Last week I discussed the importance of conditioning. If you didn’t see that article check it out here. Over the next several weeks we are going to dive into a few basics methods of conditioning, how they can be implemented into your routine, and what they are useful for.
The three basic methods of conditioning that we are going to look at are: long distance conditioning or endurance training, interval training, and high speed conditioning. This week we will focus on long distance conditioning.
What is Long Distance Conditioning?
This conditioning method is almost always the conditioning program of choice for horses coming off of no work or very limited work. It allows the horse’s body to adjust to having a workload without using high impact or high intensity exercise, which the horse may not be adequately prepared for.
Long distance conditioning is used to build aerobic capacity, increase limb strength, and adapt skeletal muscles. It can also be used to improve bone density and skeletal strength when done over time.
This type of conditioning relies on slow steady work over a long period of time in which the horse slowly builds fitness. Horses just coming into work may start out by just walking a of couple miles in 20 minutes and build up over the course of several weeks to walking several miles in 45 minutes to an hour. As the horse continues to build fitness trot sets can be added during the several miles the horse is walking to do the path in a slightly shorter time. Distance can then be increased again before adding slow canter sets in as well.
The key to long distance training is to increase distance first, then increase speed. You should never increase both at once. Most of the work done in this type of conditioning program should be slow. Majority of the work should be walking, with some slow trot and canter added in when the horse is ready. The goal of this conditioning isn’t to increase speed, but rather condition the horse’s entire body slowly.
Long distance conditioning is generally done outside of an arena on a trail system or roads. This makes it easy to pick a path of a specific distance and ride the same path continually. You can monitor your speed on the set path by timing your ride. Every few weeks make the time shorter by adding in slightly more trot or canter work to the path. When the path seems too short, add a longer track into your routine and decrease the speed you do the new, longer path at until the horse is ready to step up again.
Considerations and Benefits of Long Distance Conditioning
Long distance training is fairly simple in concept, but it is easy to rush this form of training because it is by nature slow and can seem tedious to some. When you are initially bringing a horse into work it is important to increase the work very slowly.
One of main advantages of long distance conditioning over other conditioning programs is that is can be used to increase the horse’s bone density and prepare his bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments for the future work he will be doing. Horse’s cardiovascular and muscular systems are able to be improved relatively quickly. Your horse may appear to do the long distance training regiment you laid out very easily after a short amount of time, but the rest of his body may not be properly prepared. Not allowing the horse’s bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments to properly adapt to the workload increases the likelihood of injury in the future.
Keep in mind as you condition your horse that it can take up to two years for a young horse just coming into work for the first time to develop sufficient strength in his body for normal work.
If your horse was previously in work or is currently in work this is less of a concern because the horse’s bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments also maintain fitness better than the horse’s muscles and cardiovascular system does. However, slower is always better to ensure that the horse is not being pushed too hard and being put at increased risk of injury.
How Can You Add Long Distance Conditioning into Your Routine?
Long distance training is very simple and easy to add to your weekly routine. Not only can it help get your horse fit, but it can also serve as a break from traditional arena work to give your horse a mental rest.
I like to add long distance conditioning in once a week for my horses in full work. I start out with an hour or two hour loop on a local trail (preferably one on property) at the walk and then build up to trotting and cantering the loop. I like to keep the total training session under two hours and at a distance of between 5-7 miles for horses maintaining fitness.
For young horses I generally do long distance conditioning 2-3 times a week between shorter arena rides where we work on the basics of suppleness, steering, and stopping. This keeps young horses engaged in the work and builds fitness and work ethic in a fun manner.
Even if you aren’t specifically looking to improve your horse’s fitness I encourage you to try long distance conditioning at least every couple of weeks. It is a great way to maintain fitness throughout the body where your normal arena work may be lacking as well as contributing to a mentally balanced workload.
Stay tuned as we look at interval training followed by high speed conditioning in the next couple weeks and leave a comment down below with how you plan to implement long distance conditioning into your horse’s routine.