Friday, February 6, 2009

Interval Training the Thoroughbred

Whoa, huge topic here. I want to start by saying there are a million things to look at in any training program BEFORE even thinking about interval training. Most modern day equine athletes will make huge strides without IT. Most of all, it must be taken into consideration the effect of the IT structure on the psychological fitness of the horse. Not all are tough enough, but by many accounts, some are.

Many trainers these days will automatically tell you: "I tried IT (interval training) years ago, it doesn't work." Well, odds are they did it wrong. There are a million ways to implement IT, but only one of them is right, and everyone has a different definition of what interval training actually entails. 

First off, if you experimented with IT by first adding another repetition to a breeze, you did it wrong. Similarly, if you are a 'one breeze every 7-10 days' guy and you try to add intervals, you are playing with fire - get your breeze frequency down to every 3-5 days first. 

Secondly, if you added an IT session to a workout in which you couldn't quantify recovery HR from the first repetition, you did it wrong.

Thirdly, IT doesn't mean you train 3 separate sessions per day, necessarily.

IT can work, it can also break down a horse. It's all in the individual. IT should start with gallops, not breezes. 

For instance, when a horse can complete a one mile gallop in 3 minutes and show a recovery heart rate under 100bpm within 2 minutes while walking on the track to cool down, then you can safely add another 1 mile in 3 minutes second interval. When recovery HR after that 2nd interval meets the same criteria, under 100bpm within 2 minutes, you can add a 3rd. When recovery is sufficient for all 3 intervals, then you go back to one mile in 2:45, etc.

Personally, I've never gone past 2 reps, but I know Tom Ivers surely did so with great success, unfortunately most conventionally trained horses today don't possess the foundation to support such a workload. His book, The Fit Racehorse II, gives every detail you could possibly need on IT structure.

So much more goes into the IT question, too much to post here, but surely you get the idea - it's all about giving the horse enough appropriate stress/recovery cycles to foster development.


  1. Bill, Great blog. When you talk about the variables that can be controlled during a work you discuss gallop speed, distance, and frequency. Why is the amount of weight a horse carries not considered as this could be a significant stress factor on the cardio system.
    Mike from Saratoga

  2. Hi Mike-

    I've seen many studies on this topic that indicate that the amount of weight a horse carries only makes a huge difference when it approaches a 20lb difference, at least on a 3+ year old in racing condition.

    Besides, my clients pretty much have the same exercise riders everyday - so I don't have much chance to vary the weight carried anyway. I also failed to include in this post the racing surface factor, which is proving to be a huge variable.

    There is a cool device called an Astride, that is used on younger horses to vary weight from 8 up to 120lbs or so. More info at:

  3. Forgot to add: the weight carried seems to have more of an effect on the musculature of the back rather than the cardiovascular workload.

    Makes sense when you realize even a 120lb rider might only be an additional 10% of the horse's bodyweight.

    So putting a 150lb rider up will only be an extra 2.5% difference - or the human equivalent of wearing a few extra sweatshirts.

  4. Bill, Thanks for the reply. So, just to use Larry Jones as an example, he must be like 185-190 lb guy. Would that be enough of a delta in weight which would be a benefit to the horses he gallops himself? Also, is there a benefit of having more musculature on the horses back or could it have an adverse effect. It would seen to be a benefit?

    Best regards,
    Mike from Saratoga

  5. That extra weight could be a benefit if administered in a progressive fashion, or it could be a hindrance if thrown up on her all of a sudden.

    I seem to remember Eight Belles being fairly lightly trained as far as published works go. I would rather move from 120 to 140 to 160 to 190 over several weeks as an example.

    Plus I think he might weigh even more than 200...

  6. Good question in regards to the potential benefit of the extra back musculature by the way, I don't think I have a strong opinion on that.

    I do know I'd rather see more hind end muscle instead, at least that can be directly used as a power source. We get that from uphill gallop training.

    My gut tells me too much back muscle development could be bad.

  7. In reference to:

    "Forgot to add: the weight carried seems to have more of an effect on the musculature of the back rather than the cardiovascular workload."

    As the patent owner and designer of the Astride, I think there is a misunderstanding here. The product was originally designed to rehabilitate a horse with post EPM back muscle atrophy, however back muscle is only increased ( as in humans)as a result of strengthening of the abdominal muscles.

    This product will develop muscle according to how the trainer uses it. As mentioned, hill work with added weight will increase hindquarter development.

    This is simply a way to increase the weight load as if a rider were aboard. Carrying weight by itself will not likely increase back muscle unless the horse is asked to carry itself in a low, round frame while encouraging an active hind end, which will in turn help strengthen the back....

    The results from all training aids are in the hands/knowledge of the trainer.

  8. navajo style method: this is one of the tatics i use... i use a sled composed of a stall padding with a old tire. cut one side of the tire off leaving the tread on, get some bolts and nuts, drill holes and fasten it to the stall padding use at least 20 feet of rope this sled should be in the 30 to 40 pound range... adding weights in increments of 10 pounds a training session will help to greatly improve hindquarter and back strength. thus adding the acceleration to your horse not only from the starting gate but throughout the race. also i use IT training with hills and loping. however do make sure you longe your horse to warm up the muscles. here is my sure fire way IT training... >longe both ways not more that 8 mins.> trot or jog a lap. >tie the sled to the saddle horn if your using a western saddle for workouts. > jog 2 laps. >lope 2 laps. > remove the sled. > then lope 2 laps. > finally cool your horse down. > followed by stretching. > bath time only after an hour the horse has cooled off. > breeze your horse every 4 to 5 days no more than 2 laps. now if your horse has been stalled up for longer amounts of time... ease this IT training slowly so your horse get accustomed to the training. this will improve lap times and speed.