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What is Fitness? What is Sharpness?

The Depletion Ride



by Dennis Summers

Taken from the long standing tradition of the depletion run for us 2 leggeds the depletion ride is the last big training ride prior to an event. The experience, fitness, soundness and time until the goal race all need to be factored in when planning it. Then the rider needs to be tuned into his horses frequency during the ride to their horses effort level, heat buildup and of course unquestionable soundness.

Like the 3 bears porridge the speed, distance and climb need to be just right to get the desired affect which is to knock them back a bit with a big effort and then reduce their work after to get them to a high level of fitness and sharpness. To easy or short an effort will give u no rebound, to big an effort can knock them flat to where they won’t recover enough for the race to perform well or much worse lame them up.

What is fitness?
What is sharpness?

Fitness is being physically prepared to perform the job asked of them. If they have been cranking out 10 mile training rides at 12-13 mph average they should be able to crank out 50 miles at 9mph average, or something like. Beyond knowing the training base a horseman should be able to lay his eyes or his hands on his horse and know he is fit and ready for the job.

Sharpness is also easy to see or feel. It is when a hard working horse is rested just enough to allow that fitness to come to the surface. Their muscles will be full of energy, they will be bright eyed- they are ready to rock! I guess in a way sharpness is harder to eval til u really know your horse. A pasture potato can tell u he’s Superman but u will find out different after the adrenaline comes down after the first or second. vet check.

Before I even get into the depletion ride- recovery- race program I need to give u some bad news. Horses are very different than us with respect to rest. Way back they called it Monday morning disease. Back when horses really worked for a living most worked hard 6 days a week, whether it was pulling an ice wagon, plow or whatever. They got Sunday off and got fed really good to give them “energy” for next weeks work. U know the rest of the story, they got 30 minutes into work on Monday and tied up stiff as a board.

Unlike us a horse can’t carb load for a coming event. They can’t safely rest for 3 days prior to an event. They just aren’t like us, they are creatures of motion. They need to be fed for they work they just performed, not the work to come. This makes the work, feed and taper on a really well bred and fit horse a real balancing act. Hey, if it was easy everyone would be wearing an orange shirt! Ok, there’s my disclaimer. In everything u do use every bit of your intuition and horse sense. Don’t do it just cause Dennis or anyone else says so.

Ok, finally to the timing, distance and effort level of your depletion ride. I will give 2 examples that I am planning for the coming Sand Canyon race. Then one last extreme one that works well for us. Keep in mind these 2 mares are scary fit and race-train at a scary level. Dial down your program to suit your horse-

Peach just raced a quality 50 miler 3 weeks out from sand canyon. It was a near red line effort even for her 5:22 in rough mountain country. She came through aces, that was her depletion ride. She is stone fit, after she rebounds on Wednesday she is going to be a ticking time bomb. She will send off sparks u can actually see. So what do I need to do?
I need to balance giving her legs a needed rest, carefully replenish her lost weight and at the same time keep her safe from tie up-a real balancing act. Especially with her being our biggest ever tie up challenge. Then I need to have her sharp ( and manageable) come race day!

Her schedule-
She will get short turnout on grass daily, light feed and light walking week one.
On the weekend I will very carefully in the heat of the day get her first fast work to a sweat. This is 2 weeks prior to sand canyon. Remember, we are not fitness building now. The fitness is in there, her race was her depletion ride. I just need to keep her tie up safe, fresh and sharp on race day.

From that first sweat she will see light work to a sweat every other day, either riding or in the euro walker. On the other day an hour or 2 of walking. On the weekend, now we are to the week prior I will give her one snappy hill climb of 2-3 miles, cooldown on the way down and closely check soundness.

Now we are 1 week prior- pretty much the same as week 2. Light work to a sweat every other day and light walking on the odd days. From the time we leave home to go race she will see a ride to a sweat EVERY DAY! did I say every day? Oh, I meant EVERY DAY! Even if that means pulling  into ride camp at happy hour, sorry I have to ride my horse! It will take only 30 minutes to saddle up, get a sweat and put him up. I will bet u a dollar when they get back to camp they will take their first big drink and then eat well.

About now may think I am lying to u. My horses see many more miles than Peach. Is it their magic dust? Nope, it is intensity and timing. Oh yeah, and bitchin horses!

Now to Egypt’s sand canyon prep-
Why am I pointing 2 horses for the same race? I have the luxury of lots of horsepower and will take the one who has the most sparks flying off them come time to load for the race, that’s why!

Egypt is 5 weeks? Off a quality 100 mile effort at Trout Lake. She saw 3 weeks off and has seen a couple weeks of light work and walking. She will see a snappy hill ride this week along with her usual work to a sweat every other day and her depletion ride this weekend- 2 weeks out from sand canyon. Like Peach, she is scary fit and I think just needs one real quality effort to rebound from. I have planned the mother of all depletion rides- I am guessing a 10-11 mile steady galloping up gaining 3-4 thousand feet. It is a really cool road with a perfect galloping grade-no concussion. What speed? She is an honest horse that will tell me if she is running out of air, or if it is to easy for her. She is a galloping horse and I expect we will hold that gait throughout, perfect world accelerating near the top. If not, no worries. This is where the horsemanship comes in. I will read her and give her the effort I feel she needs.  If I was riding Peach I would have to nag her to rate, if I was riding Jagger I would have to nag him to put out.

Anyway, if we get this ride done perfectly and soundness well is good her last 2 weeks will be much like Peach- work to a sweat every other day and light walking the other. With this light work and no big efforts their sharpness will come on strong. Can u say I have a handle on my horse? If not, get one before getting em really fit, really strong and really sharp!

One last mini depletion ride that has worked well for us we do just one week prior. It is with fit horses that we just want to give some snap and sharpness in a really safe way. Even with really fit horses we hit em with a really quality 7-10 miles. Doesn’t sound like much, until u have ridden one with us. Remember, the best racehorse in the world begin to slow at 3/4 mile, on flat ground, carrying 120 pounds. Can u say intensity? I knew u could. After their blistering short ride, same deal- work to a sweat every other day and walking on the odd day.

Once I start on stuff like this I don’t know where to stop, how much detail to go into. Like I wrote in 4th gear, like us and any living thing our energy and performance come (and go) in waves. This is natural and unavoidable. The trick, and often the difference between winning and not or finishing or not is being able to manipulate or least recognize these waves of fitness in our horse.

I may come to regret passing on this stuff. The day after Bighorn 100 when Sue and I chased a gal all day long- and never caught her she said to me “ maybe u gave away to much info in 4th gear. That is how I prepped” ! Maybe I did, but that is ok. Information, really useful information regarding distance riding is almost non existent. I have big plans for u EDRA folk. To accomplish this we need to create EDRA riders that are well prepared and hungry beasts. To accomplish this we need well bred and well prepared EDRA horses that are trail eating monsters. I will help EDRA folk who have the  fire to really compete! Just ask.

2 Responses

  1. Alexandra Gesheva

    Thank you so much for this — it’s fascinating! And since you said ask … do all of your horses end up having a particular gait that hits the speed sweet spot or do you condition all of them to where they can basically canter all day? Are some of them trotters versus canterers and how do you know?

  2. Dennis Summers

    Hey Alex,
    I prefer a galloping horse.
    Anything over maybe 10 mph I think galloping is more efficient for most.
    I do have Bogart, a half mustang who is more of a trotting horse.
    How do I know? My horses do intervals in our eurowalker ar least twice a week .
    Gallop to trot, repeats.
    Bogart often will pull down to a trot when others are easy cantering.
    No ride, no tack to affect- that is just his preference.

    Consequently he is a better long distance horse than 50 miler- the pace is pulled down to his sweet spot- he is an aerobic monster, not an anaerobic monster.

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