Making a training schedule for your horse: tips and common mistakes

As a rider, you are the ‘personal trainer’ of your horse. However, to become a personal trainer, you’re required to follow an official education where you learn how to train someone in a sustainable way.

But where do we riders learn this?

Where do we learn what a good training schedule looks like? Which ways of training are there and what does training do the horse’s body?

We decide how often, how heavy, and in which way our horses are trained. And that could have great consequences for the health of the horse. Your horse can get fitter because of training but when we make the wrong choices, injuries could occur.

Luckily more and more scientific research is done around this topic and with this comes more knowledge about effective ways of training and what training does to a horse.

Lori Warren, promoted at the University of Kentucky, has summarized a number of important discoveries.

We decide how often, how heavy, and in which way our horses are trained. But that can have great consequences for the health of the horse.

Five processes you should keep in mind

If we talk about training, we discuss how to teach the horse the exercises and the different aids. However, we also talk about the physical training of the horse, where you make your horse stronger and more flexible and work on his overall condition.

During physical training, there are five processes in the body that determine the fitness of your horse. One process does take more time than the other and this can lead to injuries. The five processes are as follows:

  1. Capacity to deliver oxygen to the muscles;
  2. Capacity to use oxygen and to deal efficiently with the use of energy;
  3. Support of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles;
  4. Regulating the body temperature; and the
  5. Coördination (nervous system).


Quick improvement in process 1 and 2: efficiënt use of oxygen

When you start with the training, there will be a quick improvement in the first two processes, this can be measured with VO2max, the maximal oxygen intake ability.

VO2max is measured with scientific research to test the effectivity of several types of training, but also with professional sporters, the V02max is measured.

A high VO2max means that your horse can deal better with the asked training. But how quickly does the VO2max improve?

Research tells us that VO2max improves most in the first weeks that your horse starts training.

Research with thoroughbreds showed that there was already an increase of 9% in the VO2max in only ten days. Also when you train your horse longer, the most improvement takes place in the first six to eight weeks.

Remarkable is that the training intensity for an increase in VO2max is not really important.

Two groups with horses were trained with a different intensity. One group mostly did trot work and the other group did intensive canter training.

Yet the improvement of VO2max was the same in both groups. Of course, high-intensity training does have an effect on other processes in the body.

Process 3, support of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, takes much longer

As can be expected, improvement in the strongness and/or size of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles takes up four to six months.

It could be that your horse’s condition has improved and that because of this your horse can handle heavier training, but the supportive parts can’t handle the training yet with as a consequence a higher chance of injuries.

And this is the point where it often goes wrong.

It seems like your horse can handle it well, but the supportive parts aren’t strong enough.

Unfortunately, this is hard for us to monitor, but with the realization that it can take four to six months and with feeling the legs daily, overtraining can be prevented.

Besides, it’s good to realize that how older the horse, the longer it takes for the supportive parts to come at strength.

Trying out, evaluate and adjust

The results from the research can provide us guidelines for the training schedule that we make for our horse. Yet we always must keep in mind that every horse is different and you need to make a different training schedule for every individual horse.

And as a personal trainer of your horse, you can try this out, evaluate, adjust and try out again until you know what works for your horse.

Good luck!

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