Whoa, Nellie!: Endurance Conditioning
Yesterday morning, while sipping Rocket Java and chatting with a friend online, I mentioned how leery I was of one of the most common mistakes made by endurance riders — overtraining.
Yesterday afternoon, I noticed two things that convinced me “leery” isn’t enough: First, Aaruba didn’t come to the gate to meet me. Second, he was content to walk for most of our ride.
Mental alarm bells rang. Red lights flashed. Flags waved.
So, I did what any clone of Hermione Granger would do — I hit the books. Yes, the very same books I’ve read nearly to tatters over the past few years. The same online articles, like this one from the Southeast Endurance Riders Association, the AERC Rider Handbook, and more that I’ve read dozens of times. I can finish the authors’ sentences without looking. I know this stuff!
And yet, when I compared those familiar recommendations with my training notes from the last two weeks, the pattern was clear. Aaruba’s first two weeks of conditioning look more like his second two weeks ought to. I’ve let him go a little to far in some cases, but more often, the problem has been speed. I’ve let him trot too much, too soon.
Just like everyone has said all along, the mistake was easy to make. A good equine endurance prospect wants to go far and fast — right now. Of course he does; it’s one of the reasons we chose him. But alas, for all that he has a prodigious memory, a horse lives very much in the present. Right now is all that matters to him. He hasn’t a clue nor a care about the hundreds of miles that still lie ahead on the conditioning trail, so of course he doesn’t plan to build strength gradually. That is the rider’s job.
Our other task, the one I am relieved to have performed adequately, is to observe our mounts carefully. We must listen to their bodies and attitudes, attend their energy levels, gague and mitigate their stress. This must be done habitually, as a ceaseless vigil. If we are observant enough when our horses are normal, we are more likely to notice early on when they are not.
Thankfully, I anticipate Aaruba will suffer no ill effects of my excessive enthusiasm. I’ll give him a few days off, then lighten up his conditioning for the next couple weeks. We’ll walk more, climb fewer hills, and add back the trotting — more gradually this time — around the first of April.
Meanwhile, add me to the long list of people waving the familiar admonishment: Be very, very careful not to overtrain!
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