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Jim Wofford: The Eventing FAQs of the Matter

Some eventing questions come up more frequently than others at Jim's clinics.

Event rider doing trot sets.
Before beginning your conditioning canter sets, you want your horse soft and relaxed. Horses who are tense when conditioned take too much out of themselves and are more susceptible to injury. Margaret Rizzo and Hooper are obviously organized and ready for some serious work. They radiate confidence and softness, exactly the frame of mind I want them in before they start cantering. Note the cross-country vest, and the galloping boots on all four of Hooper's legs. Also very important, notice the lack of a cell phone or iPod. You should not have anything with you that would interfere with your concentration on your horse or block your ability to listen to his breathing and hear the rhythm of his footfalls. Your horse's fitness is his best defense against injury during both training and competition, and he needs your full and undivided attention while he is conditioning.

I give clinics almost every weekend. It is a great job and keeps me in touch with the sport around the country. During these clinics, I try to hold question-and-answer sessions, so the participants and auditors can talk about issues that are on their minds.

Over the 40-plus years I've been doing this sort of thing, I've noticed I tend to get asked the same questions, so I thought I would make up my own list of frequently asked questions.

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FAQ #1: How much conditioning is enough for my horse?
This is probably my most frequently asked question. I invariably answer, "That depends." Each horse is different, and we need to know a little about the horse's breeding and experience before we start giving definitive answers. For example, a "racetrack reject" Thoroughbred will need a lot less wind work than a horse who is half draft and half something else. However, there are general guidelines I use and a standard approach I recommend people use when conditioning.

I use what I call a "four-day rotation" when training eventers at the Novice, Training and early Preliminary levels. My sample schedule looks like this:

Day 1: Dressage
Day 2: Show Jumping
Day 3: Dressage
Day 4: Canter
Day 5: Repeat Day 1, and so on.

To describe the amount of work I want the horse to undergo, I use "interval notation." If I want my horses to trot for a total of 15 minutes (say at 220 meters per minute, the required speed for Phases A and C at Classic events), and then slow canter a total of 12 minutes (at the required ­Training level cross-country speed of 400 m/m), with two-minute intervals of walk between each set of exercise, it looks like this (using " for "minutes"):

5" @ 220 m/m w/ 2"i +
4" @ 400 m/m w/2"i

(My students' slang for this workout is "3-4s," referring to three four-minute sets of canter exercise. I usually maintain the same amount of trot work, regardless of the amount of canter exercise I am going to require.)

This is not the first work you should do, however, as you begin conditioning for another season. Your canter works should be progressive, beginning with very slow and short periods of exercise. I want you to gradually build your horse up to what I call "maintenance works." Once you build him up to a certain level of exercise, I want you to maintain him only at this level of fitness. Getting your horse overfit will cause almost as many problems as having him not fit enough.

For Novice and Training levels, I want my horses to be maintained at 3-4s, Preliminary horses at 3-6s (three six-minute canter sets), and Intermediate and Advanced horses at 3-8s (three eight-minute canter sets). Remember, cross-country is an anaerobic exercise even at lower levels of competition. Cross-country competition will make your horse fitter as you go along. Be aware of this; later on in your season, look for an opportunity to occasionally skip a canter day so that you can do a little more work on your weakest technical skill (dressage or stadium jumping).

FAQ #2: When should I start ­putting studs in my horse's shoes?
My smart-aleck answer is, "When do you want to stop slipping?" There are many different theories about how to put studs in your horse's shoes, and my observation is that most of them work. My personal preference is to put four caulks of equal size in the front shoes. This will ensure that your horse's foot remains level as it strikes the ground. For his hind feet, I like to have a slightly larger stud outside behind than inside. This allows his hind foot to pivot as he plants it, which will help prevent torsional injuries to the lower leg.

If we give our horses any sort of additional traction in questionable footing, they seem able to do the rest for us. My only additional comment is that when you can't decide between "road studs" and "little bullets," always go with the next largest size. I am sure I "overcaulked" a horse at some time in my career, but I do not know exactly when that happened. However, I can tell you to the day when I competed with not enough caulk and wound up sliding into a jump and injuring my horse. Learn from my mistake.

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