Western Dressage Exercise – Structuring the Week

don diego westernEvery year at this time, riders around the country set out with good intentions to get their horses back to a decent fitness level post-winter.  Along with this pursuit comes a list of questions. Especially after reading through many of the fun exercises in this blog, riders want to know which routines are appropriate for their unfit horse, or how much/little should they ride each day, and so on. Finding the right balance between challenging the horse appropriately while not over-working him while his body re-adapts to metabolic stresses upon work re-entry can be tricky. It becomes even more puzzling when riders have to balance their own busy schedules with the equation.

When choosing gymnastic workouts each spring during this re-conditioning phase, I advise students to follow my straightforward formula of varying intensity levels each day. This variation in daily outputs allows you to make physical gains and metabolic improvements without also creating soreness or mental burnout. Like us, horses do need easy workout days as these days allows their bodies to recover from harder training sessions, improves blood and oxygen circulation (which promotes looser muscles), and prevents their nervous systems from being overwhelmed by too many consecutive taxing training sessions, resulting in poor performance and/or behavior. However, many riders make the mistake of relying only on easy training rides to re-condition their horses. This won’t work. The horse’s aerobic capacity, muscle recovery, and fuel utilization DO need to be stressed adequately in order to make gains.

If you train your horse too easily, you will not see any gains. Likewise if you over-train you will see negative results.

How then, should a rider proceed?

This is where my formula can give you some handy marching orders. During any week, follow this progression for your training days: Easy, Moderate, Hard. Repeat. So, for example, if you ride 4 days per week, you would ride the first day easy, the second moderate, the third hard, and then on the fourth day ride easy again. At the start of the following week, start the formula from the beginning again. If you only ride three days in a week, you will ride the first day easy, the second moderate, and the third hard.  These days do not need to be consecutive; you just want to be sure to follow the easy, moderate, hard sequence within each seven day week. If you manage to ride 6 days a week, you perform the formula twice.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, if you ride less than three days in a week, you cannot expect to make fitness gains and therefore should perform only easy rides. Once you are able to ride with the frequency needed to recruit metabolic and muscle function to make gains (3-4 days per week, based on researchers’ findings), then you should follow my formula.

Remember that any session’s difficulty rating, or how ‘hard’ a ride is, can be determined by duration OR intensity. You never want to increase both at the same time. For example, a brief cavelletti workout can be just as hard on a horse as a longer one-hour regular arena workout or a 45 minute hack. Likewise, a relatively long ride of an hour or more can be made easier by sticking to easy maneuvers and slow gaits. You do NOT want to make exercises intense AND long. Choose one or the other.

Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou – Classical Training | Copyright © 2013

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