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Using Interval Training with your horse to improve his fitness.

Cracker in the Water at Hartpury Horse Trials.


When you look at using Interval Training to help with the cantering part of your horses fitness plan, it can have some positive effects.  The idea is to allow the horse to reach his peak of fitness with the minimum amount of ware and tear.

This is a great idea, but putting it down on paper can look like a great idea, but you need to remember that horses are not machines and not all horses will need the same timings and getting to know the horses and understand fitness is paramount to getting your horse fit.

Always remember a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, this is why I dare not give out more that the outline of the basic principle.  So, following the initial six weeks of road work, schooling and the general beginnings of toning and hardening up you can start the program.

As I have said above, the idea is to allow a horse to reach his peak of fitness with the minimum, amount of ware and tear.  The sessions or workouts take place once every three or four days, gradually increasing the amount of canter work at teach session. It takes the horse between three and four days to fully recover from a work-out.

If you were to work a horse any sooner you are going to a tired limb and invite injury; to work him late will benefit the horse correspondingly less as his muscles are beginning to slacken.  If a horse is becoming too fit too soon, spacing the work-outs at five, six- or even seven-day intervals will effectively slow up his progress.

The length of each of the three canters involved in each work-out and of the two intervening periods of relaxation and walking should be calculated to produce a horse almost fully recovered during the first brake and half to three quarters recovered during the second.  If he is asked to work again just before he has removed he will there by increasingly expand his heart and lung capacity and therefore, building up his fitness in relation.

Cracker at Stockton Lovell Horse Trials.


This is a more logical approach than the conventional fitness training programmes which often involve pounding on in canter for a lot longer. I am going to go through the program that Bruce Davidson first introduced to Lucinda Green in 1974. So, it began with  three sessions of three-minute canters at 400 meters a minute interspersed with two three-minute breaks.  Remember, these people Bruce Davidson and Lucinda Green are very experienced and were at the top of their game, riding at Badmington and the Olympics.

– 3 (3) 3 (3) 3

Then built it up over intervals of fours days to three then-minute canters at 400 meters a minute with two three-minute breaks between each.

– 10 (3) 10 (3) 10

It is only during the last three or  four work-outs that any fast work was incorporated.

It is the SPEED that KILLS. Galloping breaks down a horse quicker that any other work.  During the last three or four work-outs of any training programme, four to five furlongs at a three quarter speed gallop is about as much as you need to do.

It is only over many years that you become aware of how impossible it is to write a formula for fitness, because every horses is different and requires slightly different work.  If soon became evidence that three lots of ten minute canters involved too much hard work for the horses we were dealing with  at a the time.

The correct amount depends on the type of horse, it’s temperament and the terrain being used.  Flat terrain will require longer slow cantering than that with hilly terrain.  Flat terrain will require longer  slow cantering than the hilly terrain.  Hilly terrain is ideal for cold-blooded horses ( Irish/welsh crosses etc.) If this is the case the canters can be reduced to a total of maybe only seventeen or eighteen minutes.

Theses can then be broken up into two lots with accelerations uphill to keep the horse’s incentive and interest.  Fast work up not too steep an incline produces far less strain on the legs than it does when carried out on the flat. This also means less distance needs to be covered when galloping uphill, However, when canter work is carried out on hills, descents should be gradual and at an angle to lessen any jarring on the front legs.  When the going is very hard it is advisable to canter uphill on an the flat only.

Ace of Spades II at Hillmarton Horse Trials.

When you are fitting a horse the feeling you require is a horse’s canter must be slow work and he must be pumping up against your hand and flexing his muscles in every stride, not lolloping along.  Also, not fighting for freedom every stride either.

Always remember that the days between the canter workouts should be mostly walking and/or schooling.  The day after each work-out should always be devoted to either a long walk or to resting.

Some horses will respond better to a programme where the number of minutes they canter in any one bout never exceed six minutes, but instead the speed is gradually increased.  A useful programme can be worked out where the last minute of the second and third canters can be increased to 590 meters per minute and 600 meters per minute

Remember, this work above is for horses working towards a Three Day Event and if you have a grass -routes horse you will be looking to work with smaller timings within the 3 (3) 3 (3) 3 timings. As we have said before, all horses are different and all programmes are different as each horse and rider are looking to achieve different things.

If you have enjoyed reading this please feel free to go to our other posts in this blog or leave your email on our website so we can keep you informed with what subjects we are going to cover. Also, please feel free to like my Facebook page Sam Goss Coaching and you will be kept in touch with the different information we will be looking at.



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