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Re: watch your step! - Trotting downhill

On Tue, 19 May 1998, TrotALongK wrote:

> How much downhill trotting is safe for my horse?

It depends on your horse and how she is conditioned.  I am of the opinion
that trotting down hill is like riding in sand, or on pavement; that if
you intend to do must practice it in advance and work up to it.
So start out trotting down hill little bits at a time and gradually
increase your distance and speed. depends on how your horse is built.  The more "downhill" your
horse's build (you have an ex-racehorse so she probably has a bit of a
downhill build) the more difficult it is for the horse to "properly" go
downhill at speed.  The idea is to get your horse "shuffling" down hill on
its haunches rather than hammering onto its forehand. 

In fact, trotting down hill is a GREAT exercise for teaching a horse
balance and engagement, and I do it with ALL of my horses as a regular
part of their training program.  In addition to being a great schooling
exercise, it is also a great conditioning exercise (although not a
cardiovascular conditioning exercise, since running down hill is almost as
good as resting as far as the heart and lungs are concerned :)).  It is a
great way to build the bone, tendon, ligament, and muscle for both horse
and rider needed if they intend to do any work at speed going down hill
(and if you are going to COMPETE in endurance in California, you had
better be ready to be going fast down hill :)).

> However, I've heard people say that "horses only have so many down hill
> miles".
> Is there any truth in this or is it more a matter of how carefully you choose
> where and when to trot? 

I, personally, am of the opinion that this statement is just so much
bullshit.  If, indeed, you trot down hill by allowing your horse to slam
onto its forehand with every stride, then it ain't gonna last too long
doing that.  The front legs are going to take a pounding...but even that,
if you do it judiciously (i.e. train your horse's front legs to take that
pounding gradually), then you will get more down hill miles out of the
horse than somebody who doesn't train for it.

> I can imagine that this kind of exercise might cause a lot of stress on
> tendons and joints. When do you know that you're over-doing it?  

You know that you are overdoing it when you feel your horse slamming onto
its front end as you are trotting down hill.  The muscles of the loin
(these are the ones that are doing most of the work to keep this from
happening--incidentally, the same muscles that the horse uses to lift and
round its back, the same muscles that the horse uses to carry a rider)
need to have the strength and condition to hold up not only the weight of
the rider, but also a great deal of its own body weight (i.e. the front
end) so that it can "gently" set its front end down.  

When you feel as if both you and the horse are about to fall on your
faces, and that the horse is rushing to put its front legs underneath it
out of know you have over done it (ideally, you
shouldn't get to this point).  The muscles of the horse's (and yours too
probably) are fatiguing.  (BTW: if your lower back muscles are fatiguing
before your horse's YOU are not in shape to do extended trotting down
hill).  You want to work to the point where you are a little tired but not
fatigued...and alternate this with some other kind of work (don't go out
and do it every day, you need to give the horse time to recover/build).

> On a typical conditioning ride (anywhere between 6 and 12 miles) I have about
> 1/3 to 1/4 of downhill trotting, some at an extended trot and some at just a
> jog (depending on the terrain and the degree). I usually let the horse pick
> what he's comfortable with. Should I be more conservative?   

I would avoid the extended trot going down hill (if you mean true
extension).  Very few horses have the strength, even after years of
practice and conditioning to do an extended trot going down hill. It is
best to shorten the horse's frame (i.e. collection, not extension) when
going down hill--which is why trotting down hill is a great exercise for
teaching the collected trot :).

> How much down hill trotting do you do? And how fast? 

Quite a bit. (I don't have any flat ground at my place either), and like
everything else.  I consider this to be a "schooling opportunity" :).

Orange County, Calif.

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