Training Analysis of Professional Riders by Swedish University

A Swedish University has analysed 8 professional riders training 3 horses each. There is a very detailed report & statistical analysis which I have summarised in this article.

Paces

Proportion of Time Training in each Pace

Averaged across all the riders and their horses almost exactly the same amount of time is spent in walk and trot. Less time is spent in canter with slightly more time spent in canter right than canter left.

I think that the large amount of time spent in walk is explained by walking as part of the warm up and also the cooling down period. The report does not separate out the warm up and cool down periods so its not possible to confirm this. However, if it is assumed that the walk is primarily for warming up and cooling down then the vast majority of the actual schooling is done in trot.

I wonder if slightly more time is spent in canter right because 7 of the 8 riders are right handed and 17 of the 24 horses bent more easily to the right making canter right easier to ride.

63% of the horses in this study are young or are at a basic level of training. The remaining “upper level” horse were at a medium or an advanced level of training. The report states that:

  • “Upper level horses were ridden for a longer time at the canter and were also ridden in sitting canter for a longer duration compared to lower level horses”
  • “Further, upper level horses were more frequently asked to perform lateral movements at the trot compared to lower level horses. Advanced horses and advanced riders performed more lateral movements at the canter compared to the medium level horses and intermediate riders”

Training Duration

The median duration of the training session was only 31 minutes. (Median is the middle value of all the values when sorted into order – it is not the average.) I typically school my horse for about 45 minutes. Earlier this year he injured his suspensory ligament. He is now sound and I am slowly introducing trot work. I am now wondering if I caused the injury by schooling him for too long???

However, the report “ponder(s) whether this length of session is representative for professional riders only, who have more limited time for each horse, compared to leisure riders and/or if the time was slightly adjusted due to being part of this study”. So, I should not be concerned and should not use this report to indicate that I was training my horse for too long.

This report also makes no attempt to link the training routines with horse health and lameness. The report indicates that they hope that their methods for collecting information on training routines can “ultimately (be used) to relate this information to data on health”.

Sitting Trot, Counter Canter and Halt

The report looked at the amount of time spent in rising trot and sitting trot. Advanced riders and dressage horses were ridden in sitting trot more than rising trot which isn’t a surprise! Dressage horse were ridden in counter canter more and asked to stand still on long reins for longer than horses from other disciplines. I can understand if dressage horses were asked to stand still on a contact for long periods because a good square halt is marked as part of the dressage at novice and advanced levels but I was surprised that dressage horses were standing still on a long rein.

Unfortunately, the report did not look at the amount of time spent doing advanced exercises like “collection, lengthening, flying changes, counter-canter, piaffe, passage, Spanish walk, pirouettes and backing up”.

Conclusion

When I initially downloaded this report I was hoping that I would get some scientific evidence on how long I should be training my horse and how much time I should spend doing specific exercises before I risked injuring my horse. I am sure that everybody would like to know rules like “don’t do medium trot for more than X minutes per week … or more than X times across a diagonal per week”.

Unfortunately, this report has not linked the training routines of these professional riders with their horse’s health. This report is a useful foundation stone for another study to link training routines with horse’s health. Even if a future study does link training routines with horse’s health I wonder if generic rules will ever be useful because every horse is different and therefore more or less susceptible to injury.

However, we all want to keep our horses sound and healthy so a future study would provide useful guidance. I would certainly be interested in reading a future study linking training schedules with horse’s health which I would use as guidance to create my own rules based on my own horses conformation and medical history.

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