Saturday, August 23, 2008

Conditioning, My Opportunity

I wrote a little bit ago about how conditioning was very problematic for Team Brego. I include myself in that team, of course. But let's start with the brawn, shall we?

Brego is getting more and more fit. As just one measure of "fitness", I used to have trouble getting his girth on the longest hole in the billet and may shorten it to two holes throughout the work session. Now I start at 4 holes up on both sides and tighten to 5 holes on one side. And still, I can feel nary a rib on that boy and his withers are as round as ever.

As is typical for his breed, his trotting ability far surpasses his cantering ability. I have to make a concerted effort to work at the canter, and can typically use trotting as a recovering phase. In fact, when I researched conditioning about a year ago, I ran across an anecdote where a rider outfitted her Percheron with a heart monitor and was able to record a faster recovery at the trot than at the walk. So this is a great piece of knowledge that I can use on long courses: go fast and then let him trot and he will bounce back better than if I keep him at a slower canter the entire time.

Regardless, the long term goal is to take Brego through Novice. The height is not a problem, it's the longer courses. They are usual not run too much faster than our current level, so that's a plus. I was not happy with Brego's condition at the last show, and I know I need to improve before our next big push. Which means dedicated conditioning sets, heavy in trot, but I have to push him at the canter to improve. He can trot all day, but his canter takes too many muscles and he needs to get more efficient. The recent rains have made it very difficult to get out of the arena, especially to work at speed. I am hoping that after haying, a big field across the street might open up and I can work him over there.

Now for the brains... I have also mentioned recently that I thought my weight was interfering with my riding. There's no question I have gained 30 pounds since my fighting weight when I played hockey in college. I also work a 50 hour a week job and commute two hours a day and try to ride 5 days a week, so there's not a lot of extra time. As Brego gets lighter and more advanced, it takes less strength to ride him and so I am burning less calories every ride. I did take a heart monitor one time and I burned 600 calories over the two hours that I groomed him, tacked him up, rode in my jumper saddle, cooled him out, carried a couple of buckets. When I ride dressage, it's much easier and these days, most rides are easy.

So right after the post where I confessed my weight was a problem, I picked up an elliptical trainer off of craigslist and now I use it late at night, rain or shine. Thirty minutes, 4-5 days a week, and it's already making a difference. In just two weeks, I feel much stronger and at the last show, I completed the whole cross country ride in two point and with plenty of gas. I fully intend to make this part of my program and I can get a nice burn up and burn down in just 30 minutes a day.

Balanced, toes forward, following release. I could be more open with my upper body.

I can also see/feel it in my jumping position. Even through Brego's weirdness on Friday, I felt more secure in the saddle and my toes were forward. I felt like I fell on his neck less and had more strength in the air. Through experimentation, I have begun to suspect that my squatty, toes out position over fences was the position I assumed which took the least muscles. It was all balance based and allowed me to hold on without using my thighs or calfs or abs. All heels in and hamstrings. So now that my thighs are getting more fit, I feel like I can grip with the inside of my leg and use my thighs more effectively. I can use my abs to support my upper body through the jump.

Of course, it will be wonderful if I can finally get some show clothes which don't make me look like a walrus. But the primary goal is to get off Brego's back and make it easier for him on the courses.

Update: I checked Brego's right hind leg today and it was cool and tight. Very little difference between the right and the left. I could find no heat or swelling anywhere from hip to hoof. I palpated every inch of his body, even his boy parts, and could not find any sensitivity. I probed and prodded his back, looking for a reaction. Nothing. Using two hoofpicks, I ran them down his bum, from his hips to his croup and got the expected reflexive action. No popping of the hips or anything or favoring one side. I held his hoof to his stifle and flexed his hip up and down and it was nice and loose (That boy's leg is HEAVY!). His sacrum looked balanced, not depressed. I then trotted him and could barely run fast enough for his big trot. I found a faster runner and had him trotted and he was even, his hips swinging evenly, the arc of his legs even. I even asked for a canter in hand and he popped into a right canter as neat as you please, even though the runner was leading from the left.

So I officially have no idea. He will continue to get time off, I will continue to hunt down the chiropractor as soon as she can come. If he continues to look as good on Monday, I will just do a couple of trot sets to keep some condition on him until I can get him looked at. No sand, no jumping, much more careful work to bring him back. Otherwise, he's as sound as ever and I have no idea how else to proceed.


Tripple Spring said...

A Thoroughbred race trainer told me that the key to conditioning is as follows: trotting increases muscles and bones and soft tissue condition while cantering increases lung capacity. If you canter too much in your conditioning plan with not enough trot, then you have a horse who has the wind to do more (so they think they can do more) than their legs and bodies can handle.

tsp said...

interesting post! good luck with the elliptical. i am also working on getting back to "fighting weight". i'm about halfway there and it's made a HUGE difference. i'm definitely a stronger rider.

i do a little elliptical, hiking and i ride my bike to work 2-3 times a week (8 miles each way) which has all helped my legs get really strong.

i'm signed up for a yoga class that starts in a month, and am going to work with a trainer on some strength training exercises. i figured it wasn't fair i make my horse do all the conditioning work. :-)

JJ said...

Good luck with the elliptical. I hope Brego stays sound! He sounds like a really great horse and looks like he loves his job.

Beckz said...

I have a question. I seem to remember in the dull recesses of my brain that someone told you that you weren't allowed to jump higher than 3'. So you have decided to go higher regardless?

Daun said...

tripple spring,
That is a very good piece of information. I have heard that too, which is why I spent the 4-6 year old years trotting and hacking on long trails. We did no arena work and no speed work until 6. But now, it is doubly good advice on how to strengthen his leg. Even though he felt really good at the show, I think I did too much too soon.

Ahh your brain is like a steel trap! Nothing gets by you. :) I have talked a few times about a 3' limit, and I still think it's reasonable, for safety reasons. US Novice is 2'11". In schooling up to 3'3", he is not troubled by the height, and I think 3' might be the sweet spot. I wouldn't worry about him in a 3'3" jumper class, if he is otherwise healthy, but I wouldn't want to do 3'3" cross country at speed. That's a lot more wear and tear and training required. I did jump that 3'6" log once, which he handled fine, but the sustained work above 3' might be too much. Plus, much above 3' and you start getting into "rotational fall" zone and Brego is not the most catty jumper...

I will know more in a couple of months. He will be due for his annual xrays and I will get films of his feet and hocks. I can then compare them with last year's films and if there are changes, I can adjust our work, or pull him back completely. If no changes, then this level is not hurting him much and he's able to keep up with the height.

Serena said...

I am trying to find a treadmill. I live in a great walking neighborhood but i like to use treadmills because i like to get some reading done while i'm exercising. My butt has gone FAR above and beyond fighting weight. Also, i have started playing soccer again (first time since HIGH SCHOOL) so i desperately need the conditioning.

Daun said...

I would love to use a treadmill because nothing gets me more fit than running. But I have an old injury to my right knee where it is all gnarly and noisy and some nerve damage (thanks to a bad fall while mountain biking in college, back when I thought I was immortal). Now I need low impact. So Elliptical or cycling. Cycling is weather dependent unless you get an exercise bike. But then you are sitting during the exercise. A large strided elliptical burns your thighs just like two point, so it's the best for me.

Of course, my craigslist elliptical broke already (stupid junk!) so I am on the hunt for a better machine. Until then... trot sets in two point!!

Serena said...

I call sitting trot my "ab workout." :-)
I had a few awesome mt. biking wrecks myself! Mostly landed on my face though. I have a bad LEFT knee (thanks, snowboarding!) so i mostly just like a treadmill for walking.
Anything that gets the blood moving!

Beckz said...

Thats cool, I'm sure he will be fine with the bigger heights I was just curious. I must say you are probably right about the heights eventing, especially when the speed you have to go cross country increases, he would probably struggle with that some.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy I found your blog, we just got this 4 year old 3/4 perch 1/4 clyde and He's been sitting pretty much since he was broke to ride. I know to go slower with him since he is still growing, I just need to fine a good place to do long trots with him...Thank you again for your blog...I'm busily trying to catch up!