Monday, July 1, 2019

conditioning the bronto 2.0

Charlie has been back in work for about a week since our vet appointment. If you recall, the whole point of that appointment was to take a fresh look at Charlie's overall wellness, including comprehensive evaluations via ALL of the flexions haha.

The long and the short of it was that Charlie overall is a sound horse with no real issues precluding him from doing all the things I want to do. Which, ya know, is always SUPER NICE to hear from a vet lol. I will never ever EVER get tired of listening to a vet tell me my horse is sound. Ever. Ahem, cough cough.

pro tip: eeting entire giant branches of maple leaves (not the red ones tho) will apparently make for sounder happier horses lol.... who knew?!? /sarcasm
There were a few pieces of low hanging fruit tho -- a few steps we could take to help improve Charlie's margins. Obviously getting him back into leather pads up front was a huge priority to address his foot soreness. Luckily that happened early last week.

The other biggie was joint injections in Charlie's stifles. He got them while on the track as a racehorse, but I hadn't touched them since. Now was the time, tho. And actually the vet seemed to think this wouldn't likely become part of our regular maintenance anyway. My hope is that getting him more comfortable on the stifles now will allow us to put better and stronger muscle around the joint via conditioning. So that the joint stays comfortable and supported for longer. We'll see how that all works out haha.

this variation of cross country is probably not what the vet had in mind when she told us to "do more."
Because ultimately, the vet saw Charlie's case as predominantly revolving around better conditioning for his entire system. She wanted me to be more focused in integrating more frequent bursts of higher impact, higher intensity work into Charlie's work cycles.

Which like, c'mon, who on earth would be sad to hear a vet telling you to gallop and jump your horse more often?!?! That's basically the best medical prescription evar lol...

So I've spent the time since that appointment meditating on what that might actually look like for us. What changes need to happen in the routine I've cultivated over the last couple years?

Honestly I think we just need more.... more. Of everything. Remember our 2017 #adultcamp field trip to Windurra for a guided tour by Boyd Martin? During which I asked about his fitness and conditioning programs for his horses? To this day I STILL regret not recording his answer, bc he gave so much detail so quickly that my notes after the fact were seriously lacking. Sigh.

legit the only pic i currently have of charlie's fresh leather pads up front. if you're interested tho, there's footage in the helmet cam below!!
Anyway, the general gist was that his horses all get ridden a lot. My notes were:

"Long story short, it's very heavily focused on conditioning. Basically every horse works twice a day. Once for some type of conditioning, usually done by working students. Whether a long slow walk or trot, or more purposeful canter or gallop sets. Then another ride done on the flat or jumping, usually done by Silva or Boyd. 

...It really struck me just how much these horses get ridden - but especially how low-impact much of the riding actually is. It's not just short bursts of intense activity, but long slow building up."


It's funny in retrospect looking back on those notes, bc you can see right away that I fixated on the sheer amount of low intensity work. While apparently ignoring the fact that it's balanced by frequent, tho shorter, high impact sessions.

i put a microphone muff on my helmet cam to reduce wind noise. jury's out on whether it worked or not.
Anyway, that type of schedule is obviously challenging when you don't have a veritable army of working students eager to toil away at hacking out your upper level champions haha. This is further complicated when considering that most of us adult amateurs live the 9-5 work life. There just isn't time in the day for that, ya know?

So I'd settled into a schedule where the conditioning happens on some days, and the higher intensity on other days. My theoretical weekly routine consisted of: two conditioning type rides - one a long walking hack, the other trot sets. Two to three focused dressage schools. And one jump lesson.

Tho obviously in reality the schedule changes constantly. Because #reallife, yo. But even still. In light of how the vet reacted when I described all the low intensity, low impact work I do with Charlie, I think that whole approach above needs an overhaul.

we've seen this bench a bunch before!
So my first edit is to stretch out the length of every ride. But not in the form of longer "schooling," if that makes sense. Charlie doesn't necessarily need to do focused dressage for 45 minutes. At least at this point in our combined training, we're generally better off aiming for closer to ~20min of really focused purposeful work. Not including the warm up or breaks. Anything longer than that and our quality degrades as the horse tires.

The warm up remains critical tho, especially now that the horses are stalled during the day. Meaning Charlie's been relatively stationary for hours by the time I get out to ride him. Maybe some horses can come out of the stall feeling loose and supple and ready to rock 'n roll, but Charlie is DEFINITELY not that horse haha. Homeboy gets stiff.

My plan is to basically do a little bit of hacking out / conditioning as our warm up for every ride, instead of as its own ride. This could be walking or trotting the fence lines, wandering the trails, or hitting up the cross country fields, whatever, right?, for at least 20min before making our way to the arena for a proper school.

oooh but this is new! this jump is SO COOL, GUYS OMG haha
The added bonus of this approach is that since we're already fully warmed up by the time we reach the arena, we can get straight to work. No moseying around on the buckle for ten minutes. No confusion about being lazy or behind my leg. The moment we step into the ring, we are on the clock, so to speak.

Long time readers may see how this can be an advantage for a horse who isn't always the most forward thinking haha. It's always been a challenge to stay disciplined about insisting on forward. But I'm thinking that this approach of reserving the ring for proper work will help Charlie get with the program faster.

Meanwhile, the lengthier warm ups out on terrain and up and down hills will serve the dual purpose of increasing our overall time spent conditioning. Ideally, we'd be able to do a second little hack-about after finishing schooling too. Tho in practice this thought has not translated as quickly to action.

The other big change to our program is just plain old JOMPING. Doing more of it, more frequently. Not necessarily more jumps per school, but more frequent schools. Right now in my mind this means more frequent sessions of anywhere from 10-20 jumps. Either in the stadium ring, or out on xc.

oooh we have TWO of these roll tops now, the one with the aqua top is in another field as a combination, yass!
To be honest, tho, I'm likelier to take those extra jumps out on the xc course. For one simple reason: No jump crew needed haha. Bc let's be real, Charlie is not exactly careful.

Plus. Cross country is fun. Obvi haha. Right??

So this week I really tried to put my money where my mouth was. And after a careful return to full work, and after we missed our normal weekly jump lesson again for reasons and stuff, I made it my business to get our butts out into the xc fields.

Per usual, I started second guessing myself and rationalizing why maybe we shouldn't or whatever as the time drew nearer. But dammit, this was vet-mandated, wasn't it?? I gotta be super honest in saying that's such a nice ace to have up my sleeve when my nerves start jangling haha. It doesn't have to be a very serious ride, doesn't have to be long or crazy or anything like that, but it *does* have to include some jompies. Vet's orders. Boom.

first time jumping this T table thingy! full disclosure: our turn to it was not my best work. needs moar straightness!
And how could I resist anyway? I had gotten out to the barn in the morning before the worst heat of the day. The cross country course was freshly set up and mowed. The fields were empty as most herds are stalled for the day. And I came complete with helmet cam and studs. A recipe for success, no?

So out we went haha. And, well. It wasn't exactly the most mind blowing schooling session in the world, I'll be totally honest. Charlie and I haven't jumped anything since our epic cross country lesson with Sally Cousins at Windurra almost 4 weeks ago. Plus I had foolishly put a plain loose ring snaffle on the horse, instead of our normal elevator. Whoops haha.

It was totally fine tho. Actually, it was kinda nice getting run away with again after working so hard for so long on being more forward lol. Silver linings??

look who's turning into such a gate professional!
Regardless, we kept it really simple. Our first field contained a bunch of jumps Charlie's seen a million times before. A couple BN efforts to warm up, then the N bending line from last year's Jenny Camp course.

And then a SUPER RAD skinny nestled between two trees in the fence line. I've wanted to jump this sucker FOREVER tho. And not just bc it saved us a gate haha. It just.... idk, it always looked really cool. It's not the tallest or widest jump in the world, but the way it's situated between trees it usually ends up on the T or M courses. Anyway, I was super pumped to try that, and Charlie jumped the SHIT out of it haha, good boy!

That whole little session was about half a dozen jumps plus going up / down the banks. So I figured we'd just go to the water for a little extra work before calling it a day. If we're actually going to do this every week, there's no need to cover everything in a single ride, right?

awww his goofy faces just kill me tho <3 <3 <3
Plus I had in mind all those videos Boyd Martin just posted wherein they schooled all the horses over more or less similar variations of course work depending on the horse's level. A quick warm up. A couple biggies. And some more technical efforts with more forgiving jumps. Then done. Seemed like a solid recipe to me, so that's what I tried to do too.

Once at the water, we kept it really simple: cantering through just the water alone first. Next going from the water to the N boat house, and then reversing that same line. Then moving to the T roll top to the water. Tho we kinda biffed it the first time, so had to repeat. Same story with the last single T table we did, another new jump for us.

We were a little short, then a little long, not quite getting the bigger jumps as cleanly out of stride as I would have liked. But I'm chalking that up to being rusty and not jumping often enough lately haha. And in a way it's kinda nice seeing that Charlie feels confident enough with the height / width of these jumps to make easy enough work from less than perfect distances.

helmet cam video here! complete with footage from getting back to the barn to untack, take the studs out, and hose the horse off. in case any of y'all are into behind-the-scenes looks ;) let me know if you like that!

Obvi I'm not going to give up on carrying the drum beat of, "dear god but we need more xc lessons" just because the vet told me to jump more often. But it *is* somewhat liberating to have that thought in mind. It's nice to shift my mindset away from "saving" the horse or wanting to "limit" how many efforts he faces.

Instead of being consumed by "making every effort count," I can appreciate that just getting out there and doing a little bit at a time is still important and good for both of us. Because let's be real, I need more mileage in general too. Not even specific to trying to jump bigger or harder fences. But just practicing being in the moment and working on my eye, my position, our pace. All that good stuff.

So we'll see. I'm excited about taking this new approach to Charlie's and my conditioning. Especially as it makes me feel like I've got more options when scheduling lessons gets challenging.

And possibly more important than all the rest, I feel like I've got a mandate straight from the horse's vet's mouth to plain old have more FUN with my horse. Obviously an exciting prospect haha.

Have you likewise ever had to do a complete overhaul of your horse's schedule? Or ever been told something that completely flipped your mindset in how you approach conditioning your horse?


35 comments:

  1. Hah I should ask my old polo coach for his horse's conditioning regime. I used to pop up to visit friends working for him, and there were always horses to ride. They did 2 thirty minute trot sets a day. and it wasn't faffing around trot it was... extended trot like pushing so hard the horses were on the verge of breaking into canter. And that didn't include the walking warm up/cool down, and the cantering that got added in later in the season.

    Apparently the secret is: ride your horse.

    A LOT.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol i think the secret is to not have a day job, tbh ;)

      Delete
    2. that too.

      also meant to say the little microphone muffler is hilarious. before i read what it was I was like "why does she have a pom on her camera..."

      Delete
    3. lol i'm so torn on that little muff tho. they sell little stick-on flat pieces of fluff for exactly this reason, but they're like $20... meanwhile, the above muff is from a pack of actual microphone covers that i cut down to size.

      not sure i cut too much tho? or if it's just not quite the right shape or size for my head cam microphone? idk, but i feel like there's still a fair amount of wind noise in the video... tho it could just be bc i was getting run away with LOL

      Delete
  2. I've been following along on your last few posts and almost commented once or twice, but couldn't really get a cohesive comment together!

    I board and ride at barn now (H/J, not eventing) that has lots of late teens and early 20's horses that look amazing and are still out performing. They don't get tons of injections or body support (no chiro, massage, PEMF, acupuncture, etc.). What they do get is regular, fairly legit intense riding. They do lots of flatwork, poles, raised cavaletti, they jump once a week in a lesson. It has really changed my perspective on how to manage a more mature horse.

    Now that I own an older gentleman myself, I am very invested in keeping him fit. And that means work. He gets 1 day off a week, 2 max. If I can't make it out to the barn, I can usually arrange for one of the Juniors or horseless young adults to ride him. I'm lucky in the regard that there are lots of young, talented riders at my barn that are happy to jump on when I can't and keep him going.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. agreed for sure, i'm a huge believer in riding a horse sound haha. charlie's been on a 5-6 day schedule since i've owned him (i outlined it above in the paragraphs right below the helmet cam muff picture (lol) and i firmly believe he's a healthier more sound horse today from when i bought him bc of the consistency of his work schedule.

      so it's not that the idea of conditioning is new to us, per se, it's that i'm shifting the balance. we all know that good conditioning is a balance between long slow miles - the lower impact, lower intensity endurance / cardio type stuff - paired with bursts of higher impact / higher intensity.

      knowing that charlie is kinda a higher mileage model who can be slightly creaky, i've tended to skew the balance of our work away from the higher impact stuff and towards the long slow miles. still a full schedule, still a fit horse. but the vet's distinction was that there needs to be a better balance of higher impact for him, specifically JUMPING more often, so that our bigger outings and schoolings don't pack such a punch. it's kinda a nice mandate haha!

      Delete
    2. also -- i should say, congrats on the new horse ;) i'm personally exceptionally partial to these stately gentlemen haha, hope you're having so much fun!!

      Delete
  3. One of the biggest takeaways I've gleaned from spending day in and day out at Chesterland is their conditioning/fitness program. They still seem to condition the horses like they are getting ready for the long format. I think each horse gets one day off a week and then basically does fitness (either trots or gallops -- with hills) with a dressage school and a jump school (each one day a week)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that's actually a bit of what i've been noodling on - maybe riding as if charlie needed to be fit enough for a long format. he's already pretty fit now, but i think he's the kind of horse that would benefit physically and emotionally from being a bit over-fit. esp considering his work ethic isn't always 100%.

      it's funny bc in his first year or two of eventing i wasn't really too keen on having him so so fit bc of the high likelihood of getting runaway with over tiny jumps lol. but now he's a bit more schooled, plus the jumps are a little bigger, so that feels like less of a risk. we'll see!

      Delete
  4. I'm in that complete overhaul mode myself (see my most hi-tech version of a conditioning schedule in today's post, lol)... but finding it hard to make the extra time in my head. So hopefully I'll be able to stick to my new routine of conditioning work Thursdays and Sundays... We'll see.

    Also, I am mega jealous of all that field for you to hack through. Amazing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. omgosh i LOVE our xc fields, we're definitely spoiled and i'm definitely trying to make up for lost time out there this summer lol. the only bummer is that apparently the course is already closed to competitors for the recognized later this summer, which i had sorta hoped to do. but it doesn't seem worth the trade off of not being able to school at home. oh well! at least we can still do the starters ;)

      Delete
  5. I love the long low impact hacks. And trot sets, especially in a large field or for me, we have a long straight stretch on soft sandy footing out in the hills.
    With the jumping, I think a lot of it is low impact as well. From what I've heard Boyd talk about, none of the jumps at Windurra are above Prelim height. If he wants an Intermediate or Advanced jump, he just makes it more technical. Makes sense to me, he knows his horses can jump the big stuff, but are they fit enough/strong enough/schooled enough to get through a tricky situation. I'm a huge fan of more jumping, I'm just not sold on jumping at height more frequently. But, I don't think that's what you're aiming to do anyway. I can't wait to see the positive changes Charlie gets from this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol i love the long low impact hacks too, perhaps a little too much haha, bc my vet was very insistent that it was no substitute or replacement for the higher intensity stuff too. ahh balance, such a tricky thing to find!!

      and yea your point about being able to school higher technicality at lower heights is so important. but.... perhaps what i need to remember is that 3' IS a "low height" for charlie (even if i don't always feel the same). we don't need to do max height / max speed / max whatever every time every ride, but it's gotta happen regularly.

      i'm thinking the ride from the video above will serve as a good model. we jumped like exactly 12 things, including 5 proper T jumps, and were able to get through some combinations and banks, water, etc. just making sure we get rides in like that more often i think will make a huge difference. we'll see!

      Delete
  6. I'm glad you guys are back at it after the leather pads and the vet visit! I've never really had to condition a hard working horse like a jumper/eventer... so I'm following along hoping to learn a few things!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ha for sure, i think we're all just kinda learning as we go too. i thought i had a good grip on conditioning charlie for overall health and soundness, but it wasn't actually very well aligned to the level of performance i want from him. it's such a huge subject with so much to learn!

      Delete
  7. YES! I JUST wrote about it this morning! Trainer said Cosmo is starting to show his age over some bigger jumps. And that since he's older, he needs more long conditioning rides to keep his fitness level up. Old man needs to work more. More long rides. More jump schools. Also, me. I need way more jump schools than Mo.

    Good timing reading your post, especially the notes from Boyd. I'm thinking about twice-daily rides for Mo. I've got a few people looking for extra rides who offered to hack him in the afternoon for me. But I'm having a hard time coming to terms with needing THREE PEOPLE to keep my horse properly fit. But, as you said, it's hard with a full time job, and maybe I should take them up on their offer.

    Cosmo's new schedule will be a work in progress over the next few weeks for sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ha i just read your post - yup it definitely sounds like we're working on similar approaches for our horses! in some ways i kinda love learning how different horses have these different needs, esp as i'm learning more about what it takes for horses to perform at new levels.

      Delete
  8. Jumping frequency is always something I think about. It is a pretty hard activity on joints, but you also can't expect to compete and never train, so striking that balance is tricky. I know in endurance the big thing was always down hills. Trotting or cantering down a hill is hard on a horse and the high mileage riders would always state "a horse has only so many down hills in them, make the ones you do count" so when I was conditioning Gem I'd do just enough hills to make sure she could do them with proper technique but I would walk a lot of them too. When it comes to jumping I'm more clueless on how to balance it. I hope your new approach has Charlie feeling in tip top shape!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks, we'll see!! and i had kinda been getting into the same mentality of "a horse only has so many jumps in him" too, and had become pretty preoccupied with making each jump count. and actually that's exactly where the vet told me my thinking had gone wrong. that it ISN'T true, and that it's actually a function of conditioning the joints to the impact via a solid fitness routine. if i'm too stingy with jumping efforts, charlie's joints and muscles and tissues won't become conditioned enough to the impact and he'll always be sore after a big ride, lesson or competition.

      a human example would be running on pavement when you're not used to it. it's a lot more impact and concussion, and if you do too much too quickly you'll definitely get an injury (or at least be really sore!). but over time you can condition yourself to the task (plus use appropriate footwear) so that it becomes fairly normal. at least, that's my hope haha!

      Delete
  9. Glad C got his leather pads on and can go back to doing the things! The XC school looked like fun and C is so polite about the gate :)

    I listened to Boyd Martin's interview on the Major League Eventing podcast, where he said a working student will take the horse out for warmup by hacking/trotting, then he'll get right on the horse for the dressage/jump school, which is obviously shorter than the hack/conditioning piece. I wish I had that option available to me! Especially considering maybe, just maybe P won't be useless in life.

    I like the idea of warming up on the trail, then going right to work once you get in the arena. That tends to be my routine, though we have a perimeter trail and not fields, so it's about a 10 minute loop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. so far the trail / hack / trot sets / whatever warm up has really been working for us. it's adding the all important time to our ride, getting us on more hills, and helping me establish forward earlier.

      actually that's maybe the biggest advantage is for my own feelings of discipline. it can be so so so frustrating to try to pick charlie up after moseying around the ring for 10 minutes and try to get him thinking forward. but if we do all that out in the fields or fence lines, it's much easier for me to walk into the ring and be immediately crystal clear in my expectations without worrying about him being too stiff.

      Delete
  10. Mileage is so key. And not all miles have to be brilliant. At least that's my jam right now- making each mile a bit better then the one before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "not all miles have to be brilliant" ---> that is it EXACTLY.

      in a way it's kinda liberating and empowering to feel like i can shift away from trying to make each single step count, and instead focus on putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that eventually all those footfalls will get us somewhere haha.

      Delete
  11. Having that XC real estate to enjoy so often is BEYOND cool. That jump between the trees looks so fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dude this is finally the year where we are jumping the SNOT out of our home field and I LOVE it haha! There’s so much fun stuff out there that I still haven’t tried!

      Delete
  12. That sounds like so much work. I definitely need a working student (or two or three) if the horses are going to get ridden that often. I seriously contemplated responding to a plea for exchange student housing for an equestrian even though we don't have kids of our own because I thought she could ride the horses for me and get them fit. Ha. I need the fitness myself so I should just drag my butt off the couch and get it done. We used to get a lot more every day riding/conditioning done at our old barn. Good luck getting all that conditioning in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha thanks - yea it definitely is a lot of work. Honestly tho I like the time in the saddle regardless, and it’s helpful for me to have a general sense of guidelines and purpose for deciding how to conduct any given ride. Plus the conditioning rides tend to be a little more mindless, which is so perfect for those days where you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride!

      Delete
  13. It all sounds like a great plan, as Carlos got older I had to do more conditioning rides on him too, we did a lot of trotting and cantering up hills and walking down, and we did a lot of gallop sets in the big outdoor arena. I need to get some good gallop sets on Dante but me thinks no one would like me doing that in the biggest arena at our current place lol. I am using the horse walker though to get Dante more long slow work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more galloping haha. Charlie and I have always done fun little sprints here and there, but I was always under the impression that the most important work was at walk and trot for lower levels to reduce wear and tear. But hey, if galloping is what the vet wants, galloping is what we will do LOL ! Tho yea I can totally see how maybe it would be tough to do in an arena with a baby horse surrounded by h/j riders haha. We are lucky to have fields for it here.

      Delete
  14. I'm in the legging up phase now with B's recovery. I have two weeks with no saddle to try and help strengthen across the back so this will be interesting.

    I don't think I have ever had a horse come in with so little muscle or topline before and I am really conscious of trying to strengthen him up as much as I can to protect him whilst keeping it low impact.

    There will be a lot of long low lunging sessions, some pole work and probably some hydrotherapy/water walking.

    Once I get my new saddle I will basically keep it the same but start increasing to ~2-3 rides of the above plan whether that's poles or just long low stretching at the walk/trot

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hopefully it all works out - sounds like you have a lot of good ideas! Even just good groceries and lots of turnout will be your friend too. The nice thing about these young thoroughbreds is that they can pack on good healthy muscle pretty quickly!

      Delete
  15. It sounds like you have a pretty good plan lined up! I'm jelly of all your xc access even though I'd probably be too chicken to use it if I had it 😂

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh man we are so lucky to have that xc course! Tho yea I fully admit to being a bit chicken about it too. I’m trying to get out more often tho. And every ride I’m trying to do at least 2 of the 3 ditches/banks/water, plus one or two new to us jumps per school. There’s so much stuff out there that I haven’t tried yet, but we are chipping away at it! For this ride the new jumps were the skinny fenceline and the blue T table.

      Delete
  16. Sounds like a great plan, hopefully your work schedule allows you to keep it up! I used to be the queen of long, aimless warm-ups but the upside of not having time for anything anymore is that I've been riding a lot more purposefully.
    Here's an article from David Marcus (who I cliniced with last year) where he mentions 20 minutes walk work to start each ride! https://dressagetoday.com/instruction/structure-your-dressage-warm-up-with-david-marcus-31028

    ReplyDelete
  17. Oh man, I've reevaluated my horse's schedules so many times. HA! For Pig that meant adding a LOT of hill walking in when his stifles were sticky or he didn't have the OOMPH needed in collection work. For Bast that's meant hacking out after or before almost every ride to both #keepthefatoff and also increase his positive experiences away from the farm. Overall I have found this super helpful for both. Sure I'm on them for about 90 minutes but most of that is low impact, with only about 30-40 minutes being in the ring or actually working. Of course, I still think the reason Pig was able to go so long was because of the incredible fitness level he kept his whole career. His bones might be total shit, but damn did he have the muscle to compensate! Those hours at a time spent galloping and trotting the local fields really paid off. LOL

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for leaving a comment! If you have trouble with this form, please email: fraidycat.eventing at gmail.