Conditioning for Endurance Riding – Part III

Time off & Recovery

As discussed in previous posts, there are three parts to conditioning for endurance and each part is equally important in your overall training/conditioning program:

  • Part I – Physical conditioning
  • Part II – Mental conditioning
  • Part III – Time off & recovery

Time off and recovery seems like it should be straightforward, but it is just as individualized as the rest of your program as there are many factors to consider.  There is time off (rest) during your conditioning program and there is time off/rest following an endurance competition.  And then there is the immediate post ride care needed following an endurance competition.

Time off during a conditioning program:

There is a “safe-guard” guideline most endurance riders go by and that is, “give your horse one day off for every 10 miles.”  This is strictly a baseline and factors to consider are:  how hard you’re riding your horse regarding speed, terrain, weather and how well your horse recovers in the immediate hours following a training ride.  I believe the safest way to train for endurance when getting started is to ride every other day or 3-4 days a week.  Take one week at a time and one ride at a time.  I try to map out a 3-month plan, but things always change (weather, family, work) on a weekly basis so stay flexible for your own mental being.  If your schedule is not working for you, try not to rush your horse or try to make up extra miles, extra speed because of lack of time; this usually will only come back to haunt you in the end.  Be patient.  How well your horse is in shape also determines how many miles/days you need to ride each week.  Pounding miles on a horse that is in shape is just that, unnecessary pounding miles.

It is difficult to talk about a time-off program on a universal level because it really is individualized, but I would give your horse one day off between 10-mile conditioning rides and two days off for 15-mile conditioning rides.  There are times when it is perfectly fine to ride two days in a row, however, but if I were to ride two days in a row at 10-15 miles each day, I would then give 3-4 days off afterward.  Just remember recovery is an important part of the conditioning process.  There are tiny, microscopic fibers in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  In order to strengthen these, they must go through a process where they minutely stretch/break and then they heal/recover and strengthen.  If they are not allowed the time to heal, more fiber breakage ends up causing strains and injuries and, thus, a regression in conditioning rather than progression.  As riders, we don’t know the “line” until we have crossed it.  For that reason, I try to stay more conservative and try to be as observant as possible not only physically but mentally as well.  The horse will give subtle signs when they are uncomfortable and it is up to us to recognize those subtleties.  Again, as discussed in ‘Conditioning for Endurance – Part I’, don’t confuse cardiovascular conditioning with musculoskeletal conditioning; the latter takes far longer and patience goes a long way.

Time off and recovery post an endurance competition:

The same basic guidelines apply regarding time off during a conditioning program as does time off following an endurance competition:  one day off for every 10 miles of competition.  This is really just a guideline and I typically give much more time off.  I determine this time off based on the same criteria; how hard the competition was on my horse (speed, weather, terrain) and how much it “took out” of my horse; how well my horse recovered immediately following the competition as well as how well my horse recovered in the days following competition (attitude, physical appearance); and what the next planned ride is and how difficult it will be.  For a 25-mile ride, I will give a minimum of 5 days off.  If this was my horse’s first 25-miler, I would give a solid week off.  For a 50-miler, I give anywhere from one week off to two weeks off, depending on the factors listed above.  If I have a horse that is well-conditioned and has done a year or two of endurance (50-milers) – and this applies to 25-milers as well – and I am planning on riding in an endurance competition every two weeks, I will give one full week off and then do a light conditioning ride of maybe 8 miles the following Monday prior to going to the next competition.  This is to make sure everything feels good with my horse regarding attitude and suppleness.  Once a horse is in good condition, the conditioning program lessens quite a bit.  Over conditioning is just as bad as under conditioning.  For a 100-mile ride, I give a full month off before starting back to conditioning.

When starting back after your time-off period, it is important to not go right back to a speed or long distance ride… start back with a light, easy ride and then build back up from there.  Your horse is already in shape at this point but does need time to climb back up that ladder so to speak, getting ready for the next endurance competition and in essence reaching that “peak” performance at each ride.

When I am starting a horse in endurance, I spread the competitions out by 4-6 weeks.  After a year or two, I believe it is okay to start competing every 2 weeks or multi-day rides if things are going well.

Post ride recovery – techniques used immediately following endurance competition:

For the purpose of this article, I am going to discuss basic guidelines and techniques following an endurance competition.  I will discuss showing for Best Condition in a later post, although some of this most certainly applies to that topic.

The very first thing you should think about after crossing your finish line, meeting pulse criteria and passing your veterinary exam is to 1) electrolyte (your horse still needs to replace what was lost on that last loop); 2) feed your horse; and 3) start cooling those legs down.

1)   Replace electrolytes – Make sure you are giving your sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, probiotics, etc.  I can discuss this in greater detail if you would like to personally contact me; otherwise, see “Nutrition” as well as “Fluid Loss, Electrolytes, and Heat Dissipation.”

2)   Feed your horse with your grain choice, beet pulp, hay and/or alfalfa, whatever your feeding program is or whatever your horse will eat.  If you would like me to evaluate your feeding program and see what options are available for you in your area, I would be happy to do so.

3)   Cool those legs down.  I like to use ice boots to do this.  There are products such as cool wraps that do the same thing.  An important point to remember is that ice should stay on your horse’s legs for 20-30 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes.  The good thing is that it is usually warm enough to melt the ice during those 30 minutes so it does not give your horse an “ice burn.”  The purpose of icing legs is to cause vasoconstriction and reduce the heat.  The next step is to pull/draw the heat out.

With that said, there are a variety of products available to pull/draw the heat out of your horse’s legs.  These products are usually either gel based or clay based.  I personally like to use a cold clay medicated type poultice followed by a quilted wrap and polo wrap that I leave on for up to 24 hours.

So, following the endurance ride, first I ice the legs and wash all dirt/mud/debris off the legs and then I apply the poultice.  Next, I place a wet paper wrapping (I like to use the paper lunch sacks – I cut them so they are a “wrap” and then place them in water).  Then I apply a quilted leg wrap followed by a polo wrap.  The purpose of the wet paper wrap is to keep the poultice wet longer before drying out.  I will post some pictures of this process at my next competition.  Of course, if you are at the same ride and would like to see this in-person, feel free to find me and I will show you how it works.

Always feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need clarification – E101 is here to help you reach your goals, taking you to the trail, down the trail and onto the next trail!


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