16 Mar Competition Fitness Tips
Event season is here and since some of you may still be working towards your first competition #teamteqnox thought it would be good to find out how some of our ambassadors keep themselves and their horses in shape for the season ahead.
Alfie is in his usual routine of a 6-day working week, during which he currently works on the flat, jumps, hacks and lunges on various days, with maybe a small outing as well. I try to vary what we do and spread out our schooling/jumping sessions so that nothing is too repetitive, boring or pressurised for either of us.
One of my key focuses with Alfie in the build up to the season is building up his strength, as well as his fitness – something which I have really learned the importance of whilst working for my boss, Dickon.
Most of the jumping I do away from competing is in grids, to help him be quick with his legs and build strength to really push off and use him more over a fence. I also lunge him in either a pessoa or a chambon aid, and regularly incorporate poles into this to make him work even more.
I’ve found that his weaker rein in canter has improved hugely from using raised poles on the lunge, as well as the overall quality of his trot. Hacking is also very important – Alfie is currently hacking at least twice a week, and during these rides I always incorporate a hill, even if I just take him for a short/walk hack – I am lucky to be based somewhere with lots of hills! I have a few routes where I can trot him up long, gradual hills, as well as steeper ones, but I often walk uphill with him as I find that this can make him work harder (and also reduces constant strain on his legs). Alfie is visibly more muscled this winter compared to the end of last year, so hopefully we’re moving in the right direction.
We will soon be visiting the gallops frequently for canter/gallop work, using timed intervals suitable to build up to Intermediate/2* level.
I also use hacking to work on myself and improve parts of my position – no time in the saddle is wasted. If you need to secure yourself in a dressage saddle, hack in the dressage saddle; if you need to keep your body tall and straight you can work on that; if you need to keep your feet from sticking out then you can try and help that by reminding yourself to turn your toes in – the list of possibilities is really endless and it definitely makes a difference if you stick at it every ride.
I also find that as a rider I develop several bad habits, with myself and through to Alfie, and training with the same person can sometimes mean that you (unintentionally) miss these. Therefore I find it useful to use a variety of trusted trainers for dressage and jumping, so that no stone is left unturned.
Pre-season non-riding checks seem almost a no-brainer in the sport now – if the horse is in harder work then they may have a few niggles and so regular physiotherapy/saddle/teeth checks may be needed. I am lucky to have fantastic sponsors through my saddlers G&T Saddles, who I work with closely to ensure that Alfie is comfortable in his saddles, and allowed to develop as he builds up and changes shape. I am confident with the good feed that Dickon uses at the yard, as Alfie is in great condition and I can feel that he is well when I ride him, but if your horse isn’t feeling like he’s coping with an increase in work then perhaps a feed change or supplement is needed.
I use various NAF products for Alfie, as I believe that these are top of the range, and they are great supporters of eventing, especially my local event NAF Hartpury International Horse Trials. Their ‘Pro Feet’ powder is really helping with the quality of his feet, and the ‘Love the Skin’ solution is reducing the amount of winter lumps and grime in his coat through use in washes and hot cloths after work.
I am kept pretty active as I work with horses full-time, but I still run occasionally and work on my own core strength, as my personal strength and fitness needs to match Alfie’s in each phase, especially on 2* length cross country courses where he may be quite strong. It also helps with riding some of the naughtier youngsters at work…
To keep fit I go to the gym 4 days a week and do lots of Pilates and stretching to keep my core strong. It also helps riding up to 6 horses a day and mucking out. To keep the horse’s fit I love hacking, I do it as much as possible. I don’t like to trot round the school day in day out so I tend to do a lot of schooling out hacking. I love pole work and do different exercises at least twice a week. This activates the horse’s core and really gets the backend engaged.
On the day of a competition I don’t tend to eat anything heavy and stick to light foods, lots of fruit and water. For Ben I keep his routine as similar as I can to a usual day with feeding at home and always take hay and water from home too. I don’t change anything in the warm up, I do the same routine each time and this is one I have purposely built at home beforehand to make sure that the horses stay relaxed and focused.