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Trot sets… or really any kind of planned interval training for horses is still a relatively new concept to me. When I rode in H/J, horses were just ridden for 30 – 60 minutes 4 – 6 days a week. You tried to balance out W/T/C and add in jumping as necessary.

Then, I entered the eventing world, and I had a trainer tell me that my horse needed fitness… “Just add some trot sets into your routine.” (not her exact words, but most of her explanation just kind of rolled off. “How does one do a trot set?” was my first thought. Does one simply trot around aimlessly until they get a bit fatigued and then walk until they’re ready to trot again? Nope. I learned quickly that there should be some kind of plan to this…

Ok, how does on make a plan? I started reading as much as I could on the topic, but I definitely lack the most important element of knowledge in this area: experience.

This year, I am making a more conscious effort to really plan out my interval training with May and to make sure we are gearing up for this season in an appropriate manner. So, our rides lately have consisted of long walks or interval sets to improve fitness… so our rides lately have beenย boring.

bored over it GIF

The fields aren’t open for riding yet, and our barn doesn’t have access to trails. As a result, long walks are done along the road through the barn (a whole lap takes about 40 minutes so I try to do it twice), and interval training is done in the main arena (thankfully, very large).

Last week, we completed a 54 minute ride that included a lot of walking, 2 – 10 minute sets of trotting, and a couple of short canter intervals. What did I learn? That May is probably in better shape than I am. While she was a bit fatigued after the ride, my back was on FIRE. Definitely time to add some core strengthening exercises to my out of the saddle routine!

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  1. the_everything_pony

    I’m in the same boat – how DOES one DO a trot set? lol Amber and I do a lot of walking, too lol. I feel you. But if you want to get a great ab workout? Build some Ikea furniture. Moving furniture for approximately 5 hours caused fewer sore muscles than building my freaking Ikea bedframe. My abs have hurt for 2 days now – even the muscles in between my ribs hurt lol. Who would’ve known? haha

    1. Emily

      nooooo thank you! Pilates will do just fine I think hahaha. It requires less wine, beer, and hard liquor. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. the_everything_pony

        Hahaha! But….shouldn’t that want you to do furniture BECAUSE of more beer/wine?! ?? yeah I’ve wanted to try Pilates!

  2. emma

    ha yup i kinda felt the same way when i started eventing after having been in hj land for a while. like…. uhh conditioning rides? huh? honestly tho despite my best intentions i haven’t really gotten very serious or formal about it. i tend to think that horse fitness plans are obviously pretty dependent on breed, and level of competition. so my arab on 24/7 turnout doing bn / n eventing didn’t really need a very sophisticated conditioning plan beyond our standard schooling sessions and trail rides to be successful at her level.

    theoretically, charlie as a TB who also gets substantial turnout and is doing low level eventing should also not really need anything crazy in terms of fitness. except uhhh…. he’s a quiet kind of guy and not super motivated. and if things get too hard or he gets too tired, i worry about him quitting. so i’m trying to be a little more disciplined in building his fitness so we don’t end up in a situation where he says “No!” bc he’s tired or something.

    1. Emily

      Yeah – I think that’s why it’s something you learn by doing… there are just so many variables. Could May go out and put down a killer Training Level Dressage test right now? Sure… but it would be even better if she was more fit. I think for Charlie, it’s that way too. He is physically capable of doing everything unfit… but would only get better with fitness. Something I definitely didn’t appreciate in H/J land.

  3. Amanda C

    The conditioning work has gotten to be some of my favorite. We do either canter sets or long trots, mostly, plus lots of walking before and after. I like to vary the speed of my canter sets, too… some below competition speed, some at competition speed, some over. Almost all of our walk work is long and low, and for the trot work I alternate back and forth between stretchy trot and regular trot. Sometimes I just do one long-ass stretchy trot. Sometimes we do hill repeats. Sometimes we do stretchy trot ON hill repeats. I really like the fitness aspect, clearly. I found it boring at first but now it’s kind of fun to play with things.

    1. Emily

      I am trying to make it my favorite because it helps literally everything else get better. (so far, music has somewhat helped) I think it will get infinitely more interesting once we can get back out into the fields and add in other elements (like hills and faster canter sets).

      1. Amanda C

        It definitely does help everything else get better. My horse has gotten much stronger, which helps overcome some of his conformational challenges. Plus I NEVER EVER run out of horse at the end of an XC course. Ever. He is just as sharp at the end as he is at the beginning, which is really important to me. Definitely helps to be able to all of that work outside of the arena, though, I’d prob die if I had to do it in the ring. Good god, the boring. The varied terrain and wide open spaces make it seem like a “business” trail ride lol. I also like to use my canter sets to check my whoa… like several times during a lap I will sit up and quiet my seat without touching my reins… if he doesn’t immediately bring his shoulders up, we gotta work on that. I always want to be able to whoa from my body and seat while on course, so we practice that A LOT on conditioning days. Same thing with the GO button, if I close my leg and he doesn’t immediately go forward, we work on that as well. Really just about everything you do on XC can be practiced on conditioning days, if you get creative about it.

  4. Allison @ Pony Reboot

    I started doing a bit of this last weekend too, I have a couple of friends who also ride my pony once or twice a week so it’s hard for me to gauge exactly where his fitness is this time of year. When it was nice out for a minute I did some long trots in large circles on a field that has a small hill on one side of it, and we just did a brisk walk out to there and back. Now it’s going to snow a few inches tomorrow, so… hard to be consistent just yet, but I definitely a got a feel for where we’re both at. Same boat as you; it’s not him that needs help as of now, but I’ll get there ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Emily

      I feel you on the inconsistency thing! We had a great trot set on Thursday, rode on Sunday… yesterday it dropped 20 degrees and started raining. Today? Snow!

  5. Centered in the Saddle

    I love conditioning days (when they can be done outside)! We have a big field that’s perfect for it except for the lack of hills. In the spring (real spring, not fake spring like now) we go and measure out BN, N and T speeds and put out flags so we have a concrete way to know if we’re going at the proper speed. It’s fun! Like Amanda said, I also use is as a time to test my ‘whoa’ and ‘go’ buttons, and practice going between different types of gaits, like a more ‘up’ canter to a longer more ground covering gallop.

    1. Emily

      The idea of marking out the flags to get timing would be interesting… I couldn’t physically put flags out there (it’s also a turnout field at night), but I could mark the fence posts for reference points. Great idea!

      1. Centered in the Saddle

        It’s really fun! Marking the posts would be perfect. We tie colored tape into the trees around the perimeter of the field and it works great.

  6. L. Williams

    I’m so looking forward to adding interval training to Dante’s repertoire this year. Good for you learning and expanding your tool set!

    1. Emily

      It’s definitely helping already! I can’t wait to see where her fitness is in a few more weeks of regular work & fitness focus.

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