Thursday, January 01, 1998

Interval Training - Wendy L. Milner

The following is a write up of notes I did after attending a talk on Combined Training, specifically, the endurance phase of 3-day.

Each phase of interval training should be done 2 to 3 times per week. The entire work out should last between 1 and 2 hours. In addition, at least once a week, mountain training should be included in the horse`s schedule. In the mountain training, ignore speed. Let the horse pick the pace. Ride 2 to 4 hours.

At each training session, begin by taking the horse`s resting p&r. Do the phase training and immediately take the p&r. When the p&r is below 120/80 (30/20 in 15 seconds) the horse is ready for the next phase. Within 10 minutes, the horse`s p&r should recover to 80/40 (20/10 in 15 seconds). If the p&r does not recover to this level, return to the previous phase.

[I`ve become more conservative in recent years in regards to pulse. While the above rates will work, after a 10 minute rest/cool down, I`d rather see the pulse return to below 15 in 15 seconds.]

The phases consist of a warm up walk, a series of trot sets and a series of canter sets. A trot set is a few minutes of trotting followed by three minutes of walking. A canter set is a few minutes of cantering followed by three minutes of walking. As the horse gets fit, you can eliminate the walking between trots, and change the walking to trotting between canters. The "rest" period remains at three minutes, while the cantering time is increased.

As long as you are traveling along roads, pace the horse at a trot at 10 miles per hour, or 6 minutes per mile. At the canter, go 15 miles per hour, or 4 minutes per mile.

Record the number of miles you travel and the time it takes. Average out the miles per hour. When you can do 10 miles in one hour consistently, your horse can complete a 25 mile course. When you can do 15 miles in one and a half hours consistently, your horse can complete a 50 mile course.


Take the resting Pulse and Respiration. Record it.
Begin with a 10 minute walk.
Do three three-minute trot sets. That is, 3-minutes trot, 3-minute walk, (set one), 3-minute trot, 3-minute walk, (set two), 3-minute trot, 3-minute walk, (set three).
Do two three-minute canter sets. 3-minute canter, 3-minute walk, 3-minute canter, 3-minute walk.
Do three three-minute trot sets.
Take the Pulse and Respiration. Record it. (120/80 = go to next phase)
Do a 10 minute walk.
Take the Pulse and Respiration. Record it. (100/60 = OK. More = go back a phase)
Cool down the horse, remove the saddle, brush the horse, etc. Take the Pulse and Respiration after 10 minutes. (80/40 = good condition)


Developed for Eventing horses.
1. 10 walk, 3-3min trots, 2-3min canters, 3-3min trots, 10 walk
2. 10 walk, 3-4min trots, 3-3min canters, 3-4min trots, 10 walk
3. 10 walk, 3-5min trots, 3-4min canters, 3-5min trots, 10 walk
4. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-4min canters, 10 trot, 10 walk
5. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-4min canters (trot between canters rather than walk), 10 trot, 10 walk
6. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-5min canters, 10 trot, 10 walk
Expect 2 to 3 weeks at each phase.


Developed for conditioning endurance horses. Trotting between canters instead of walking.
1. 10 walk, 10 trot, 2-3 canters, 10 trot, 10 walk
2. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-3 canters, 10 trot, 2-3 canters, 10 trot, 10 walk
3. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-4 canters, 10 trot, 2-3 runs, 10 trot, 10 walk
4. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-5 canters, 10 trot, 2-4 runs, 10 trot, 10 walk
5. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-6 canters, 10 trot, 2-5 runs, 10 trot, 10 walk
6. 10 walk, 10 trot, 3-10 canters, 10 trot, 2-6 runs, 10 trot, 10 walk

The first thing you should do when starting is to find out where you are starting from. Heart rate is the easiest and most consistent way to determine this.

Take a resting rate. Before you even tack up, take the pulse. You will probably need a stethescope (or if you have one, a heart rate monitor). The resting rate of the horse (in 15 second intervals) should be around 10. 12 to 8 is normal.

Now go for a "normal" ride. You should be out at least half an hour. An hour is better. Don`t try to do anything more than you have already been doing. As soon as you get home, jump off and take the pulse. The pulse should be around 15. Untack and take the pulse again. It should be around 12. Within 15 minutes of stopping, the heart rate should be back to "normal", or within one beat of resting rate.

Start a log-book. Write down the resting, stopping, and 5 minute pulse. Write down how long it took to get below 15 and how long it took to get back to resting. Also write down you time and mileage, and what you did - hills, roads, ring work, etc.

OK, now you know where you are starting from. It is time to get working. There are several things you need to work on.

1. Behavior and control. I`m putting this first because if you have an uncontrolable horse, it doesn`t matter if the horse could be a world champion, you`ll never get there. So, my suggestion is to=20 take dressage lessons. If that isn`t a possibility, get any kind of trainer and work on the basics of control; stopping when you want, the speed at any gait that you want, having the horse carry himself and not being all strung out, straightness and roundness.

2. Endurance. You are going to be in the saddle for four to 12 hours. Both you and the horse need to be able to keep on going confortably (at least reasonably so) for that length of time. The only way to get this is to ride for long periods of time.

3. Condition. If you ride for six hours and only get 10 miles from home, you won`t make it through an endurance ride. Only conditioning will work.

4. Nutrition. No you don`t have to know everything about nutrition, and you don`t have to follow every subject that has been going on in this forum. What you do have to understand is the basics, and what your horse needs.

I`m not going to address #1 here. Check out equine-l for more on that. And, for now I`m going to skip #4. That leaves us with Endurance and Conditioning. Every horse and every rider will be different. You have the brain of the two (usually:-) so you have to develop your own schedule. What I`m writing here is guidelines for those who don`t know where to start.

Let`s say that you are currently working your horse twice a week, going for an hour ride, and covering 6 miles. Here`s a plan. You`ll need to modify it to meet your specific needs, but you`ll get a general idea.

There are two things you want to work on, distance and time. You do not work on both at the same time. Instead, you increase distance, and then decrease the time it takes to do that distance.

You should be working your horse four or five times per week. Do not work seven days a week. All animals need time to recover - including us. If you only work once a week, it will take a long time to get where you are going.

Measure your distances. If you are riding on roads, drive them or bike them. Mark every mile in your mind. If you are riding on trails, get a good map with distances marked on it. A string works if that is all you have. Better is to hire a biker to mark the distances for you. (It makes for good relationships as well.)

Week 1 - Increase the miles to 10 miles. Maintain the same speed. Ride the distance, 3 times per week. Additionally, add in one day per week of ring work where you spend an hour or so on the basics.

Week 2 - Keep the mileage the same, 10 miles. Decrease the time. Try to do the distance in one hour. So instead of 6 MPH, you are now doing 10 MPH. Do not try to jump from 6 MPH to 10 MPH in one ride. Do it gradually. And listen to your horse. Do this three times per week. Do an hour of ring work - dressage under an instructor is great.

Week 3 (or later. It might take a couple weeks to get to this level.) - Keep the mileage and time the same. 10 miles at 10 MPH. Do this only twice this week. Keep the hour ring work. Add one day of flat interval training. I`ll send an interval training post later.

One word of warning on interval training. If you are working on hard roads, interval training can be hard of the horse`s legs. Ride on the shoulder where the ground should be softer. Better is to find trails where vehicles are not permitted.

Now, how is your horse`s heart rate? At all times, the horse`s heart rate should be down below 15 beats in 15 seconds after a 15 minute rest (15 in 15 after 15. Should be easy to remember). If this is not the case, slow down, back up a week. When your horse comes in from a training session and is already at 15 beats, then you need to increase the training session, either faster or longer. Note that if you do a long slow end to your training session as the cool down (which you should be doing), you should be taking the pulse as soon as you stop the hard work, before you start the cool down.

If instead of starting at 6 miles at 6 MPH, you are only doing 2 miles at 6 MPH (a fast walk with occasional trots), don`t try to jump to the 10 miles immediately. Instead go from 2 miles to 5 miles at the same speed. Then go a bit faster. Then go a bit further, say 8 miles. Then go a bit faster. Then go up to 10 miles.

Week 4 (or when ever you have managed to 10 miles at 10 MPH) One day of mountain work. Don`t worry about distance. Go for two to four hours. One day of ring work. Keep up those lessons, they are good for the mind. Two days of interval training.

Week 5-10. Do the same work as above. Go a bit further and faster on the mountain work each week. Keep up the ring work. Work through the interval training on a week by week basis.

Week 11 - Go do an limited distance endurance ride. Your goal is to finish. Keep track of the pulse. Feel how your horse feels to you. Do not run. Keep to the same pace as your mountain rides. You have 6 hours to finish a 25 mile ride. Don`t rush.

The rest of week 11 is a rest week. You can go out for a short jant if you want, or you can look at your log-book and figure out where you are and where you want to be. Do not work the horse hard. If the horse is in a stall, rather than pasture, you will want to let him out to work the kinks out. Go for a slow walk.

Week 12 - Repeat week 11. Check out how your horse feels. Horse should be feeling great, pulling to go further and faster. Recover times should be down.

Week 12+ - Gradually increase the distances you do on your long rides. Continue with the interval training. Continue with the ring work.

When you can consistently go 15 to 20 miles at a 10 MPH trot, then you might consider trying a 50 mile ride.

What I do - Drake is only 7 this year, so we are going slow.

I`ve got mountains now rather than roads, so interval training is not by a schedule.
Once per week is dressage lessons.
Once per week is a 12-20 mile mountain ride where the mountains are steep, rocky, and over all tough. Our MPH average is about 4.5 to 5 MPH. Week by week, we go faster, from 3 MPH to 4 or 5 MPH.
A couple times per week, we do faster shorter work on my "driveway".
A few miles down and (it seems) longer up. This has a 12 to 14% grade, and gains about a thousand feet in elevation.
When I`m not riding, Drake is out conditioning himself by running up and down mountains, chasing his brothers, and playing in a 40 acre pasture (which has a 600 ft elevation difference).

LSD - long slow distance - What does this mean?
LSD (no, not the drug) is what makes for a long term endurance horse.

A few numbers (Did anyone guess that I`m a bit of an analytical?)
It takes approximately 5 years to build up the bone strength.
It takes approximately 2 years to build up the medium to soft tissues.
It takes approximately 4 months to build up the heart/aerobic condition.
It takes approximately 4 weeks to build up the sweat production.
(If you are moving from a high dry climate, to a low wet climate this last is important.)

What this means to the beginning horse and beginning riders is TAKE IT SLOW.

Now, some of that 5 year build up for the bones will be done by the foal running around in a pasture from the time they are born. By the time you start riding, the bone density is already started. But, to make further changes will still takes years. If you are starting an aged horse (older horse to me is after 20, so aged is still young), that is maybe 10 or young teens, you still need to put the time and slow miles on the horse to improve the bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, as well as the heart rate.

Long - start with a few miles and increase in small increments (1-2 miles) every other week. Work your way up to 12 to 15 miles.

Slow - A walk is about 4-5 mph. A trot is about 10 mph. A canter is from 15 - 20 mph. These are averages. At a ride, you will be traveling from 5 (walk) to 15 (canter) mph. (Valerie Kanavy once ran the last part of a 100 at closer to 20 mph. Because she could, because her horse was in great condition.) Your overall average might be only 4-5 mph because the vet checks are wait time.

In training, start out at a walk. Slowly increase the speed of your ride. Add in a few minutes of trot, fall back to a walk, then add in a few minutes of trot. Over the weeks, do more trotting than walking. Then add in a few minutes of canter. Other than the warm up and cool down, your average might be 10 mph.

Always start out with a warm up. 10 minutes of walking is very good for the horse. Always end up with a cool down. Another 10 minutes of walking is very good.

In the article I wrote earlier, I set up a schedule. This is not meant to be followed exactly to the letter. It will all depend on your horse, your work schedule, your terrain, your goals. There are three parts to the training.

One day of ring work. This would be an easy day for the heart, and depending on the terrain, a work out for the bones and hard tissues if your ground is hard, or a work out for the soft tissues, ligaments and tendons, if the ground is soft sand.

One day of long slow work. This is your mountain work out. You want to do as much distance as your horse is up to. You want to increase the speed only up to the trot of 10 mph. You`ll be doing some walking, some trotting and maybe some cantering. Over all your speed is 10 mph. This works on all aspects of the horse`s condition. You are stressing the heart a little. (This is where that 15/15/15 comes in.) You are stressing all the muscles, bones, ligaments, etc. as well.

One or two days of speed work. This is progressive work on the heart. Your speed will vary between 5 mph for the warm up, to 20 mph fast canter (many weeks into the work), back to 10 mph, then up to 15, ect. It stresses the bones through concussion (as does all the work), and you must be careful not to over due this work. Ride on the soft side of a road, or better, pick a non-vehicle traveled trail. An added feature of interval training is that it "naturally" increases the body`s ability to store glycogens (the energy food). There were articles over the last few months about carbo-loading, and how it affects the ability of the horse to go longer, faster, and with less fatigue. By doing interval training, you get a similar result. You still must watch the nutrition, but the horse adapts more quickly.

Let`s look at a couple of examples -

1> You are starting a 10 year old horse that has only been lightly ridden, some trails, mostly rings. You have unlimited time (I`m dreaming but you get the idea). You also have lots of trails available in your area and a good sand arena. For a couple of weeks, you do trails twice a week, increasing the distance a few miles per week. You also do a day or two of ring work. For this horse, you skip the speed work for the first two months. Instead, you get the horse used to the long distances at slow speeds (5-10 mph). After a couple of months, the horse is really liking to trot out and almost resents being slowed down to the walk. Now you find that perfect soft road, and start interval training. Two months after that, you enter your first limited distance ride and reach all your goals. Your horse flies through all vet checks with A`s, is perfectly sound and willing to go on.

2> You are starting out a six year old horse. He`s a bit flightly, hasn`t been worked other than a few months under saddle a year ago, but has potential. You work five days a week, you have a family, and a life outside of horses (don`t worry, you`ll lose that soon enough:-) On the weekend, do the longest ride you can fit in. This will start slow and short and over the weeks increase in conjuction with the fitness of the horse. You will also schedule a weekly lesson with a dressage trainer who understands and is willing to work with endurance horses. Then in the middle of the week, you do a bit of road work. Starting out slow and gradually increasing the speed. For the young unworked horse, very gradual increases in the interval training. At the first ride, you take your horse, but leave him at the trailer. Instead, you help out the vets at base camp. After the ride is over, you go for a short ride up the trail. You notice all the points that need work on your horse. A month later you enter a ride, start out after all horses have left base camp, and ride conservatively. You win in the most important catagory, you finish on a sound, happy, healthy horse.

3> You have a past endurance horse that has been in pasture for six months due to the owner having a baby. Your job is to recondition the horse. First day out, you notice that this horse seems to be in the same condition as when going out to pasture. Sure enough, horses do not loose conditioning at the same rate as people. As a comparision, a person looses aerobic conditioning at 10% per week and can only get it back at 3-4 % per week. A horse can sit in pasture for several months doing mostly nothing, and loose only 10-20%. After a few years, you will definately notice a difference. So, to recondition this horse, do a few tests on your mountain ride. How far is the horse willing to go? What does a heart check tell you? And how does the horse feel the next day. You`ll want to accellerate the training schedule for this horse. Do four months work, in only two months.

4> You are Valerie Kanavy. You have a horse that you`ve been bringing along for six years. You are ready to move on to bigger things. You evaluate the up coming ride conditions. You plan what the horse needs. And you go and do it. Valerie rides her horses three to four times a week, averaging six miles. She does lots of rides. The rides provide the long distances. All she needs to do is keep her horses ready to go.

5> You are you with your horse. What conditions do you have? What condition is the horse in? What condition are you in?

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