Many riders who are looking to condition their horses for competition or just general health will find interval training to be a very valuable tool in their equestrian training toolbox. Interval training is a form of conditioning that uses the science of physiology to improve cardiovascular functions to create a fitter, faster horse. It typically involves a system of alternating speed and rest, and can be as simple as walk/trot/walk/trot combinations to advanced gallop sets. Interval training is used by riders all over the world, and is a proven way to increase athletic function.
A great interval training resource is in the appendix of one of Jimmy Wofford’s books, Training the Three Day Event Horse and Rider. It has an explanation of how/why interval training is used, along with sample routines of some upper-level horses.
Another good resource is Dr. Hilary Clayton’s Conditioning Sport Horses. It is an excellent, excellent book with information on equine physiology and how it applies to conditioning (and has sport-specific chapters).
As an example, a simple interval notation would be written as the following:
2″ 220 x 3w/ 2″ i
2″ = length of time is 2 minutes
220 = meters per minute (220 = trotting speed)
3 w/2″ i = walk the horse for 2 minutes and then repeat the set two more times (for a total of 3 trot/walk sets)
This interval notation reads: Trot the horse for 2 minutes, followed by 2 minutes of walking. Complete 3 sets.
A more intense workout could read:
5″ 450 x 3w / 2″ i
5″ = length of time is 5 minutes
450 = meters per minute (450 = Training-level canter)
3 w/2″ i = walk the horse three times for 2 minutes each set
This interval notation reads: Canter the horse for 5 minutes, followed by 2 minutes of walking. Complete 3 sets.
Riders can build their way up to more time and faster speeds. Once your horse’s fitness increases, you can build up to combination sets such:
2″ 220 x 3w/ 2″ i +
5″ 450 x 3w / 2″ i +
4″ 500 –>600 (1)
This interval notation reads: Trot the horse for 2 minutes, followed by 2 minutes of walking. Complete 3 sets. Canter the horse for 5 minutes, followed by 2 minutes of walking. Complete 3 sets. Canter for 4 minutes, starting at 500 mpm (meters per minute) and increasing to 600 mpm, holding that speed for the final minute.
Many riders incorporate heart rate monitors into their interval training to supervise their horse’s fitness progress. A horse’s heart rate can spike dangerously if too much work is asked for too soon, and subject the horse to potential injury if he is overworked. It is ideal to create an interval training plan with a coach or professional who has experience in interval training, to ensure the correct amount of work is asked of the horse.
Always be aware of the footing and conditions in which interval training is performed. Soft, slippery footing or hard, hilly ground can cause injury to your horse. Keep in mind that the fitter the horse, the more of a handful in the ring he may become! Many horses come to enjoy interval training and working at faster speeds, so prepare a conditioning plan and training schedule that will balance schooling as well as fitness. It is important to warm your horse up before beginning interval training, as well as providing a proper cool down.
A great online resource about condition is found in this PowerPoint presentation, A Conditioning Plan. Another interesting read is from a 1993 US Eventing article by Olympic rider Torrance Watkins called Teaching Your Horse to Gallop.