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It is a common misconception that to be successful at Endurance, you must do A LOT of miles with your horse. In fact horses are, in many ways, superior athletes when compared to humans. By giving your horse high quality work, rather than high quantities of work, you can maximise your chances of success while minimising the risk of injury!
So how do you train your horse for Endurance? If your horse is fit enough to do a hunter trial, it is probably fit enough to go round 10 miles in a pleasure ride. If your horse is competing most weekends and ridden for at least 3 days in between (for an hour each time in walk and trot), you can enter for 20 miles (32km) with reasonable confidence.
When preparing for the Endurance season, the best method I have found is to use two to three rides a week where I ask the horse to work in walk, trot and canter, schooling in a deep outline and trotting up hills. For a Novice horse that might mean 4-7 miles (approximately an hour), for an Intermediate or Advanced horse that might be 10-16 miles (approximately 2 hours).
Generally to get fit enough for the start of the season, a Novice horse will do three rides (of up to 7 miles) and an Advanced horse will do two rides (of up to 16 miles) per week over a period of two to three months. An Intermediate horse will work over a similar distance as the Advanced horse, but at a lower intensity. The horses will also have one or two days of longreining in walk up for 1-2 miles. The other two to four days are days off work (turned out in the field). This prepares them to begin competing in March, when the Endurance season really starts.
If your horse is not prone to tying-up you can work your horse one day then give him a day off, then work him again, followed by a day off and so on. If your horse ties up, you need to use very slow steady work (walking) on the days he would have otherwise rested. This allows your horse's legs, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and body to recover from the harder bouts of exercise.
Prior to competition
Once you are two weeks prior to your competition, reduce the workload so your horse is walking and easy trotting. You are not going to get your horse any fitter in these two weeks in time for this particular competition, but if you continue to work your horse hard you are continuing to stress and strain the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and body. By easing off the work, you can give your horse's body the opportunity to repair any sub-clinical (ie not obvious) damage and have your horse in tip-top condition to complete the competition successfully.
After the competition, give your horse at least one day off for every 10 miles (16km) ridden in competition. Personally I always give my horses a week off after a 20-30 mile (32-50km) ride, two weeks off after 40-50 mile (64-80km) rides and a month off after 60-100 mile (100-160km) rides.
Once you have completed your first 20 mile (32km) ride, you could compete again two weeks later with reasonable confidence, as long as you do not do any hard work in between the two competitions. I personally feel it is unreasonable to ask your Novice horse to compete more than 25 miles every two weeks through the season (which runs from March to October). If you are competing at 30 miles or further, make sure you either give your horse a good month's rest from competitions and hard exercise mid-season (July-time) or preferably go to just one competition every month.
In this way you are using QUALITY work rather than quantity of work to produce a fit athletic Endurance horse!
The Fitness Programme
Anyone with a horse coming back from injury or who would like to know what I have done to get my horse 80km (50 mile) fit can use this fittening schedule as a guide. This was Mimi's fitness programme in preparation for her first 80km ride at the beginning of the 2004 season.
However, I am based on Exmoor with lots of huge hills which means I can do less mileage than those people on flat ground. If you have lots of big hills to train on please follow the distances in bold miles. If however, you live on much flatter terrain, please use the distances in (italic miles).
For each week, I have listed the mileage completed every time I rode, for example on Wk 2, I rode three times over distances of 3.5, 4 and 4 miles. On Wk 9, I trained 6 times over distances of 2, 8.5, 4, 2.5, 9.5 and 5 miles. This is a 16 week fittening programme.
Wk 1-2 3 (5) miles 3 x wk - walk only
Wk 3 3.5 (5) miles; 4 (5) miles; 4 (5) miles - walk and trot
Wk 4 5.5 (8) miles; 3.5 (5) miles; 6 (10.5) miles - walk and trot
Wk 5 5.5 (8.5) miles; 6 (10.5) miles; 7 (11.5) miles - walk and trot
Wk 6 5 (6.5) miles; 9 (15) miles - walk and trot
Wk 7 4 (5) miles; 5 (8) miles; 3 (4.5) miles; 5 (8) miles - walk, trot and canter
Wk 8 11 (18.5) miles; 4.5 (7.5) miles; 5 (8) miles - walk, trot and canter
Wk 9 2 (3) miles; 8.5 (14.5) miles; 4 (5) miles; 2.5 (3) miles; 9.5 (15.5) miles; 5 (9) miles - walk, trot and canter
Wk 10 11 (20) miles; 2.5 (3) miles; 10 (17.5) miles - walk, trot and canter
Wk 11 11 (20) miles; walk, trot, canter and gallop
Wk 12 4.5 (7.5) miles; 5 (9) miles; 11 (20) miles; 8 (14) miles - walk, trot, canter and gallop
Wk 13 4.5 (7) miles; 4.5 (7) miles - walk and trot
Wk 14 4.5 (7) miles; 8 (14) miles - walk, trot and canter
Wk 15 no work!
Wk 16 5 (8) miles - walk, trot and canter
Getting Fit for 160km Golden Horseshoe 2010
This is the programme I used to get Mimi, Daisha and Dee (the Irish Draught) fit for the Golden Horseshoe Ride 2010 - bear in mind that I live on Exmoor so am training on the terrain they were going to be competing on! Also these horses had all completed 120km (75miles) or further in previous competitive seasons.
Due to the severe icy conditions, training did not start properly until the end of January 2010.
Week 1 10miles; schooling ride;
Week 2 15miles; 10miles
Week 3 schooling ride; 10miles
Week 4 schooling ride; 20miles
Week 5 schooling ride; schooling ride; 13miles
Week 6 schooling ride; 40miles
Week 7 10miles
Week 8 40miles
Week 9 schooling ride; schooling ride
Week 10 schooling ride; 18miles
Week 11 Week Off!
Week 12 schooling ride; 50miles
Week 13 20miles
Week 14 Week Off!
Week 15 schooling ride; schooling ride; schooling ride
Golden Horseshoe 160km (100miles)