Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How The Jumping Percheron Gets Fit


I get asked a lot what I do to get/keep Klein fit.  She is on a conditioning schedule that I have planned out for her using Dr. Hilary Clayton’s Conditioning Sporthorses and Dr. Nancy Loving’s Go the Distance.   Dr. Loving’s book is an endurance book but conditioning is what endurance people are aficionados on.  While I am not conditioning Klein for a 25 or 50 mile race, that book is full of principles and information that can be applied to any level of conditioning.   It is a GREAT resource. Dr. Clayton’s book is also amazing multi-sport resource that gives great examples and training formats.


I have actually consulted Dr. Clayton years ago when I was putting a fitness base on baby Klein.  Of course, all kinds of keyboard warrior draft horse experts were bashing me left and right (on draft forums no less, our own people hated us!).  Klein was “too thin,” or I was going to hurt her by what we were doing. Actually the “too thin” comment made me contact Dr. Beth Valentine, otherwise known as the best draft vet in the country.  I sent her the picture that was getting the negativity and told her what Klein’s workload was and she told me Klein looked great, keep on keeping on, and show people what drafts are capable of.  Well, there you have it.  Klein was 5 in that particular picture, 17hh and 1500lbs (same as she is now).  

 Not THE picture, but one from around the time the "too thin" comments happened.  Too thin?  What, not used to seeing such a refined Percheron?

Draft people still regularly bash us online any time I dare post a picture of Klein being her awesome self, out doing what she loves.  I guess they don’t realize there ARE warmbloods out there that are BIGGER than Klein and jumping 5’ courses. COTH bashes on us too.  COTH actually bashed the living hell out of me for the Air Force sending me to London to compete and called me a waste of taxpayers’ money.  Awesome, thankyouverymuch.  Glad to know I signed up to die for my country for you people.  ‘Merica!   But anyway, that all should be another post.  Moving on…


I consulted Dr. Clayton on an appropriate workload for Klein and limitations as well.  Dr. Clayton essentially said the same.   Klein is fine, what we are doing is fine, keep up the hard work and if I condition her correctly she will be around for a long time.   She told me we are good to go jumping regularly up to 3’6” because “when you jump a fence up to about 3'6" the load on the legs is about the same as for cantering.”   That is a direct quote from her email (I still have her emails and Dr. Valentine’s emails).  In my email I had also thanked her for all of her hard work in the field of equine exercise physiology and told her that her book, Conditioning Sport Horses, had played a major part in our conditioning plans.  She responded with “you’re really lucky to have such a sound, athletic horse and I am proud to have played a small role in your success.”


Heart rate is hands down the best indicator of fitness.  There is just no other way to know for certain how hard (or not) your horse is working.  For example, breathing is mostly to cool their core temperature; you can’t rely on things like that as an indicator of how taxing the workload is on them. 

I have a Polar Equine FT1 that I have on Klein and to keep track of time/distance/pace we use a Garmin 310XT.  I believe there is an equine kit for the Garmin but I have used Polar for a long time so I stick with what I know works well.   I did have a Polar set up that was the HR monitor and GPS all in one but Polar’s GPS units are separate from the watch and I was tired of wearing the sensor arm band in addition to the watch as well as the HR monitor on Klein.

Polar FT1 HR monitor.


The FT1 is great.  The positive electrode goes under the saddle pad and the negative goes on her girth, both on her left side.  As soon as she starts to sweat it picks up the HR. We are ready to start our actual workout by that time so it works out perfect.


Klein has two gallops a week currently.   One day a week is a jump school.   It alternates between course work and gymnastics.  Gymnastics are not only just a great exercise in general for horse and rider because they offer so many options to work on specific technical skills, but they are a fantastic strength building exercise for the horse.  Two days a week are dressage schools.  Or sometimes we substitute one of those dressage schools for a hack or we just go on a lazy hack after one of the dressage schools.   I switch it up to keep things interesting.  We also don’t have set gallop days, two days of the week are gallops, that's the only rule.  It’s a rotating schedule so that way it’s not just the same thing on a loop.


There are two things I don’t like, keeping horses in an arena day after day and doing the same thing repeatedly.  I just don’t see how that can be good for their mental health and conditioning/training is physical AND mental.   It’s along the same lines as why I refuse to stall mine unless it’s at a show or traveling or something like that.  Be brave, go adventuring!   Give them a chance to see and do new things, to be brave.  Even with something like dressage, there is a TON of dressage work you can accomplish riding down a trail!  My dressage instructor in Georgia and I used to do it ALL the time! Sometimes I would just go ride with her on long hacks because not only was she my instructor, she’s a good friend.  So some days I’d go over for legit lessons in her nice ring and others we’d hack for miles and just enjoy good times on good horses.  She would be doing 4th level movements down a dirt road as we rode around the neighborhood together.


Back to gallops, our warm ups vary.   This is yet another way we avoid doing the same thing over and over and over.  Warm ups give you options.  Some days we walk for a mile then trot for a mile (switching diagonals evenly along the way, either at the half way point or on the quarter mile), then we’ll canter half a mile on each lead then hit the gallops.  Other days I do a 15 min trot then warm her up with a slow canter for a mile with gradual pick-ups along the way (increasing pace then decreasing and repeating that three times along the mile).  On our last gallop I actually warmed her up with a long, cantered some big circles, did some shoulder-in and stretchy trot, then we galloped a mile at 400mpm (simulating Novice xc speed and distance) THEN we hit our gallops, and that gallop was this:


3 min gallop at 400mpm
6 min trot
3 min gallop at 400mpm
6 min trot
3 min gallop at 400 mpm
6 min trot


Walk a mile to cool out.

That is 27 mins of nonstop work and it’s cake for Klein.


We have hills to condition on and I vary our travel on our gallops too.  Some days we stick to the flatter areas, but more often than not I am making big loops where I get her up and down the hills because hills are pretty invaluable for conditioning.  The week before that was:


3 min gallop at 400mpm
6 min trot
3 min gallop at 400mpm
 6 min trot


As you can see, it was only two works.  An additional work was added the next week.

You can only increase one element at a time.   If you increase speed then you can’t increase the number of works.m If you increase the number of works, you cannot increase the speed of the works at the same time.  Well, you can, but if you did, you’re doing your horse a disservice.   That’s counterproductive to proper conditioning. I chose to increase the number of works this week.  This week I’ll bump her up to 420mpm on our gallops.  Three works is a great spot for her to be at right now.  After a week or two with the speed increase, the 3 mins will go to 4 mins at 420mpm, which in turn brings the trots up to 8 mins.


Some weeks one of those hacks I was talking about will be made into sprint work.  We will do standing starts.  She starts from a standstill, accelerates as fast as she can up to the quarter mile mark then I bring her back down to a slow canter, then trot, then walk.   However long that took us, we multiply by two and that is our rest period.  For example if that sprint took us 1 min and 30 second, then the rest set should be 3 mins of walking or trotting.  We typically do four of those, two on each lead.  Don’t forget about working each side of the horse equally!


During this work I am constantly watching her recovery HR.   The general rule of thumb is that your horse should be under 120bpm within 90 seconds when the work stops (when you begin a walk break for example).   If your horse isn’t doing that, the ride is done, time to cool out.   I time Klein’s recovery rates and it typically takes her 18 seconds to get under 120bpm after long trots or canters where we come back to a walk immediately after.


Another major benchmark is being at 60-64bpm within 5-10 mins of work stopping.  By work stopping it means NOT after cooling out.  Not after walking around for 20 mins.  On our last gallop where the workload lasted 27 mins straight I brought Klein to a stop and sat there for 10 mins and watched her HR.  I don’t like doing that, but thankfully she had just been trotting for 6 mins so it’s not like I just galloped her at top speed and slammed on the brakes (which I wouldn’t do).   Also, we don’t do this every time, just every once in a while as a reality/progress/safety check.  That evening, she hit 60bpm right under 9 mins.  That was with me sitting on her and her hot tack on.  That says her workload is perfectly appropriate right now.

I’ve brought the work up at a safe rate for her and it is actively improving her fitness.   Now, if she was under 52bpm in 10 mins or less, that is an indicator that the work is too easy, and if the HR is still above 60bpm in 10 mins that means the workload is a little too much for them.


Klein’s working HRs also fall within this standard chart:

 

Another interesting HR chart:

 

As far as aftercare after gallops, after a thorough cool down I always full body liniment her and do some static stretches with her.   When it involves xc schools/harder jump schools she is wrapped all the way around for 12 hours in her Back on Track no bows (equivalent to poulticing).  She is also turned out 24/7 with her stall open so if she feels so inclined she can hang out or sleep in it but that is up to her.   Being turned out 24/7 immensely helps recovery because they are essentially engaging in a form of active recovery 24/7, and that is one of the best things you can do for them after a hard work out. Don’t lock them up and let them get stiff, they need to move.  The almighty Denny harps on that a lot actually.  Here’s an example where he calls stalling them the equivalent of prison: http://www.horsecollaborative.com/the-meaning-of-turnout/ .   For those of you that work out, go do a HARD workout (add some volume, intensity, duration, do a hero WOD, etc…whatever it is you do) and sit around all day.   Do the same thing and do something where you are moving all day.  See for yourself.  This is another reason I’m a HUGE advocate of rider fitness, and I’m not talking about manual labor around the barn. That is also something for a completely different post.


I hope this sheds a little light on just what we are out doing and how we go about it.   I hope you guys found this helpful, and maybe learned a little on how to improve your own conditioning program.

13 comments:

  1. Love this! I'm a huge proponent of systematic conditioning, whether for myself, my dogs, or my horse. It helps everyone stay fit and capable! Having asthma, I never really got into heart rate training. I've realized that if your VO2 Max isn't reliable, you have to train off of that, not heart rate. I might feel fantastic in my exercise physically, but be unable to breathe. It totally sucks, but has taught me that you can continue to improve even when you keep an eye to training the best you can ON THE DAY.

    I actually have a post sitting in my drafts folder about re-conditioning a horse for mid-level dressage work. I know a fair bit about bringing a horse back for eventing or lower level dressage (very similar), but having to bring back Pig from his broken splint bone was a new challenge. There's a lot of muscle to put back on, and not as much cardio fitness needed. It's a totally different challenge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yuck, I have friends with Asthma and it definitely can grab a hold of them some days and try to ruin their day. It's scary. I can't imagine being the person actually experiencing it :(

      Delete
  2. I'm bookmarking this post - thank you so much for taking the time to write all that out. I'm new to eventing and riding a cob, so this is all very helpful info:)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have owned Percherons since 1990, and love them. You are no doubt going against 'the grain' in what you're doing, but from what I see, Klein is happy, sound, and healthy. Best wishes and be careful of her!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been careful since the day I picked her up in quarantine in Hawaii. This is why I have spent the past nine years being obsessive about conditioning and consulting the people who literally wrote the books on conditioning (Dr. Clayton) and draft diet/care (Dr. Valentine). I have spent, and continue to spend countless hours and dollars making sure I maintain her like she is made of glass. Do I think every Percheron can do what she does? No. I think she just happens to have an exceptionally athletic build for her breed. I can't even count how many people have asked me what she is crossed with and I have to show them her docked tail and tel them I have her papers and she has been DNA proven to be 100% Perch. I had a barn owner almost fall off her golf cart at a show when she saw her and started saying "Now THAT is a horse!" Them was completely stunned when I said she IS full Perch.

      Delete
  4. I am fascinated by all things conditioning. It's something I've long underestimated the importance of and so I'm in the process of learning about it. On that note, thank you so much for the book recommendations and sharing your conditioning regime. This post is one for the bookmarks.

    As a side note, sorry to hear that you're bashed by your own people, so to speak. That sucks; it's only because you're doing something different. I hope it doesn't upset you too much. Nasty/derogatory comments are 100% a reflection of their author, not the person they are aimed at.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nahhhh, keyboard warrior/Google experts don't bother me a bit :)

      Delete
  5. I can't even fathom that someone would bash you online for the air force sending you to London to compete, plus say such awful things. That blows my mind. I'm sorry on your behalf that you had to experience that. Talk about wrong...

    My hat is off to you. Just the sheer mass of knowledge alone that you have obtained is impressive. You don't do things by half measures - that's for sure!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. COTH is a nasty forum most of the time. A bunch of condescending one-uppers instead of people trying to help each other out and actually share knowledge and experience.

      Thanks! A lot of it comes from my fitness specialist background. I did that before I joined the JAG Corps, and A LOT of the certifications I have translate right over into equine conditioning.

      Delete
  6. I've always admired how fighting fit Klein (and you!) always is (are). This is a great post! A lot of it reminds me of endurance conditioning as most riders [should] focus in on HR so keenly because it's such a huge parameter at our checks. I don't ride with a monitor, but I do have a handheld for quick checks during or after rides. Such a great tool! Definitely the best way of knowing how fit the horse is not to mention a great way of knowing how to build your workouts around them to improve or maintain their fitness.

    ReplyDelete