Wednesday, June 30, 2021

heat sinks

One of these days I'll need to do a deeper dive into my current sense of goals / hopes / wishes / dreams etc when it comes to riding. Especially after not really feelin like doing the full cross country round at Shawan last month. 

vignette of horse and bucket
In the meantime, tho, there's been one sort of immediate and unexpected shift in our typical riding plans since realizing I'm not currently particularly motivated to embark on a 2,000m gallop across country over obstacles. Namely: our approach to fitness has changed. Uh, kinda bigly. 

charlie loves buckets and sniffing poo; and especially loves sniffing poo inside buckets
Like, obviously I still care about fitness because Charlie's lengthy career on the track means he's at his soundest when kept at a certain base level of condition. Motion is lotion and all that -- his muscles play an important role in keeping his skeleton happy haha. So ya know, we want to keep the muscles in reasonably good shape.

sometimes the driveway at this place feels endless
Given that Charlie's also a bit of a slug, he benefits from fitness by helping keep the work feeling "easy." That little bit extra in cardio fitness helps ensure that he doesn't run out of gas or feel like the work is too hard or punishing, and quit on me. Does that make sense? 

random old springhouse building
But ya know. He IS a thoroughbred. Keeping a base level of fitness on him is, uh, not challenging. And it most certainly does not require me pounding him into the ground. 

Learning how to get a horse fit enough for training level eventing was always kinda a weakness for me. The two summers where I was really seriously trying to move the horse up, we repeatedly ran into issues with sore feet and muscles. Plus, endless trot sets actually had a bit of a dulling effect on the horse too, or at least I thought so. 

hustling across the sun cooked field toward the cooler woods
It turns out -- proper conditioning really is kinda complicated. There's a real art and science to it. Sure, there are a million books on the subject and everyone has a certain method that they like for building horses up etc. 

But... it's also kinda a known thing that a lot of acute (and chronic) injuries occur during the conditioning work itself, rather than actually at a show or in a lesson. Which makes sense, when we think about it. It turns out.... poorly executed conditioning plans are maybe doing more harm than good. Altho like all things with horses, we all have to learn the lessons one way or another, even if sometimes it's by learning the hard way. 

pictured: refreshing relief from the heat!
Now that I'm stepping back from any immediate plans of running an XC phase (again, ~2,000m at speeds between 350-500mpm), it's like a whole low grade stressor has been lifted from my shoulders. Honestly I didn't even really realize how much that piece of the puzzle was constantly in the back of my mind. 

Are we fit enough? Is Charlie going to be mentally and physically sharp enough to cover my ass if I make a mistake at the end of a long course? What are the pros / cons to getting in these trot sets even tho we're in the middle of a drought and the ground is harder than concrete?? Am I going to permanently lame my horse or shorten his useful life bc I'm so freakin bad at this??? Real questions, y'all. I have them. 

we call it the snackamore for reasons haha
So I'm trying to adapt how I think about "fitness" in our riding habit. Namely, my focus lately has been more on variety. Variety in exercises we tackle, in how I expect Charlie to carry his body, in the terrain we work over, and the speeds we go. 

One big example: I'm doing more "proper schooling" rides out on grass. Whether that's in the cross country fields, or the small orchard paddocks the farm uses for warm up and a second court at events. Benefits include that the grass often feels cooler and is less dusty than the ring. And the relative terrain makes things just tricky enough that when we get back into the ring -- suddenly the movement feels way easier. 

Only real downside is the bugs haha. Ooooh, and Charlie's propensity to trip and nearly eat shit when he's being lazy about going forward. Ahem, lol.

back home again after a quick circuit <3
I've also tried to inject more "zest" into our trail rides too. It's so buggy out right now that Charlie honestly doesn't really want to walk anyway -- much better to outrun the biting monsters. But.... I don't have to get bogged down in precise details about exactly how we do it, ya know?

Like, there's this one little loop out in the woods that we've done basically a million times. Takes about 5min if you trot the whole loop. Maybe more like 15min if you only trot some of it (like the sections with fun fallen logs that Charlie LOVES jumping!). 

It's not much -- but it's plenty to get his blood up, get him moving across varying terrain, and feeling like he's having FUN vs working. Plus, by the time you factor in getting out into the woods, and getting back home again, it ends up being a very respectable 35min ride. 

chillin out, literally, under the fan post-hosing
Very respectable -- and hella satisfying. Which is nice, bc when I was constantly worrying about "fitness and conditioning omg" it always felt like it wasn't enough, ya know? But... actually, lol. It IS enough. Probably always has been, let's be real. 

And it's definitely nice to not always be worrying about it. Bc lord knows I can obsess over controlling even the most ridiculous little details haha. And fitness plans lend themselves all too perfectly to exactly the sort of micromanaging neurosis I'd like to experience less of in my day to day life LOL. 

Has anybody else kinda had similar experiences with trying to figure out the right conditioning plans for your horses? 


  1. I'm sure you've already seen it, but I really enjoyed this blog post about conditioning, especially as it relates to soundness and impact on joints, etc. Side note, I really wish I had kept my equiband system. I used it in conjunction with my walk-only rehab rides and it was a great tool. Selling it when I retired my gelding was a mistake!


    2. Forgot to add - I would be interested to hear your deeper dive into your current sense of goals / hopes / wishes / dreams etc when it comes to riding! I don't comment often, but I read every day :)

    3. Thanks!! I’ll do some deeper writing one of these days lol… and yea I did see that article, was a good one. It’s all a question of intensity ya know? Walking endlessly is something we do a ton of (plus the not insubstantial amt of time Charlie spends in his enormous hilly pastures), and will always be a fundamental piece. It’s the counterpoint tho to higher impact training. Spreiser can get away with just walking bc the rest of her work with the horses involves the intensity of upper level dressage lol. The tricky part for me has always been to train for the intensity and impact required in lengthy xc courses without over doing it lol. Right now tho that’s not an issue!!

  2. Very timely post. I've been pondering this with Yoshi. He is SO unfit for doing any kind of work over his back. But we aren't going to fix that with trot sets. The few trot loops we've done on trails he recovers REALLY quickly from. Initially when the dressage trainer remarked that he was really unfit I was kind of offended and almost went out and started doing trot sets. Till I processed what she really said. So I'm trying to puzzle out the right balance of conditioning for him - minimizing pounding, building new muscle, etc etc etc. Definitely no one size fits all, my mare 100% needed trot sets to even complete a low level jump lesson. But she'd stood around in a field her whole life.

    1. oh man, for sure agreed about 'no one size fits all.' i actually avoided anything even approaching trot sets / cardio fitness for charlie for the first like... 18 months haha, since i wanted him to focus on learning the rules and using his brain and going through the motions of this new-to-him sport, without triggering any of his expertise from his first career: racing, lol. tho ya know. at a certain point, if you're expecting to do a competition that involves 5min continuous at 350-400mpm... at some point, ya gotta do that in your training too lol. but, minus that necessity, it's been nice to ease up and instead focus on other non-cardio aspects of fitness, like flexibility, suppleness, muscular strength, range of motion, etc etc etc

  3. It's hard to be fit in such heat. All I want to do is sit in my zero gravity chair and eat ice cream.

    1. dude exactly -- it's so nice now to not have to really worry about it !!

  4. I definitely can fall down the conditioning rabbit hole but thankfully hunters don't need to be nearly as fit as event horses. Like you with Charlie - with Ramone I found riding in the field to be a lot easier to get him motivated though precarious for my safety (tripping) lol I feel like Ramone and Charlie are brothers from another mother

    1. LOL I believe that. It definitely took Charlie awhile to find his feet on terrain…. And yea it’s really nice to not have to feel so consumed by making sure we are “event fit” right now. Maybe fall will be different but for now it’s nice to take it easy!

  5. I think I have finally come to a place in my adult human/horsey life where I just don't worry about this as much. You are doing so much more than you give yourself credit.

  6. I’ve never had to condition a horse for eventing/XX so I can only imagine how easily you could get hyper focused on it. The work you are doing sounds great for mind and body…

  7. Honestly, when I was doing lower-level eventing in my more bulletproof days, I definitely over-conditioned my horse. To my mind, an OTTB being ridden five or six days a week including some trails and jumping probably has enough fitness to cruise quietly around the average BN/N xc course in a safe manner, if not at high speeds! Kudos to you for letting go of some of the overthinking!


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