’t just go out for a hack on a long rein, you are trotting on the bit. You can even do quite a lot of schooling with transitions and leg yielding/flexing etc. If you want to get really technical you can put a heart rate monitor on, or just listen with a stethoscope to access the heart rate, and then you will know exactly how fit the horse is by the recovery rate/time.
Another thing – just because you are not making the optimum time does not always mean that the horse is not fit enough. Not making the optimum time is one reason all horses are not 4* horses or competitive at that level. You never know if the horse even at his fittest has the actual stamina to make the time (thus the need for thoroughbred blood at top level). But at novice level / 1* most horses, whatever breed and type, should be able to make the optimum time with correct, economic riding. This means not wasting time setting up before fences, moving away quickly as soon as you land, going the straight routes and taking the shortest possible line – basically always keeping the rhythm.
I hope this gives you something to think about and that very soon you will be making that optimum time.