Continuing on my athlete theme from last week….Let’s talk fitness! I will admit to having to research this Tuesday’s edition. This cat is not in to fitness, working out, sweating, or any activity which threatens to burn more calories than I consume. You people seem to want to do stuff with horses and that means a certain level of fitness.
Got a new horse or starting one over? The most important thing to remember is slow, slow, and more slow. This is a concept I can really get behind. I do slow very well. Step one: check your horse’s vital signs before you even get on. Especially in the heat of summer, add work in very small increments. Use those smart phones for something smart and set up timers for yourself. Begin with lots of walking. I’m talking 20-30 minutes of walking. Walking builds a base level of fitness while not stressing joints and tendons. It also lets everyone get used to the ridiculously hot weather we have during summer. At the end of your 30 minute walk, check your horse’s vital signs. Heart rate and respiratory rate should return to normal in 5-7 minutes. Since you are only walking this may happen faster and that’s ok. It means you are ready to add more! Add 3-5 minutes of trot or canter work every 7-10 days until you are doing the work you want to do. If in doubt, check those vital signs!
Shiny thing distraction: These two companies are coming out with FitBits for horses!
You can also check this app out to help guide your horse’s fitness routines.
On the horse that is already in work, it is important to remember that high temps can change how much work they are capable of safely doing. Vital signs are, again, key to how much is enough. Work your horse at their normal level, then stop and evaluate respiration. You may notice that in this ridiculously hot weather, your normally really fit horse will take longer to come back to normal respirations. That is because horses don’t just exchange oxygen, they also blow off a lot of heat with each breath. I always say horses are full of hot air and I see this as proof.
From a fitness standpoint your goal for most arena sports (dressage, hunter/jumper, barrel racing, western pleasure, etc.) your horse should be fit enough to twice what you need for the event. So if you are a barrel racer 30-40 seconds of very intense work with very rapid return to normal vitals will tell you your horse is fit enough to do the job. A dressage horse will need to be able to hold that canter for 5-6 minutes at a time to do all that is necessary in one stretch of training level. Really sit down and look at the athletic endeavor you want to do and then determine what is necessary in terms of fitness. Need help? Call our Docs. They both love this stuff.
Meanwhile, I’m off to train. I’m working up to 4 straight hours of napping. It’s hard work but someone has to do it.