physical fitness (horse) · senior horse


I’ve said many times that managing Tristan’s brain is harder than managing his body. His body is not exactly easy to manage either, but his brain? Well, he had a decade of looking out for himself, four years of wild roaming and then six of nothing but unreliable or neglectful humans. Only this year have we been a team for as long as he was solo.

He’ll never be a ride-every-day horse. That mostly works out for me: I don’t have a ride-every-day life. There’s a lot of gray in between that high-maintenance horse and a pasture puff, though, and I’ve struggled with finding the right balance in the moment. It keeps changing, and a lot of the changes now are directly tied to his 22 years of hard living.

pretty darn good right now

Right now, though? Knock wood, I’ve found a sweet spot. I’m balancing the hard 60 minute fitness rides with the 20 minute dressage intensives with the 30 minute longeing sessions with the 45 minute hacks – and the days off in between. He is really and truly a horse that’s happier and goes better when he’s had time to process and rest.

February was a great month for building on success in all areas, but at the end of last week I longed him and he was just not happy. So we backed off. He got two days in a row off for the first time since early January, and then he got a road hack on Sunday and his brain was already a bit better. I was on a roll with house work on Monday, so he got that off, too.

Tonight, we’ll ease back in with a light longeing session, and then tomorrow back in the saddle for some trot sets & fitness work. I’m working hard to make days off and light days conscious decisions that I make based on the horse in front of me, and it’s paying off in a big way.

dressage · physical fitness (horse) · topline

Eating crow and why the internet is awesome

I am really pleased with the way Tristan is going right now. He’s really sound, he’s working well, and he is getting slowly but surely more fit. After a long and tough ride on Monday, he was quite tired but his vital signs returned to baseline much more quickly than they have before.

I’m working mostly on a day on, day off schedule to ramp up work and then give him time to rest. He’s always been a horse that has benefited mentally and physically from rest days. On days when I am out there back to back, I do another kind of work with him – I longe or we hack out.

He’s still very slow to build muscle. The Cushings has just really gone after that part of his metabolism, for whatever reason. It’s been a solid six weeks of very good work now and I’m only seeing the most incremental changes in his body. Physically, he feels like he should have more muscle than he does. I’m not sure what to do with that yet.

On Monday, I took some photos to show how his neck is developing basic muscle, and also to show how far we have to go.

As always, it does look better in person, but you can see some things. His crest is doing better, and he’s filling in just in front of his shoulder a bit.
There’s a problem, though. I couldn’t quite figure it out until I read Jenj‘s recent blog post and put two and two together.
Can you see it now?
Yeah. He’s developing a funny muscle bump in response to the way I’ve been asking him to bend. Exactly as described in Jenj’s blog post.
Knowing is half the battle, right? Back to boot camp for both of us.
physical fitness (horse)

Getting an Assist

I know that there are many people who have trainers ride their horses regularly. I think that’s awesome. Tristan always makes progress by leaps and bounds when someone who actually knows how to ride horses sits on him. It’s almost like experts do stuff better than out of shape amateurs who jump on bareback three times a week.

Ahem. Anyway.

I’ll be gone for nearly two weeks for Wedding + Aftermath, and right now, Tris is in a somewhat peculiar and precarious place. He’s overall in good health, but his physical shape is utter shit. He’s turned out on a hill, and I’m walking him a few times a week, but…that’s it. Yeah. I know. Last week, I asked him to trot the (mostly flat) cross-length of the hay field and he was blowing hard when we got to the other side. Goooooood grief.

So I had a long conversation with the barn manager last night about what Tris will need while I’m gone (thankfully, not too much) and I voiced my problem(s).

Problem the first: I’d like to keep him in work while I’m away.

Problem the second, which is the larger, underlying problem: he’s out of shape, and I’ve become too nervous to whip him back into shape. If he seems sore, or too tired, or breathing too hard, or anything, I get nervous. It looms much larger in my head than it should. I should just push through and stick to a program, but I back off and noodle around instead.

But he needs to be in better shape. Right now his muscle tone is poor, and he’s week through his hind end, which means he’s tripping even more than usual, and his body feels disconnected all through even in the walk. He’s got a hay gut and no topline, and just overall an even more sedentary attitude. He needs more muscle, more energy, and a better body feel. He needs to go into the winter with a base of fitness.

Solution: while I’m gone, the assistant trainer will sit on him, maybe two or three times. She’ll work out a program. Between the assistant trainer, the working student, and the barn manager, they’ll get him started. When I get back, I will sit down with the assistant trainer and she will tell me to get the hell over myself and what I need to do.

barn hacks · physical fitness (horse)

How Do You Tell Time at the Barn?

Most of us are living on careful schedules, trying to get to the barn and get what we need done in order to be home in time to make dinner, let the dog out, or at least see the husband/wife/kids before dark.

If you’re not on a schedule like that, then you’re almost certainly trying to plan your ride: maybe it’s fitness sets, a specific exercise that you don’t want to let go too long, or just a time by which you have to be out of the ring to make way for something else.

I’ve struggled on and off over the years with timing myself at the barn, and I’ve never come up with a really good solution.

Currently, I use a combination of two things: the clock in the indoor and a sports watch.

The current sports watch.
The clock at the indoor is useful: it’s semi-prominently displayed, large, and it lets me break up my work into rough five minute segments, or keep track of a longer ride. It’s not precise, though, and obviously it’s on the wall. I try to spend as little time as possible in the indoor during good weather, so that doesn’t help when I’m outside.
The sports watch is useful because it is water resistant, so I don’t have to worry about taking it off before bathing or hosing Tris down. It has a basic stopwatch function that can be useful for trot sets, except I have to keep looking at it constantly. The one pictured above is super-basic and cheap. I think it cost around $15. Its downside is that I have yet to find one that really holds up well to barn work. They tend to crap out after a few years – dust in the gears, just planned obsolescence, some combination of that.
For a time, I experimented with using my iPhone to track trot sets. I wanted something that was brainless, so I set up a series of staggered alarms for what I was doing. 5 minutes trot, 3 minutes rest, so on and so forth. It gave me a certain peace and worked really well, but it was a complete PITA to set up. That was before there were a lot of interval apps for the iPhone – hopefully something like that would be easier than setting all those alarms!
On the other hand, the iPhone was fragile and bulky to carry, so frustrating.
Anyone have a better solution? What do you use to keep track of time? What about timing fitness work?
physical fitness (horse)

Getting Back in Shape

I checked the forecast for this week and I don’t mean to alarm anyone but it might hit 20 degrees. On one day, it might hit 37. 37!!!!!!!!! I have actual literal tears in my eyes, tears of joy, at the idea of feeling the warmth of a 37 degree day.

(All of you in sunny climates can stop snickering now.)

So, I have a horse who has not been ridden in any real, substantial way for two months. Whenever I can I would go out and ride, but that amounted to once, maybe twice, on really rare occasions three times a week. Followed by a week of nothing. Lather, rinse, repeat. On such an intermittent schedule, I couldn’t get anything really significant done for risk of injury; full blast then back to sedentary does not a sound, happy horse make.

So: walking. When I could. That’s been about it. He’s been turned out, obviously, and in snow, but he’s also been eating his head off on free-choice hay to try and stay warm.

I’ve been reading and thinking about our back-to-work plan. I want to ride, really ride, all summer, none of this back and forth crap. I want a fit horse that can do canter sets. I want him to have a proper topline again. He was doing so well late this fall and earlier in the winter!

Here are a couple of good things I’ve been reading:

Bringing a Horse Back Into Work from Equisearch
Our Guidelines for Bringing a Horse Back Into Work from Grey Horse Matters
How long to go from winter flab to eventing fab? from COTH Forums

endomondo · physical fitness (horse)

Adding Wind, Not Just Strength

I don’t always claim to be the quickest off the mark. Case in point: last week, I was hacking out bareback with one of the barn working students, and M., the assistant trainer, joined us by trotting up the hill. She was riding one of the really talented upper level dressage horses, an Andalusian, and commented at the top of the hill that “I can feel his heart going pitter-patter!”

That started a slow burn thought in the back of my head. This is a horse that’s schooling all the Grand Prix movements, and is right now gaining strength to refine his piaffe and passage. He is in superb shape. But his wind – his aerobic capacity – needed work, hence why she was out with me in the field.

I’ve been doing so much work on building strength with Tristan; 90% of the work we’ve done for the last 3 weeks has been at the walk. He’s responding to it well. His walk is more energetic, and he’s building some muscle. But I’ve been totally neglecting his wind.

So last night we incorporated some quick sprints, too. We started out with a walk around the field, with some short trots up hilly areas. Then we went into the outside ring and worked for about 10 minutes on trot and canter, getting him supple and keeping him forward and even. He can be tricky in the outdoor ring, and he showed that last night when a horse down in the barn kicked its stall and he tried to bolt for the barn. I got him back in a few strides and he settled in to some nice work.

Note to self: remember to stay deep in the saddle! Far too easy to prop out of the saddle and leave the re-gathering to my hands alone when he gets strong like that.

Then we walked around the field again, and from the bottom trotted and then cantered up the hill. Aha! He felt strong and capable, and even pulling away a bit, but he was breathing so hard he was almost roaring. His muscles were more than capable of the work; his lungs were behind the ball. Interesting!