I think it goes without saying that most eventers know that their horse has to be fit to complete a cross country course, at least at Training Level and above. How many know if their horse is fit enough to do an Amoeba or Starter course, or Beginner Novice? Many times these levels are overlooked from a fitness perspective. If you are eventing at the lower levels, you shouldn’t ignore the demands it places on your horse.
At the beginning of the season (or ideally about 6 weeks before) you should first evaluate your goals with your trainer. What are you looking to accomplish this season? What level will you compete? Are you going to try to move up at some point during the season? How many competitions will you do and what type? What is your horse’s current level of fitness? Leave no detail undiscussed! This is important when formulating a fitness plan to get in shape for the upcoming competitions.
Eventing competitions including cross country come in many different formats, this is important to keep in mind when coming up with a plan. One day schooling shows are becoming increasingly popular (thank goodness!!), and any given weekend you can usually find a horse trial to go to (though not necessarily nearby unfortunately!). Another exciting option for Beginner Novice through Preliminary is the classic three day event, including roads and tracks, steeple chase and cross country. When you research “fitness for cross country,” it’s easy to find articles written about horse trials and classic events, but what about the schooling show? It seems that many competitors often don’t address fitness when preparing for a competition where all three phases are held in one day, often after a day of cross country schooling.
When preparing for a one day schooling show with cross country schooling, I like to consider what will be asked of my horse at the level I am planning on doing. For instance, my horse and I compete at the Novice level, so our show jumping course will consist of approximately 8-12 obstacles and our cross country may be anywhere from 16-20. I know the length of my cross country course will be around 2000m with a speed between 350 and 400 meters per minute, putting my optimum time around 5-6 minutes. For the levels below Beginner Novice, this information can be more difficult to find. In these instances I find that if you call or email the venue that you plan on competing at they may have some historical data to give you about what those courses have looked like in the past. If you are riding a green horse or an older mount that hasn’t been out in a while, I recommend taking the time to do this so you can be adequately prepared.
Keeping in mind that I will likely do my cross country course twice over the two days I’m at the competition, as well as a few warmup jumps and possibly some at the next level up, I will start to formulate my plan. I will evaluate my horse’s level of fitness by paying attention to how long we are at each gait during a typical ride, both dressage and jumping. If I can, I’ll try to keep in mind how many jumps we do as well. This will give me an idea of what we’re currently capable of without my horse getting too tired.
Stay tuned for the next article on how to develop a plan for cross country fitness!