Ask the Vet – Proper work-to-rest ratio for horses

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DAN: “How often should you
work/exercise your horse? Also, how often should hard
working horses get a break?” Now, this one received
a lot of feedback on our YouTube community poll. So McKenna Sauer
said, “I always wonder how much time my horse
needs off, especially after a hard ride, or if I’m
giving too much time off.” And then Gydiup628–
love the name, by the way– said, “What
is the proper work rest ratio for horses? My horse is very energetic and
I don’t want to overwork her. But if she’s not
ridden consistently, she’ll go bonkers. We’ve all been there. What’s the right
course of action? PS, I love your videos.” DR LYDIA GRAY: OK, well, I
went back to my go-to book. And you can tell it’s my
go-to book, because– look. I mean, this thing is– DAN: It’s pretty used. DR LYDIA GRAY: But it’s
Conditioning Sport Horses by Dr. Hilary Clayton. And I marked all the
passages in here. So I’m going to do
like a Mr. Rogers and read passages
from the little book today, because I
think it answers our questions perfectly. I wasn’t sure though, if they
meant the work rest ratio– it sounds like if I work a
day, do I give them a day off? DAN: Yeah, that’s
how I interpreted it. DR LYDIA GRAY:
The other issue is in a workout, when you’re
building a horse’s fitness or conditioning them, and
you do interval training, there is a ratio of– like when I walk jog, I’ll do
a minute walk, a minute jog, a minute– like that. So “strenuous exercise
does have wide ranging effects on the body. The rapid use of energy
causes the blood sugar to fall and depletes glycogen reserves. Metabolic wastes accumulate,
and fibers are actually torn in the muscles and
ligaments and tendons.” So you have to heal all those. DAN: Yes. DR LYDIA GRAY: “If large
amounts of sweat are lost, then the fluid electrolyte
balance gets upset. Between workouts, then
the body recuperates, the metabolic wastes are
flushed out of the system, the glycogen store
is replenished, torn fibers are repaired,
and the blood sugar, fluid, and electrolyte levels
are restored to normal.” So you do need time to recover. “In fact, the cycle of
tissue destruction repair is an essential part of
the conditioning process.” That’s how you get
better, because you– like that’s how you get stronger. When you work out, you’re
actually tearing muscle fibers. And as they build,
they’re growing. DAN: That’s how
they get stronger. Then the muscle rebuilds itself. DR LYDIA GRAY:
Yeah, so “there has to be sufficient time
for complete regeneration between successive workouts. And this usually requires
two or more days, depending on the
extent of the damage.” DAN: Wow. DR LYDIA GRAY: So like
if it was a competition, like a three day event,
that would be several days. “Light exercise
though, may actually hasten the repair process. So it’s not necessary for the
horse to have complete rest.” So probably the
worst thing to do is put them in a
stall– stall rest. You want to hack them
lightly the next day. DAN: That’s like after you
have a hard workout, and then the next day, you do nothing. You’re sitting on your couch. You just feel so– DR LYDIA GRAY: That’s terrible. You get stiff. “If strenuous workouts are
performed too frequently, however, there is insufficient
time for rebuilding, and then the rate
of tissue breakdown exceeds the rate
of tissue repair.” And then your horse is
predisposed to injuries. DAN: That’s what I
was going to say, you start seeing those injuries. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah,
it’s got a name. It’s called overconditioning. So “if you’re interval
training–” I’ll just give you these little– I’m not sure anybody
asked, but I’ll just give you this factoid– “the work rest ratio in a
workout is 1 to 1, or 1 to 2 for aerobic. For anaerobic, it’s more
like 1 to 5, or 1 to 6.” Anaerobic would
be like a sprint. DAN: Gotcha. DR LYDIA GRAY: Like
you know in high school when you did those sprints
to the middle line and back? DAN: Yes. DR LYDIA GRAY:
OK, then you would do one, and that you would rest
for five times as long as that. That’s what that means. So if you’re not using oxygen
to get it done, it’s a sprint. It’s like a barrel race. You rest longer. DAN: So quick spurt
and then long rest, OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yes. But if you’re jogging, then
it’s a 1 to 1, or 1 to 2. The frequency–
“when the objective is to improve fitness,
the recommended frequency for cardiovascular
conditioning and strength training–” those are the
two areas that you’re working on– “is twice, two or three
times a week, with at least one intervening day
between workouts. For maintenance,” – once
your horse is at the level that you want– you’re just
maintaining the level– then it’s– “one or two hard
workouts a week is sufficient.” DAN: OK. So let’s say it’s after winter. It’s springtime, you’re trying
to get ready for show season. Now, that’s when you’re going
to be doing one hard day, maybe a couple of days of
light riding on your days off to kind of get your horse
built up into that condition. And then once you’re
in show season– DR LYDIA GRAY: Then
you’re maintaining. DAN: –then you’re just
maintaining– one hard day a week, or something like that. DR LYDIA GRAY: And
somewhere in here, it talks about the time to
strength train your horse– which seems weird talking
about strength training– is the winter, actually. And if you do it
right, you plan right, they can build muscle 50% to
100% improvement from fall to spring. DAN: Really? Wow. DR LYDIA GRAY: So
here’s another one. “As a general rule,
horses should not perform the same type
of conditioning exercise on consecutive days. Minimize the risk of
overloading injuries due to insufficient time
between workouts or repair.” DAN: So if you’re doing
the same type of workout, you’re going to be using that
same type of muscle groups– which therefore, you could
add strain and stress to those particular muscles. DR LYDIA GRAY: And
you’re not improving. You’re not building. You’re not giving them
time to repair themselves. So I’m telling you, this
book, you guys, is amazing. “When the objective
is to increase cardiovascular fitness, aerobic
workouts are three times a week on alternate
days, which allows time for tissue repair and
rebuilding between workouts. Later stages–” oh, they
go on a two weekly cycle. So she recommends three to
five cardiovascular workouts every two weeks– will maintain. “To maintain, it’s
sufficient for a horse to perform cardiovascular
workouts once or twice a week.” DAN: And do you think
with some of it, though, is just kind of using
a little bit of intuition, or knowing your own
horse, and making sure that you’re paying
attention to– is he seeming a little stiff? Should I back off a little bit? Should I give him a couple
more days to recover? DR LYDIA GRAY: And
now, heart rate monitor is maybe a good
tool in this case, especially if
you’re conditioning. So anything you can do to
either know your horse’s– like when you pull them out,
are they excited to work? Or are they like oh, more
work, because I’m– you know. How long does it
take to warm up? She says suppling work,
because there’s cardiovascular, there’s strength
training, and suppling. Suppling should
be done every day. That is not something that you
have to alternate or wait on, because that improves
your horses’s range of motion, suppleness. DAN: I call those my yoga rides. DR LYDIA GRAY: Your
yoga rides– yeah. Just to mention, so
strength training in horses is things like hill work, work
over poles, gymnastic jumping. For a dressage horse, it
would be like doing a 20 meter circle, and half of the circle
would be a collect to canter, and then half, you let him go. And then you collect,
then you let him go. So it’s all the same as
humans– it’s reps and sets– pretty cool. DAN: Reps and sets out there. DR LYDIA GRAY: Reps and sets. DAN: Well, perfect. Well, I think that’s
some good advice. So we do a hard day,
couple days off to recover, and then once we’re
kind of in shape, maybe one hard day and then just
kind of maintenance after that. DR LYDIA GRAY: And
then not complete rest in between, but light
hack, some sort of light work. Even if it’s a hand walk,
around the property– could be lunging. DAN: Just let them to kind
of move their muscles, and get loosened up.

 

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