Planning for Success on Endurance Day

by Leslie Mintz, published in Eventing USA

This past May, I was lucky enough to volunteer at Indiana Eventing Association’s Training Level Three Day Event (T3DE). At a classic event like a T3DE, after the two phases of roads and tracks and the steeplechase phase the horses have their vital signs and soundness checked by a veterinarian before heading out on cross-country. At Indiana, Chris Newton, DVM, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, volunteered his time to lecture T3DE competitors on preparing their horses for endurance day. He discussed not only what to do in the ten-minute box, but a larger philosophy of planning for the horse’s physical health over the long term. Dr. Newton began by drawing some contrasts between eventing in the past and in the present, and what those differences mean when preparing the horse. The first Olympic event, in 1912, took place over four days, and began with a four-hour endurance test over 34 miles on the first day, a six-minute steeplechase on the second day, show jumping 4’3” on the third day, and a dressage test at the end. Since those early years, emphasis has dramatically shifted from speed and endurance to dressage and show jumping. Therefore, the type of horse that could run fast and long (Thoroughbreds) is now less essential than a horse who can perform well in the other phases (often a cross between Thoroughbred and draft breeds). The relevance for today’s competitors is that we all must consider our horse’s type and breed when planning our preparation for eventing, and particularly for a classic event. Thoroughbreds, for example, do not need lots of galloping, but will need to build the muscles required for balance and collection.

Another recent change in eventing that directly affects preparation is that competitions are held nearly yearround. While Dr. Newton recalls pulling shoes and giving horses extended vacations during winter months, the southern eventing season that starts in January allows many runs before a spring destination event, with a far shorter winter vacation. Qualification requirements, too, mean that riders of horses who are aiming for the upper levels must balance their horses’ well-being with their ambitions to qualify for that destination event. The consequence of the long competition season is that riders must carefully pick and choose events, because it is easy to burn a horse out without a solid plan. The goal is to bring a horse to a peak, then allow some time to recover, and then bring him to a higher peak at a later date. These plans should be in place by the end of the preceding season, although you must always allow for some flexibility.

they are still sound. farrier. it is in a rider’s best interest to give the horse the best chance possible to reach those prime years in sound and healthy condition. and deal with them. They should form the base of a conditioning program. for example). Therefore. and that ages fourteen to sixteen can well be the best years of their careers—if. After arriving at the ten-minute box at the end of C and getting the horse’s temperature. slow work: weekly or twice-weekly hacks of one to two hours at the walk and trot. When injured. with input of the vet. . Heart rate and respiration are related to core body temperature: if the temperature is brought down. tendons and ligaments take up to eighteen months to heal (and scar tissue can remain). Dr. and the second is that the knowledge gained by such evaluations will help the rider communicate with the vets at classic format events. the heart and respiration rates will also decrease. the rider’s team should try to get the horse’s temperature down to between 102 and 103. Then. and muscles take about one month. bones take between six weeks and nine months. the rider will know the horse so well that he or she can keep an eye out for known problems (a tendency to get sore in a right sacroiliac joint. and finally by muscle (which includes the heart). The way to do this is with long. and rider.What has not changed is that any rider must plan with the long term in mind: what do I want this horse to be doing in a year? In five years? In ten years? Dr. As for managing the horse on endurance day itself. and one of these is to do routine physical evaluations of the horse. These long and slow workouts are essential to young horses. The best way to condition for longevity is to focus on the tissues that prepare the slowest: tendons and ligaments. Newton reminded us that event horses do not reach their mental peak until age fourteen. Newton said that the rider and her team should first check over the horse after Phase B and inspect the horse’s feet. Ice water should be applied to the horse’s body. paying special attention to the areas of the body that dispel the most heat: under the throatlatch and under the tail. but they are also key to keeping an older horse strong and fit. There are two reasons for this: one is to find potential problems and make changes to the horse’s care that might help avert them. because the horse cools by evaporation. These structures are followed by bone. Strategies in use by upper-level competitors can be of use to T3DE riders. Conditioning the tendons and ligaments enhances their strength and elasticity. he urged riders to have something they could apply to a hoof to temporarily protect it in case of a lost shoe at the end of B. the water should be scraped off immediately. that is. By the time of the event. Since the farrier at Indiana was located at the ten-minute box at the end of Phase C. This is where ice water can be of great assistance.

and how he show jumped. the rider should find out the horse’s vital signs and assess how the horse performed and recovered overall. the T3DE is a national and educational event and such medication is permitted. For this reason.Several cycles of ice water on. compared to 90-100% at a CCI****. Dr. Once back at the barn. Newton cautioned against cooling the horse’s muscles too much. He emphasized that. ice water off should be repeated. Newton urged riders to check the horses’ temperatures after conditioning rides at home to remain apprised of how their program is working. because this could hamper the removal of waste products. If the humidity is very high. Scraping is even more important if the humidity is high and water evaporates more slowly. If. when the wraps come off. Dr. Also. This therapy will indicate to the rider whether there is any swelling that should concern him. ice at least the horses’ front legs after cross country. he urged riders to be as diligent as possible to keep their horses fit and sound. At the end of the competition. at this point. for the T3DE horse to receive a nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID). It is okay. however. . and apply a poultice and wrap the legs. we bear the responsibility of knowing our horses and making decisions to keep them healthy for the long term. the legs have filling that looks different than on a normal day. While this would not be permitted at an FEI event. Newton estimates that horses work at 50-60% of their capacity at a T3DE. take notes about how the horse felt at the end of cross country. then the rider underestimated how much conditioning was needed. alcohol can be mixed with the water (but be sure to keep a bucket of plain water for drinking—and do not forget to keep the humans hydrated too!). If the temperature reached 105. the rider should be concerned. Even though Dr. as riders. as long as the horse is not dehydrated.