Smarter training of young stallions

This year the young stallions are going to follow a different training programme. Thanks to last year’s lactate- and heartbeat measurements. ‘Clever training helps to gain a better insight into their aptitude’, we hear from veterinarian Carolien Munsters.
How can we further optimise the training programme for the performance test stallions and raise welfare levels during training? Tasked with this assignment from the KFPS, veterinarian and researcher Carolien Munsters from Moxie set to work a good year ago. During the 2020 Presentation Days she and her team measured the young stallions’ heartbeat and determined their lactate concentration after work, or rather, the degree of acidification. During the Central Examination heartbeat measurements were again done on a daily basis, the training load recorded and at three different time slots fitness tests were carried out including determining lactate levels.

Higher rate of acidification

The research showed up that Friesian horses sooner develop acidification than Warmbloods when exposed to the same work load, Munsters states. ‘The lactate readings we found in Friesian horses we don’t normally see in for example, KWPN horses.’ This is no news to people who train Friesian horses. Especially in canter Friesian horses sooner develop muscle acidification. ‘Friesian horses react differently to training loads.’ A high lactate level and acidification relate to the movement mechanism, Munsters explains. ‘Friesian horses won’t show it, they keep going and keep working hard. KWPN horses are more likely to show it.’

Driving is demanding

When the young stallions arrive at the Central Examination they are fairly fit. The work starts and then the fitness tests reveal that the stallions show more signs of fatigue as the Test progresses. At the beginning the under-saddle work, walking, trotting and cantering is not very demanding. But that changes when they start driven work. Training load in front of the carriage is higher – and later in the Central Examination – showdriving is also introduced. Lactate levels rise and this is the moment when training work no longer has a positive effect on the stallions’ fitness, Munsters points out. ‘There is a chance of overloading the horse, creating an imbalance in the body. At this point the horses no longer learn from the training. Then you need a different approach to training if you still want to make progress.’ She frequently advises to include recovery training sessions in the training schedule. Intensive training sessions require moments for recovery. The body first has to recover before it can begin the next training with increased fitness. ‘After a period of recovery the horse is better equipped to deal with the next training’, Munsters explains, adding that ‘training sessions that are too light fail to trigger the body’.

Recovery training

So what exactly is a recovery training? ‘For young horses that means just walk and trot, low-intensive work and slotting in little breaks’. Moments of recovery also have to be factored in for the more intensive training sessions. ‘One to two minutes in trot or canter alternated with walking. These short spells make the body stronger.’ Munsters’ training advice for the young stallions is to work them three, incidentally a maximum of four times per week under saddle or do an intensive session on the lunge, about 20 to 25 minutes. That comes down to training every other day. ‘For 3-year-olds that’s the general rule of thumb. Add variation to the training by including recovery days and in the weekends give the horses some rest.’ And that definitely doesn’t mean 24 hours in their stable, but free, unburdened exercise. ‘In the paddock or a light lunging session’, is her advice. ‘Movement speeds up the recovery process.’ Here the motto ‘less is more’ becomes relevant. ‘With less work more result.’ The same goes for preparations for the Central Examination. Here too: at maximum three times a week under-saddle training and at the most four training sessions per week including light work on the lunge. ‘Build it up with training- and recovery days.’

No influence on selection

By the way, there was no difference in fitness between stallions that left the Test early and the stallions who completed the Central Examination with success. ‘Fitness is not an issue for the selection process’, Munsters confirms. Neither did she detect a difference in the age of the stallions: ‘the fitness tests didn’t show up any difference between 3- or 4-year-olds in the course of the Test.’

Koos Naber: ‘Challenging the stallions, but also giving them rest’

The results of the research were cause to adjust the training schedule for the young stallions, Head of Training Koos Naber points out. ‘Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they get intensive training sessions. We have planned the recovery training for Tuesdays and Thursdays, which involves walking and a light trot or a short hack.’ The aim is to give the young stallions exercise every day of the week. In the weekend they get time in the paddock, some easy work on the lunge or we put them in the horse walker. ‘For each individual stallion we figure out what they need. If they tear around in the paddock for twenty minutes it’s better to put them on the lunge.’ Koos says it’s quite a puzzle to combine testing the stallions in three disciplines while at the same time giving them sufficient rest time for recovery and to stay fit. ‘We begin with under-saddle work, but after a few weeks they also have to show themselves in driving and showdriving. Training sessions do have some overlap.’ And in this schedule we have expressly factored in time for recovery. ‘Actually, 70 days is even too short, we would in fact need another two weeks because of those rest days.’ These are young horses, but the Central Examination is meant to find out what they are capable of, Koos states. ‘The researchers in Utrecht keep monitoring and stay closely involved for continuous improvement of the training method.’

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