Last month, this column covered some of the basics in developing a physical conditioning program (see “Getting Your Horse in Shape” in the February 2002 issue of The Horse, article Quick Find #3263 at www.TheHorse.com). The early phases of training, often termed “legging-up,” are designed to provide a foundation of fitness and musculoskeletal strengthening that better allows the horse to handle the rigors of training and competition. Beyond this foundation, training must be specific to the intended athletic event to ensure that the body is fully adapted or “tuned” for this activity. It almost goes without saying that the physiologic demands for Thoroughbred or Standardbred racing, eventing, reining, barrel racing, show jumping, or endurance racing are all very different, so it makes sense that no one conditioning recipe can be applied to all of these disciplines.
However, regardless of discipline, all conditioning programs share one important goal: To improve the horse’s capacity to provide energy to contracting muscles. That means he can increase the speed and efficiency of his fuel use (in a sense, get better gas mileage).
A second common goal is to improve biomechanical efficiency and skill level. This aspect of training is much more sport-specific and won’t be discussed here. Instead, we will focus on the principles behind two conditioning methods called interval training and hill work, which are geared toward attaining peak cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and efficiency of fuel use during exercise.
By and large, all conditioning programs have two basic elements: (1) the foundation phase, and (2) more intensive training that brings the horse to peak fitness and readiness for competition. For completely untrained horses or those coming back from a lengthy lay-up (greater than three to four months), the foundatio