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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fit to Ride Part 7: Arena exercises explained

By the request of Endurance Granny, I'm diving in deeper into how to use the arena to prepare the horse!

Bromiley spends several chapters explaining exercise, muscle functions, and considerations when approaching both rider and equine fitness.

What’s interesting is that while Tom Ivers (ti for the rest of this document) stresses specificity in equine preparation, Bromiley stresses variety. The difference may be that Bromiley is preparing an eventing horse and the focus is on a strong healthy athlete that is able to get around a course and stay sound to run another day. The eventing horse is exposed to a wide range of environments and has to stay sound on all of them. ti is training race horses to win and win often because racing is a business. ti is trying to eke out the top 0.5% performance in his horse safely. A race horse also has much narrower environmental considerations that it will be exposed to.

As I skim the chapters leading up to the arena exercise chapter to gain context…..I run across yet another sentence that makes my blood boil. I agree with her first statement “Horses spend hours doing flat work, sweating and miserable. Far too many routines have been designed by people with insufficient knowledge of the requirement associated with physical activity.” But then, as a support to this statement, she resorts to this: “Even those who should know seem to get it wrong: the doctor who started the jogging craze, Mr Fix, in the USDA, gave himself a coronary thrombosis, the very thing he was trying to avoid. The people who survive do things slowly.” OK – so I admit it – I’m a runner. I love running, I couldn’t not imagine my life without it. The only thing that exceeds running in enriching my life is horses. So I’m a bit biased. BUT, again with the statements thrown around like facts! Running does not increase your chance of heart disease. Can you be an avid runner and still die of heart disease? Yes. Can you sit at home and die even earlier of heart disease? Yes. Can you run easy and still decrease you chance of heart disease? Probably. You don’t need to go out and pump 5 miles at top speed to get the benefit of running! I run slowly and get many benefits including stronger bones, better cardio fitness, etc. In my experience many people who start running do too fast and too much, making it absolutely miserable. You can do the same thing by swimming or biking too hard….shall we make blanket statements about the risk to your heart that swimming and biking has? Bottom line – if you want to talk about the heart risk during exercise, don’t single out running, but refer to any aerobic activity that elevates heart rate. The thing that separates swimming and biking from running is impact – and this can be good and bad, but has nothing to do with the heart.

OK – I’m over it. Onward and forward.

And one more thing! Maybe it isn’t running, it’s the type of people who tend to run. I’ll describe myself: Stressed, high achieving, can’t relax, tend to do too much too fast. Maybe this type of person has a lower life span in itself and it has nothing to do with running. Just maybe we can remember the correlation/causation principles…..just maybe?

Ok – I am really am over it now.

Here’s some better definitions of the different work that muscle can experience:

Concentric – Muscles working as they shorten against resistence. Think sit ups in a human. Most normal work in horses is concentric activity.

Eccentric – Muscles working as they lengthen against resistance. In humans – while laying on your back, with your legs straight – hovering above the ground. As you lower the straight legs to the ground, your abdominals and hip flexors are working eccentrically. In horses, down hills require eccentric muscle work.

Isokinetic – “movements that occur at a constant speed. In humans – light weights that are moved repetitively and at a constant speed. In the horse – work at a constant repetitive speed using resistance, such as a incline up or down.
Isometric – Static exercise. Outward visible signs are not noticeable. Bromiley recommends 6 seconds for any Isometric excerise. One she suggests for the rider is to push your back against a chair while sitting down.

Closed Chain – Movements that occur when the body moves over a fixed segment. In the human – a squat. An example of a horse closed chain is working down a long grid with identical spacing between every pole. Bromiley notes “closed chain exercises are probably the most useful for all riders.”

I felt that trying to understand the different types of muscle activity is important to understanding the arena exercise portion of the book. She stresses that any arena exercises should vary the work done on a muscle.

Obviously almost any exercise you can imagine has some, or maybe all, of the types of the exercises described at some point in the activity. I think the point is to be able to evaluate – am I asking the horse to do mostly concentric work? How can I incorporate Eccentric? Am I asking for any closed chain activity? By being aware of the different types of muscle activity, you can evaluate for holes in the exercise program and try to design programs that vary the type of muscle activity asked for day to day or within a circuit.

Next: Describing specific arena exercises.

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