Monday, June 23, 2008

A Brief Derailment: Overtraining an Endurance Horse

For the past couple weeks, Aaruba hasn’t been himself. Not colicky. Not lame. Not sick. Just not…himself.

The most obvious symptom was the lack of his usual spark. Though perfectly willing to head out for a conditioning ride, his enthusiasm flagged. He was more willing to stop and munch weeds, less excited about what was over the next hill. His stride lacked its customary spring.

I tossed around several theories:

First, the weather. After a long and chilly spring, 90 degree temperatures have arrived.

Second, his weight. Aaruba typically runs on the thin side, but he’s finally put on the pounds I’ve wanted to see for some months. Though it’s contrary to my basic understanding of equine endurance physiology, it’s possible that he performs better at a slightly lower weight.

Third, his living arrangements. Due to his specialized feeding routine, Aaruba has been living in a pen adjacent to, but separate from, the other horses. He’s recently resumed his old habit of frantic fence walking, and I suspect he’d benefit emotionally from having a buddy.

Fourth, overtraining. We’ve stepped his conditioning up a bit since the Owyhee Fandango. Perhaps a bit too much?

I decided to address theories #3 and #4 first, as they seemed more likely than #2 and certainly more subject to my control than #1.

We started with a round of musical horses, with the result that Aaruba now shares the largest pen with CJ. Because Aaruba outranks CJ socially, he can defend his oil-dressed beet pulp and grain. (And, as a fringe benefit, CJ gets free lessons in how baby boys should behave around the big horses.)

Come Thursday, I skipped Aaruba’s scheduled workout in favor of a short bareback lesson. This was more for my benefit than his, though it did involve a bit of training as he’s only been ridden bareback once before. Don’t laugh – it’s been 15 years since I did much bareback work!

Afterwards, I succomed to a teenage moment. Is it even possible to ride bareback and not hug your horse?

As of Saturday, Aaruba was back to his old self. He blasted through a 6-mile workout in 29 minutes, all at his exuberant James Brown trot. (I feel good!) He wanted to relax with a nice, long gallop afterwards, but I talked him out of it.

I’m sure it was the time off that rekindled his fire. Studying Aaruba’s conditioning log (see right hand column of The Barb Wire blog), I realize where the train left the tracks: Though I took care not to increase both speed and distance in the same workout, I failed to adequately consider the cumulative effect of our stepped-up workouts over the course of a couple weeks. Poor Aaruba was tired, plain and simple.

Thankfully, rest is a marvelous tonic. We’re back on track now, steaming along, a little wiser than we were before.

1 comment:

coymackerel said...

I'm glad you found the answer. Great photo of "teenage" you and Aruba.

I wonder if training scale that distance runners use would work with distance horses - 3 weeks increasing the length of the run each week, then 1 week of running only half the previous week's total.