The good, seasoned, race fit distance horse is a freak of nature. It is near impossible to run em out of air and if you do they seem to recover in seconds. Their strength and staying power are endless. I sometimes take em out this time of year for what I consider a near undoable training route and pace. Often they do it with ease and at the top look at me like “is that all you got?” Well this seems pretty simple then, keep taking those super fit horses out and ride the feet off em til they are super duper fit. Makes sense, but I have come to the conclusion that continuing to hammer on a really race fit horse is often unnecessary, unproductive and living dangerously.
First let’s take unnecessary-
I am Assuming you are racing every 2-8 weeks and are asking them for a quality effort(for their fitness and ability level). Even with 8weeks between quality efforts these good horses hold (and build) their fitness in an incredible way. They don’t need a bunch of miles ( especially junk miles) to maintain between races. Some guy wrote about fitness waves. Imagine your late season waves of fitness being an occasional huge wave or effort -your races, with a few small waves- your training between races. Now if you feel the need for work just for the sake of weight control you may consider making adjustments in feed to help here rather than working their weight off. If you feel you need to ride long and often just to keep their head from spinning off you may want to consider working on your handle of your horse rather than trying to keep him rode down.
Now about unproductive-
After years of experimenting I have come to the conclusion that it is easy to hold 90% fitness through the season by racing and conservative work between. To try for more on a long term basis is really, really hard. No, it is impossible. Peaking for 1 or 2 or 3 races a year I can get closer to that 100% fit level but not for a season. To many quality races and trading rides, to many long rides and his mental and physical abilities are going to deteriorate. Sounds funny but more work, more miles often = a lessening of results. Can you say burnout? I knew you could. I still maintain the quality once race fit but cut way back on the miles. You will think I am lying to you but many of our rides this time of year are maybe 3-4 miles total! A short warmup, a blistering hill gallop, pull the bit and lead back to the trailer. ✅ 4 miles? 4 miles? I bet some of you warm up for 3-4 miles. If it is working well for you great. I am just throwing stuff out here for you to think on. Remember, I am working on assembling and enhancing a small band of EDRA warriors not unlike the mongols who swept across Eurasia. Grossly outnumbered they took on all comers and with their superior horses and horsemanship dominated all they faced. Stick with me, train and race with me, if you dare!
Now about living dangerously-
Scary fit horses with big,powerful muscles can put a great strain on their running gear and feet. One sprint to fast up to steep a hill can tear something and powerful as these horses are their running gear is really delicate. Often there are no Do overs- once something gets strained or torn it can be a weak link for life. Keep your ear to the ground, watch and feel those legs. Know what is normal. Peach has had a puffy left hind since we got her. It changes some with miles and intensity, it is my barometer for how she is handling her workload- and if I need to reduce it or increase it. Bet yours tell you things too, you just need to listen.
The other danger is burnout. With myself it is limiting factor number 1. I can handle a pretty heavy workload, long as I vary it and have good rest in between. If I start to stack quality work and miles to close without enough rest I get dead legs- every single time. Once the dead leg syndrome hits me it knocks me down for quite a while. Even though I have a base and should be fit I can’t handle a workload or have even 1 quality effort with dead legs. My horses are much tougher than me but even still I have experienced the same with them. Just last weekend I experienced this with Peach-
Her first race of the year was Selkirk and she had a real quality effort. Everything was easy, she powered the hills, glided down and recovered in vet checks like a monster. She saw very light work the 3 weeks between Selkirk and Sand Canyon. She had a good race at Sand Canyon, but not like 3 weeks before. Her hill power was there but she wasn’t as free moving on those long downs, her recoveries and CRI good by most standards but poor for her. She was for sure a bit run down from Selkirk. She is a hard trying horse and did fine but my point is for her 3 weeks just wasn’t enough recovery for her to perform her best. She is back to work now a week later and all good, we lucked out. I just think it important to use my horse reading abilities, and learn from them. I ask more of my horses than most and that is why they generally don’t race often, or sometimes in a series of 2 close races with big gaps before and after. Buildup and recovery- 2 critical considerations if you are asking much of your horse at races.
Anyway, most of this stuff I have said before. Takeaway point being adjust your training to your race schedule. If your training is always the same early season it won’t be enough and late season it may be to much. You need it to always be like mama bears porridge – just right!