Endurance Riding, Section 6, Part 2

Over-training Your Horse

By Kristene Smuts

You may think that if you put more mileage and speed on your horse, you'll be doing better during the season, but this is not so. No matter what your fitness level, you need to pace yourself accordingly.

I hear of many horses who are lame for no apparent reason - neither the vet nor the farrier can find any real problem with them. The horse may be losing condition, despite his feed and supplements being increased. He's fit, but isn't performing as he should and the rider can't explain exactly what is wrong with the horse, just saying he's "off". His pulse stays high and he shows mild signs of tying up or colic. He seems to be susceptible to any virus that flies around. But you also get the other side of the coin where the horse seems to be super fit - his pulse drops as it should (and at times too quickly) and may even drop to below the normal resting rate. He may be listless and dull although he hasn't lost condition. He may start to do uncharacteristic things like become unwilling to go out; he may stumble, over-reach, forge. Seemingly conditioned tendons may become inflamed and swollen for no apparent reason. Hooves split and become brittle, causing the horse to throw shoes. All these things point to an over-trained horse.

How do you prevent over-training? Don't train to compete in 80km rides if you're only in your first or even second season. Remember that you may think your horse is in tip-top shape, but overloading him in these early stages will cause problems later on when you're doing the longer distances and need your horse to be sound and, above all, willing. Once your horse is at the required fitness level for that particular year of competition, all you need to do is keep that fitness, not increase it.

A rough breakdown for total two week mileage should be as follows :
year 1 - the 30km year - 60-70kms
year 2 - the 60km year - 100-140kms
year 3 - the 80km year - 150-160kms - a very slight increase over the previous year, as your horse would be at a good fitness level by then.

If your horse is showing signs of fatigue, or even if you merely want to better manage his fitness, here follow some pointers :

  1. Cross train to enable those stressed tissues to repair before being stressed again.
  2. Give enough time off in-between competitive rides for your horse to heal and replenish depleted nutritional resources.
  3. Keep a steady pace when at an event as speeding up and slowing down takes more energy than keeping an even speed. Watch out for humidity, heat and rough underfoot conditions, like stones, mud and sand - it takes both mental and physical effort to negotiate.
  4. Have a good ride (see above for definition).
  5. Manage your conditioning plan carefully and don't fall into the trap of going faster or entering longer rides because you're doing well at a particular distance - stick to your plan no matter what.

Which Ride and How Often?

By initially competing in the 30km rides, you'll get a good idea of what each ride consists of - the terrain; the facilities; the conditions for that particular venue and time of year; the distance from home.

Keeping the previous section on over-training in mind, plan to do 1 ride every 3-4 weeks, working that into your training schedule. Once your horse is at a certain fitness level, you can do light training at home and use the competitive events as your long distance ride. The same schedule holds true for the longer distances as well.

You can safely assume a wide variety of underfoot conditions for each ride, particularly hills and stones. If it's in the rainy season, bargain on mud as well. Try to choose your event within a reasonable distance from home so that you have to take only one day - Friday - off from work. I think Fauresmith is the furthest for most people, being in the middle of our country to enable most people to travel more or less the same distance. Unless of course you're mad enough to travel from Cape Town to Tzaneen!

You'll soon find your "favourite" venues and most riders tend to stick to those rides year after year. Even if you don't compete at a particular ride but feel that you'd like to check out the venue anyway, go along for the day, the experience will do you good - you could even offer your grooming services to a friend! Which leads us to ... Groom (see part 3)

Part 6, Section 3