Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fitness and the Short-Format

By Will Faudree

image“Asleep, no one is a hypocrite” – William Hazlett

There is always a great quote that can be found to sum up any situation. William Hazlett’s quote is the first to come to my mind when I hear people talk about the lack of fitness and “time in the saddle” needed for the modern short format. Those of you who have competed in both the long and the short formats understand the lack of sleep we all get in preparing our horses for their major competitions. I have been very lucky in my short time in this fantastic sport and have had the opportunity to compete the same horse in both long and short format four-stars.

The first year that this reality really hit me was in 2005. I was just starting out in a barn on my own without the day-by-day guidance of Phillip Dutton and my aim was Badminton in May. I looked through my notes of the years before and planned my daily schedule. Badminton came and I had a very fit Antigua ready for the long format challenge. I was number 17 and despite throwing a shoe on steeplechase and the same one again on cross-country we finished the day fault-free. I remember galloping up the hill towards the Badminton house after fence 4AB (minute 1), and Antigua taking his deep breath.
imageFive months later, I was on my way to Fair Hill, a short format three-star. I did not change much about my galloping but did not go the length of my walking and trot sets. By minute 8 on the cross-country I had an exhausted horse; this was a completely foreign feeling for me… Antigua didn’t “hit the wall.” Like the true champion he was and still is, he buckled down and found another gear to carry on. I was so mad at myself while I was going around that I had abandoned what I knew worked.
It was after Fair Hill that year, while I was reflecting on why he got so tired and why he didn’t start to really take a deep breath until I was halfway around, that I would look out in the paddock and see Antigua doing his own trot sets. The value of feeling when your horse takes a deep breath teaches people how to ride around a course, long or short format. When the horse takes a deep breath, when you feel their lungs expand on your legs, it supplies oxygen that is needed for the horse/athlete to continue. By knowing your horse and understanding the course it is always good to recognize places where you as a rider can “throttle back” and allow the horse to breathe. (eg: bottom of a hill, in between fly type fences). Horses have to be taught how to take a deep breath while at speed through the gallop sets that we do at speed. 2006 came and I had the hopes of making the WEG squad but knew that if that was going to come true I was going to need a very strong and fit horse for Rolex. I went back to my notes and pulled my prep work out from the year before and mimicked my Badminton lead-up with a few changes in the galloping. I needed a gallop where I knew he was going to breathe and get the oxygen that he needed (including a bit more sprint work). I had a fit horse at Rolex and by minute 8 all we needed for the next gear was a deep breath.

Every horse is different and is going to handle fitness in their own way. Is the sport different? Yes. Does it take less fitness and horsemanship? NO. The best advice I can give is listen to you horse, tand ake note when they take a deep breath. The jumps come up quick and you can’t commit to them until you have the tools you need to answer the questions.
Above photo – Will Faudree and Antigua at the 2008 Olympic Games mandatory training session. Josh Walker photo.
Right photo – Faudree and Antigua at the 2008 final mandatory outing at The Fork. Mike McNally photo.

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