As summer grows closer, eventing season is in full-swing. One of the most physically demanding equestrian disciplines, eventing requires intensive conditioning and preparation well before you find yourself on a cross country course.
While spending the winter conditioning your horse is essential, it’s important to make sure that their fitness level can be sustained. Assessing where you and your horse are after several weeks of competitions is a key element in making sure that you have success all season long.
Evaluating Your Horse’s Fitness
With a few competitions under your belt, it’s time to evaluate your horse’s fitness level. Fitness is one of the most important elements of any sport horse’s careers, as it is the best way to prevent injuries. Asking a tired horse to expend energy he doesn’t have can lead to injuries—both to you and him.
Using the most taxing phase of three-day eventing as a benchmark, think back to cross-country courses you have completed this season. Do you feel as if your horse has a little bit left to give to the last fences? Or have you had to pull up because you just don’t have enough gas in the tank? On the other side of the finish line, is it taking your horse too long to catch their breath? Are you having an unusual amount of faults in the show jumping ring?
The answers to these questions can help you with developing a maintenance fitness plan for your horse.
Keeping eventing horses fit can be complex, as they have to develop the muscles and cardiovascular system to perform dressage and jump different kinds of obstacles on different kinds of terrain. A good conditioning program should include endurance, cardiovascular capacity, and specific muscle strength and coordination for all three phases of the sport. Be sure to consult with your trainer and veterinarian to determine your horse’s specific needs. Use your best judgement, and don’t be afraid to adjust your conditioning program if you feel your horse is struggling too much.
Endurance conditioning should mostly include walking. Through slow, long distance walking, bones, muscles, and other soft tissues are strengthened, helping to prevent injury. All of your rides should include a warm-up with at least 15 minutes of active walking, regardless of what the rest of your ride will entail. Recommended endurance training includes at least 20 to 30 minutes of road work six days a week. The more turnout your horse has, the less walking necessary. Road work can be done on trails, roads, pastures, on a hot walker, and even in the ring.
Once a solid foundation of doing road work at a walk has strengthened your horse’s legs, trot work can be incorporated in sets. A good starting point is two approximately 15-minute sets of trotting with five-minute walk breaks in between. By midseason, you should be able to work your way up to comfortably trotting nonstop for 30 minutes, twice weekly. Similar to the walking roadwork, you can perform trot work on trails, roads, pastures, and in the ring as long as the footing is safe.
Another element to add into your horse’s endurance program is hillwork. Hillwork is an essential exercise to strengthen your horse’s muscles and improve balance. Hillwork should include walking and trotting up and down hills. Use this time to evaluate how even your horse feels. He should be tracking straight from haunches to shoulders. If you notice any one-sidedness, additional flatwork in the ring can be implemented to correct this.
To develop your horse’s cardiovascular fitness, speedwork or “gallops” are essential. A horse should have three to five weeks of endurance walking and trotting before he starts any speedwork. Again, intervals are commonly used with speedwork, galloping at a certain speed for a specific amount of time and then walking for several minutes. Gradually lengthen the galloping intervals as your horse’s fitness increases. It is typical for horses to only do speedwork once every week, but this should be adapted for your horse’s specific needs.
One of the most important tools for your horse’s well being is time off. A day off not only allows your horse’s body to rest, but it allows his brain to relax and gives him time to “be a horse”. Ensure that he gets out of his stall, either by turning him out for the day or handwalking him. By taking days off, you will be rewarded with a refreshed horse who feels good and is excited to do his job.
The other key to maintaining your horse’s performance all the way through the fall is proper nutrition. Especially after several months of competition, it’s important to ensure that your horse is eating enough high quality feed and hay. As three-day eventing horses progress in training and competition, their nutrition requirements may exceed 1.5-2x their maintenance requirements.
By nature, horses are foraging animals. Horses should be consuming 1.5%-2% of their body weight per day in forage. This can include both hay consumption as well as time spent in the pasture. As always, consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your horse’s diet.
Also keep nutrition in mind during your competitions. The healthier your horse is eating, the better chance he will perform optimally on competition day.
We know that a strong foundation for your horse is supported with smart training, optimal rest and a healthy diet. To support your horse’s training and recovery even more, consider the benefits of a joint health supplement. They help lubricate your horse’s joints to help with post-activity stiffness and can help maintain the longevity of your horse through the eventing season.
Additionally, increased exercise and the stress of shipping can create an environment for your horse to develop ulcers. Often, a tube of ulcer preventing paste can keep your horse feeling his best during stressful situations. If you find your horse gets too hot and spooky on competition day, consider adding a performance paste into your routine. Give your horse the best chance possible to show off all of your hard work.
Springtime Supplements & Your Horse’s Performance
Springtime Supplements offers an extensive line of natural supplements. Using only the highest-quality, naturally sourced ingredients, our products offer your horse joint support, immune support, insect control, performance support and more. At Springtime Supplements, we believe that people who love animals gotta stick together, so contact our team of animal lovers to help figure out which supplements can help you and your horse finish out the eventing season strong.