In part 2 of our three part series on conditioning we take a look at Interval Training. If you missed last week’s article on long distance conditioning check it out here.

What is Interval Training?

Interval training is the system of breaking a training session into shorter periods of training with periods of rest between sessions. As opposed to the long distance conditioning that we discussed last week, interval training is a relatively quick way to build cardiovascular and muscular fitness. This is a popular form of conditioning for three day eventers and other riders needing both speed and endurance from their horse.

Jumping Noche at a Show

Interval training works by increasing the amount of high intensity exercise a horse can perform. Initially a horse cannot maintain intense levels of exercise very long without becoming fatigued and requiring a recovery period. During interval training the horse performs repeated sets of work with recovery periods between each set where the horse is not quite allowed to return to pre-work pulse rate. Then the horse does another, more intense, exercise set.

This system works because it stresses the horse’s heart, lungs, and muscles just enough to build fitness. The high intensity exercise sets strain these systems and by allowing the horse to partially, but not fully, recover his body is able to perform repeated sets of high intensity exercise and thus increase his capacity for high intensity exercise over time.

Considerations and Benefits of Interval Training

After successful interval training when the horse is pushed he has better stamina and is able to maintain an aerobic state working for longer before his cardiovascular system cannot keep up with the exercise and he goes into a state of anaerobic exercise. The horse also becomes better equipped to recover from high intensity exercise as shown by his heart rate and breaking rate returning to resting rates quicker.

This form of conditioning can be used as a high speed conditioning program, but it should not be performed at the horse’s top speed as that can lead to increased risk of injury and potential over training.

How Can You Add Interval Training into Your Routine?

Interval training is best introduced within the last two weeks of an eight to nine week fitness program because it does require sufficient baseline fitness and does not help condition the horse’s skeletal system.

Interval training should be performed once a week as part of a whole exercise program including hacks and training rides. For the average horse two five minute canters interspersed with 3 minute walk breaks should be sufficient per interval training session. Depending on the horse’s fitness this basic plan can be modified to fit your needs. As the horse gets fitter the canter set can be increased to condition a horse for long canter and gallop sets. This is important for jumpers and eventers who require their horses to be able to hold a strong powerful canter around a full course.

Another common interval training routine is a 5-3-1 interval sequence. This sequence starts with 5 minutes of walk followed by 3 minutes of trot and finally 1 minute of canter. This sequence can generally be repeated 2 to 4 times depending on the horse’s fitness level.

I love to use interval training the few weeks prior to a competition or big event when I need my horses at peak performance to add that extra edge of fitness. However, I don’t find this particular form of conditioning useful or appropriate for year round use. Instead, I prefer to include long distance training in my normal routine and switch it out for interval training for show prep.

Have you ever tried interval training? If so, leave a comment down below and let me know what your experiment with it was.


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