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Spinal Research



Fittening for Racing



-- Posted by DunPony on Oct. 9, 2001

  How do you get a horse fit to race?
I have an Arab on livery and the owner is getting interested in arab racing.  She can't ride at the moment so I would do all the prep work, but don't really know how to go on from basic fitness.  The only info I can find is for point to points, but we would be on the flat, over shorter distances.

She isn't aiming to conquer the world but he will need to be fit enough to do the work.  Any suggestions?

-- Posted by JanetGeorge on Oct. 9, 2001

Your basic fittening is basically the same but geared to what it is fitness for.  So if you're fittening for endurance riding or hunting - long hours in saddle at slower paces - your fittening work will mean hours at slower paces.

Racing - you're looking for far shorter periods of greater effort so after the very basic (a couple of weeks of an hour a day, mainly walking and trotting) you do short canters followed by short period of walk then another short canter.

The length of the work period actually gets less but the speed increases.  With racehorses, racing on short distances (up to 1200 metres say) they would do 2 x 600 metre gallops at racing pace each week.  On the other days, it might be 2 days doing 1200 metres at half-pace, and two days doing 1 mile of trot and canter.

If you want to build fitness for peak activity over very short distances (say quarter mile) then interval training (short, sharp exercise  followed by walk until heart rate back to normal then another short, sharp etc.)  Test of fitness is the length of time the heart rate takes to get back to normal after the same amount of exercise.  So you don't increase the distance or speed travelled - but the rest (walk  or trot) periods decrease in length.

The real test is the eye and 'feel' of the trainer - different horses need different variations of work, intensity of work etc for dozens of reasons - ranging from horse that is naturally good doer/greedy - down to horse that stops eating the moment it has to make any real effort;  and horse's natural heart rate (horse with naturally slow heart rate will get fitter quicker/stay fitter longer than horse with rather faster natural heart rate.

My NZ TB had a resting heart rate of 36 and when half fit he could do a 2 mile cross country at speed and the heart rate would go up to 46.

My quarter Clydesdale had a resting heart rate of 46 and even when fully-fit a 2 mile cross country done far slower than the TB would push his heart rate up to about 80 - but it would drop back to normal very quickly.

A horse who is too fit may go 'over the top' and get stale - so doesn't race well - a horse who is not fit enough, will run out of steam at the wrong moment.  It's a horribly complicated business and one where KNOWING the horse and judging it's needs on a day to day basis is the real skill.  There is no way of producing a standard regime that will suit all (or even most) horses.


-- Posted by TF1 on 12:33 pm on Oct. 9, 2001

From my experience (which I'm afraid is limited to NH horses i.e. shortest distance 2m)
Getting a horse fit for the first time takes longer than bringing a previously fit horse back up to it's peak as you're obviously building muscle for the first time not just reconditioning muscle. Basic fitness is pretty much the same for any discipline.
You would need to look at about 6-8 weeks walking, starting off at 1/2 hr then increasing to an hour. Start introducing trotting and hills and aim to be able to happily do 1 1/2 hrs of decent hill work interspersed with plenty of trot and your horse able to do this recovering fairly quickly. This will build muscle and strengthen legs, tendons, ligaments etc.

Start introducing canters starting longer and steady and then introducing shorter sharper ones. By now your horses muscles and tendons should be well able to cope with this new stress.

Interval training is your best bet and there are plenty of books and people with opinions on this who carry it out to the letter. You'd need to work out a programme to suit your horse and it's all related to heart rates and recovery times. It's now used for eventers, sj, endurance: pretty much all disciplines.

Sure there will be loads of people after this post with opinions that vary widely but that is the regime we used for our NH horses. Some horses get fitter quicker than others, some can take more work than others and some need more feed to do the work you're requiring.

Don't forget you'd need to feed a high energy feed once you start the canter work, you need to be aware of the restrictions on various medications in the run up to a race (no bute or similar, no antibiotics, even some wound sprays would show up on a dope test) and some feeds would get you in trouble.
Hope this helps as a starting point anyway.



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