The sport of eventing is unique in equestrian sport. The skill set required to perform at the top level is the most diverse, the challenges faced more varied and intense and the fitness required comprehensive. It is one thing to find a horse that has the movement and trainable temperament to gain good marks in the dressage, the scope, gallop, bravery and heart to tackle the cross country and the athleticism and care to leave all the poles up on the final day, it’s quite another to have all these attributes alongside the physical capacity to stand up to the training and competition for the years it takes to produce a top horse.
By the time your event horse is in the peak of its performing years, it will have spent hours in the dressage arena learning and performing increasingly complex and gymnastic movements, galloped for miles over undulating terrain with a variety of footing, leapt up, down and over endless unforgiving obstacles, jumped through thousands of grids and over larger and larger obstacles in the show jumping arena as well as the repeated concussive forces endured during the necessary hours of road work to build endurance and strength.
In order to sustain a lengthy career in this sport, perhaps more than any other, the horses fitness and soundness needs to be at the forefront of your mind right from the beginning of training. Enlist the support of your veterinarian, have them assess your horse on a regular basis, even when things are going well. They may see things brewing that you miss, and if they know how your horse moves and responds when they are well, they are going to be more likely to be able to help you and give advice when injury or illness occurs. Top farriery care is of the utmost importance – hoof balance and support of the horses particular way of going and individual conformational issues begins here. If possible, select a farrier with knowledge of and experience with eventers. A horse is a horse, but their needs and pressure sustained differ greatly from discipline to discipline.
Institute a regular support programme for your horse. Consider including physios & massage therapists, spas, water treadmills, hot walkers, ice, ceramic and magnetic therapy – whatever fits your particular needs and budget. Allow plenty of time for rest & recuperation from big efforts and include variety in your training programme, both for your horses mental and physical health. Turn your horses out in the field as much as possible. The benefits from the natural fitness ensuing and the increased flexibility and strength in the connective tissues from the uneven terrain and any hi-jinks they may perform far outweigh the risk of injury – in fact they will likely prevent any training injury from occurring or being as serious as it might be otherwise.
Proper nutrition is also key. Your event horse needs sustained energy, with the necessary nutrients to allow proper muscle development without gaining excess weight. Most feed companies provide nutritional advice free of charge to their clients, otherwise there are plenty of independent operators out there to provide advice if you’re not confident to make these decisions yourself. No matter what supplementary feed you provide, the most important part of the equation is the best quality forage you can find, so take the time to find a supplier you can trust if you’re not in a position to grow and harvest your own hay and haylage. Beyond and excellent balancer, the most important supplements for your eventer are a balanced Omega Oil, electrolytes and a joint supplement.
Epiitalis® Forte gel is the new ‘Super Power’ in joint health and holds international patents for its effects. It is cost effective with a low daily dose and there are many testimonials of riders feeling a rideable difference within the first week. It is suitable to use on the older horse with known problems who needs support to maintain fitness and as a preventer for your young aspiring star. Epiitalis® Forte gel is safe to feed long term, has no known side effects or contra-indications and will not test positive under current BE or FEI protocols. It is Veterinarian and Vet Surgeon endorsed.
Hayley Parker, South African international event rider based in Wiltshire and Team 4CYTE sponsored rider shares her fitness programme below.
‘I like to diversify the fitness work I do with my horses.
Starting from scratch I will do a good six weeks of roadwork, light schooling, working on different surfaces (grass, all weather surfaces, roads etc.) to establish core condition and fitness.
I will include trot hill work on the road which is increased gradually.
The next level will be slow canters on the hills where I will pick a gradual slope on the plains. I will increase their work by going up longer hills and keeping the canter slow. Next stage is to incorporate sections of faster work which I do on the gallops. This will be done every five days. I like to gallop my horses in pairs so that they learn to push themselves. With the older horses, one can incorporate swimming to supplement the galloping if one wants to diversify the work, increasing cardiovascular fitness without additional stress on the legs.
Grid and pole work also works wonders on aiding fitness as you don't need to do a lot to get their heart rate up without hammering their joints.
Varying the work is key to keeping my horses fit and happy. Something simple yet effective is hacking your horse after/before working in the school.
I will ice my horses after every gallop/jump or any heavy session that I do with them. As well as keeping my horses on the daily maintenance dose of Epiitalis® to protect the joint surface, I also double dose my horses with Epiitalis® Forte gel the week leading to the show, during the show and the week after to provide additional support at times of heavy work loads and aid in the recovery post event.'