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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

March 13, 2010

Holding Condition ...what's it take?

Okay. I've been over on Mel's blog at Boots & Saddles and had a "light bulb" (in very dark closet) moment concerning a horse that has peaked to condition. How long will they hold condition? How much time must pass before they lose ALL OF IT? And what does it take to maintain fitness once fitness is in place? After a winter lay off do I need to "re-invent" the wheel so to speak with a 12 week program of riding like I started out with? Every year?

This is probably the most important and possibly liberating question I've ever proposed here. If anyone is kind enough to share their thoughts on this, I would be so appreciative.

I feel like perhaps I'm on the cusp of an epiphany of monumental proportions.

More questions.

If a competition (in my case 25-30 miles) counts as conditioning, at what point can I back off of the repeated LSD miles? We've had over a thousand of those now, when can I say my horse has her foundation base, and just get on with maintaining it instead of trying to build it?

I know what I'd like my training to look like this point, but don't know if what I propose to do moving forward is adequate preparation to maintain fitness, without the hammering down the trail over and over and over again.

(Mel I didn't want to clutter up your blog with current wild mental ravings).



  1. There was an article about this in Endurance News. Not sure what month, but I believe it was last years, maybe two years ago.

    Horses are not like people, they hold on to their conditioning longer. I believe a horse could go up to a couple weeks off before it started to loose "condition". And I believe it stated that time off in the winter was actually good for a seasoned horse. But I am no expert. Better look up the article.


  2. I just read some of Mel's blog. And have heard this before. I'm sure in EN and I'm sure you've read it too. There is a fine line where you have to have your horse fit for a ride but not over-ridden so as they are too sore to compete at their best or too compete for a LONG time.

    Also, read in EN, that your horse has only so many down-hill miles. If you dismount and walk the big downhills you can save some of those miles. (meaning downhills are going to eventually lead to injury after so many of them)

    Another reason you need a second horse. I'm sure happy with mine. And it keeps me in better shape when I get to ride both horses the same day.


  3. K E.G. I'll bite over here, too. Of course this is all going to be determined by the individual horse, however, there is a common theme no matter who the horse... they only have so many miles. Some have more than others, some have very few, and some are absolute freaks and go forever. You'll notice not many people have those freaks over and over, no matter if they manage the subsequent horse the exact same way they managed the first.

    After a winter lay-off of a couple months, it really shouldn't take more than two months to leg the horse back up. I personally do not ride back-to-back, but that is just what works for me. I work on the principle of progressive loading- break down muscle fiber and tissue during exertion (a training ride) and then allow adequate rest to re-build that muscle fiber and tissue stronger than it was before. You get into trouble with repetitive conditioning because you continue to break down the tissue and do not allow time for it to build back up. Hence overuse injuries.

    After a ride (50), I give my ponies a mandatory two weeks off, of course they are out on large acreage. I use the time to pamper my ponies, brush them daily, feed them extra goodies, bathe, massage, etc. During the ride season I really don't ride my endurance horses all that much outside of actual rides. They go to a ride, get a few weeks off, get a light leg stretcher the week before the next ride, and then so on. It's a personal choice, but it's what works for me and what I feel comfortable with. I have extra horses so I am always busy with someone.

    As far as actual conditioning, I never do a conditioning ride longer than 25 miles, and that's a long one. I rarely ride more than 25 miles a week, splitting that mileage into two rides a week, one longer and tougher, one shorter and faster. I make sure they have three days or so in between conditioning rides. If I were doing LD's, I would even reduce that mileage to maybe 20 miles a week. Your actual endurance or limited distance rides will serve as conditioning. If you did an LD a month, gave a week off after the ride for rest and resume a solid conditioning schedule, you would be ready to move up to 50's really soon without needing to really increase conditioning mileage.

    Does that help at all? You are going to get a lot of advice from people with a lot of experience. Look over it all and choose what works for you and your girl. Those lightbulb moments are pretty funny how they sneak up ;-)

    ~ Amanda

  4. let me be sure I've got this straight.

    There is no longer any need self-flagelatte when I'm weathered out over the winter months?

    *Sorry-----dizzy spell, shoving my head between my knees*

    Once I have condition I can ride a couple of times a week, one more leisurely, and one at nice pace, and my horse will, or at least should maintain that fitness, at least enough for what I care to do at this point which is an LD each month this summer?

    Okay. So what about multi-day 25's? If I ride ultra conservatively (butt dragging Granny pace) is it reasonable that we can do multi-day 25-30 mile rides this summer once she's reconditioned?

    If I were a drinking woman, I'd tip one down about right now. In fact I'm going go back and read all that again, because---well----just because! ~E.G.

  5. On the topic of Endurance News, which I love btw...The downside to EN is that it gives a newb information, but sometimes NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE THE PICTURE CLEAR. I mean I espouse all those things here on the blog that I understand on some level, I post up training programs as I find them. But oh so often the resources terribly conflict with each other. I've looked at programs that said RIDE EVERY DAY, rain, or sleet or hail (oh...maybe that was the US mail, but you catch my drift), then the idea of progressive loading which allows rest between work days with gradually increasing intensity. But by jiggy I'm beginning to think that I put way to much angst into the whole process.

    I think I could be really happy training 2-3 times a week vs. trying to fit in a ride 5 days a week on my work schedule and usually failing miserably when weather gets factored in. And if I could do that AND work up to a 50 mile distance at the same time? All I can say is oh happy day...

  6. Happy day is right!!

    As everyone has said already, it all depends on your horse, but generally they need much less conditioning than most of us think. Once the base is laid down, those rest periods are a good thing, and it gives you time to ride that back up horse... Sounds to me like you need to go ahead and plan a 50 this summer for sure. Once you do your first one, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner!! Honest! From one Granny to another, If I can do it, so can you. Happy Trails

  7. It depends on the horse, and depends on the breed. Arabs do seem to take less to get back in to ride condition after a winter lay off than other heavier built breeds. 12 weeks is a LONG time to take to get one back in to shape for a ride in my opinion, if they were in ride ready condition at the beginning of winter.

    I guessing the horses are not locked in all winter, and not doing anything, right? So muscles, tendons etc. are getting some sort of use in mud, snow, what ever??? And easy enough to check heart rate recovery when you put them back to work. I bet you would find they really do bounce back quicker than you realized.

  8. My horses are only put up at night to dry out their feet. And yes, Phebes is slogging around in mud during the day, on turnout. She isn't in a big field but plenty of room to run when she feels like it. I've also been riding when I can, just not at the distances that I would have liked. 5-9 miles once or twice a week depending on the weather. We've had an especially nasty winter.

    I think I may try a longer distance next weekend at Clark and see how her pulse looks. She did fine the day we rode with Michelle even though I had some paranoia about moving out after her being off for several weeks.

    Phebes is 7/8 arabian with some spotted saddlebred thrown into the mix, which is why she has a little different look to her.

  9. EG-

    I'm with you a little on the lightbulb moments! I knew the principles behind the condition maintenance, overtraining, etc etc because of my chosen profession. I did not realize, however, how those principles would actually apply to my own horse. I was shocked, to be honest.

    Jasper has essentially been "resting" since August of last year. We've done rides (not E-rides), but only for funsies and not with the intent of conditioning. He's turned out into an acre paddock with little Onyx through the winter, so it's not like he's standing around, but STILL. When I pulled him out to start conditioning this spring, I threw a HR monitor on him just to see where he was. His HR and recoveries were BETTER than they had been at the END of last season!! I was shocked and amazed! And because of it, I've been pretty conservative bringing him back this season.

    Either way, these lightbulb moments are pretty amazing!


  10. I agree with Amanda and it seems so many riders I meet do the same thing. I think you are making it harder than it is. But you have two things working (alittle bit against you). You don't have 24/7 turnout, not a LARGE pasture. And you don't have a purebred arabian. Saddlebreds at least are a light weight/hotter type breed than anything else you could mix in but may not have as good of feet or conformation as a purebred. (not to say that all purebreds are "perfect" for endurance, but generally speaking they are built for the sport)

    I LOVE having the large pasture (with big hilll in the middle of it). And I also thinking having another horse or two that is an arabian or hotter breed to run and play with your horse helps. Which you probably don't have in Cree either.

    I've found that no matter the size of the pasture, that horses seem to run the full perimeter of it at least three times. So the bigger and hillier the better. Self conditioning, really helps me out a bunch.

    And I'm with Amanda. I don't like to ride back to back days. Especially if they are hard/long/or fast days. Two short, easy days back to back are fine. And I'm not a fan of multi-day on the same horse. ((Some can handle it really well)) but I personally think it has got to be really tough for the horse. Horses away from home are stressed, even if they don't show it. So just being away from home twice as long gives more chance for ulcers/etc. Let alone going the distance twice, even if it is slow. Slow is longer time on the horses back, longer time on the trail away from the horse's grain/hay and water.

    I am of the opinion that a two day mulitday LD is harder than a one day 50. Harder on the horse that is. But doable. Just not my thing.

    I'm hoping to be able to do a 100 in a couple years.

    Good post!


  11. I really wouldn't think that 1/8 saddlebred influence would have that much bearing on what she can or can't do. It might matter for someone who is really competitive. I just want to get the job done.

    I feel that the biggest barrier we have faced in our adventure is that my horse is overly emotional. It works against her eating and drinking. She also is lacking in social skills. This is a horse that will stop in her tracks and lock up on trail when she sees another horse. When we go places she spends her time on three legs generally, with one hoof pawing the air. She needs to learn to relax in her environment and the only way I can think to get her to do that is more exposure, longer camping weekends, etc. until it becomes old hat.

    As far as putting my horses up at night, if I want a hoof come spring I pretty much have to. The horses lot lays muddy and deep, sometimes standing water. We have heavy clay soil that does not drain. Their stalls are dry, and have clean wood shavings so the horses can lie down and sleep, and also let those hooves dry out. Having them in at night is less of a deficit than leaving them out in those circumstances in my opinion. You are unusually blessed to have a hundred acres to run your herd on. We have three fenced acres, and most of that I keep them off of in the winter so that we will have grass come spring.

  12. EG, you're my doppleganger or something. I've been away from the computer thinking the same thoughts and deliberately NOT riding and letting my horse RECOVER.

    Also you have the Arab version of my horse. Dixie stops and stares at other horses (and deer!) on trail, and she paws any time she thinks I'm not hurrying fast enough.

  13. Looking at your conditioning log on your blog, you have gotten your horse out a bunch more than many riders are able to do in the past few months, so I would not ever refer to you taking winter "off". Even those short 4 to 8 mile rides help you maintain the condition thru the winter. Go to a ride girl!

    And after attending both of the long XP rides across the pony express trail, 2000 miles in 2001, and 1250 miles in 2004, I saw horses get stronger the more days they did. In 2001, the high mileage horse did 1650 miles of the 2000 I think, in the 8 weeks we were on the road. 50 miles per day,moving camp daily, usually we did 5 days riding, 2 days off. While most brought multiple horses to rotate, not everyone did. After seeing the horses, and how they handled those rides, the travel etc. I actually giggle at the thought of 1 day off for every 10 miles competed. Not all horses are suited for multi day rides, just as not all are even suited for endurance. But there is no ONE way to do things with all of our distance horses. We must find what works best for each individual. I would never say that one would be in error at the formula of a day off for every 10 miles, but I would sure NEVER set it as any kind of must do standard.