To recap the strategy for month six : you've been doing interval training by incorporating sprints and you've done at least one ride per week in the middle of the day when it's hot and humid. For the purpose of easy explanation, I'll assume that by month 6 you've come to the end of the season, round about June or July. I'll also assume that you've successfully completed a fair number of 30km rides.
At the end of the season, you should give yourself a holiday of about 6-8 weeks, but only from endurance. Now is the time you should let up on your programme and concentrate on developing versatility in your horse. Do some jumping - half a meter high should do it - or do some dressage work, developing flexibility, suppleness and responsiveness to your weight and leg, but don't overdo either, as it may develop the wrong muscles or cause injury.
A new discipline that has recently been introduced to this country, is trail riding. This discipline is not as stressful to your horse but it'll keep both of you on your toes. You may even do some low level western riding which also teaches both of you to be supple and responsive to aids.
When you start again with your conditioning programme, aim to start round about end September, beginning October, because you have to take horse sickness in December into account. For the first 2 weeks, use the programme for month 3 to get your horse back into shape. The next 2 weeks, use the programme for month 6, all the while gauging his fitness by his pulse rate - exactly as you did throughout your initial training programme and adapt as you go.
When he comes up to the fitness level you left him at in month 6, you need to increase your distance slowly for the next month and a half, aiming to do about 50kms in one week. A good strategy to follow is cycles of 4 - do 3 long but slow distances and 1 faster but shorter distance for the week.
For the next one and a half months - 2 long but faster distances; 1 shorter but also faster distance; 1 longer but slower distance. You need to increase your distance for the week to about 80kms - make this up with the 1 longer, slower distance.
During horse sickness time, slow down with the training by doing lots of walking only - but not in that first week following either injection. This will keep his aerobic level up to scratch but won't strain him to such an extent that you'll have an ill horse. Watch out for the heart rate - you shouldn't go much above 80 bpm.
Endurance season normally starts at the end of January, so you have about a month after horse sickness to get him ready for the season.
An alternative conditioning programme might be as follows : the 100 miler events normally cater for the shorter distances as well, so don't follow the strategy as described above, stick to month 6 but use the events as training rides into October, when the season finally comes to an end. These rides will make up your long slow distance work for that week. You then give a break from riding altogether for about 4 weeks, then start as above, adapting as you go. Remember the 3 year plan? Well, adapt your training schedule to fit into that plan, because by now you'll have a very good idea of what you're doing and if you're still hesitant, get hold of somebody whose judgement you trust and get them to help you with your schedule. Rather ask than do irreparable damage to your horse.
By the end of this first year, you would have a good idea of how fit your horse is, how well he copes with training and how quickly he comes up to fitness level after a lay-off. Even the experts can get it wrong and I've seen many horses at events who should never have been there in the first place. A big trap riders tend to fall into is getting exited about how well their horses do at a competitive ride, they then decide to up the conditioning programme and even enter longer distances. The horse may do astonishingly well that first season, but by the following season, the rider has another horse explaining that last year's horse is inexplicably "off".
In the next article, we'll talk about over-training your horse; how to choose a ride and how often to compete; inversion; acquiring and keeping a groom.
References : Susan Garlinghouse; Nancy S Loving; Lew Hollander; Captain M Horace Hayes; Peter D Rossdale