It makes sense that we can’t just go hard in our training all the time. Not only would our horses break down, our own bodies would also start to complain. Having a long-term strategy when it comes to our training is important – it can mean the difference between an all-star season and an absolute train wreck.
For most athletes there is a set off-season, pre-season, and in-season schedule. Conversely, many equestrians don’t take much time off from training or competing. We just follow the in-season wherever it goes, which means we have to be pretty smart with our training in order to avoid burnout. You wouldn’t expect your horse to compete or do course work day in and day out for weeks on end, would you? Your body can’t be held to that standard either.
I recommend a generalized strength and mixed cardio program for athletes in the off season. This is to help recover from any injuries, maintain the body, and keep on track for closer to pre-season (pre-season is generally the 6-8 weeks leading up to competition). The “off” season for an equestrian may be a few weeks between major competitions, or a few months. Either way, this is an important time to use to recover and prepare before the in-season – or your next competition – begins in earnest.
As pre-season comes in, I would want that training program to shift to higher intensity strength and conditioning work. Sport-specific cardio work should also kick into high gear. Depending on your discipline, think interval work and high intensity training to build short-burst energy, with longer cardio days mixed in for active recovery and endurance.
How To Work Out During Show Season
During the competition season, athletes also return to maintenance work. This means not pushing for the personal record in the gym. Rather, focus on building and maintaining good form, steady strength work and creating a variable but mid-intensity workout plan with cardio mixed in. Week-to-week this will fluctuate depending on the competition schedule, but always remember to have appropriate rest days, mobility and functional fitness worked in between competitions.
Back-to-Back Shows: For example, say you’re headed to a four-day competition soon, and you’ll have off the next six days after that event. I would recommend a light-to-moderate workout that includes mobility training to keep the body limber and healthy each day leading up to the horse show. But it shouldn’t be too taxing. After the show, you should resume this same amount of work to stay active, but again, don’t do anything too challenging. What you don’t want to do is hurt yourself or burn out before or between competitions. There’s nothing worse then rolling into day one of an event kicking yourself for being pre-fatigued or injured because of something you pushed through in a workout the day before.
Monthly Show Schedule: Here’s another example. If you have a month off between two major competitions, there’s more time to fit in a more challenging routine to build and retain muscle. The first week after competition I’d recommend low-intensity maintenance work focused on cardio, mobility and corrective strength work. The next two weeks could gradually build to higher intensity focused work on the core, balance, plyometrics (absorbing force work like depth jumps and jump squats), sport specific cardio (2-5 minute interval training with equal rest), and postural stability work. The last week in this month in between events, or the week leading up to competition, should again be focused to mental prep, mobility and maintenance on strength, balance and keeping everything tip-top.
Long-term planning for athletic development opens up opportunity to set and achieve performance goals. Without a strategy you are gambling with your longevity in the sport. Having the mentality that you always have to be pushing toward a goal often needs to be reframed to include the “challenge” of fitting in appropriate rest and recovery practices. Once you value this and incorporate proper strategy into your plans – I can guarantee you’ll see improvements in performance.