To test Johnny’s initial fitness level, I sketched out the following workout:
Warm-up: 15 minute trail ride (includes small hills, ditches, and logs), then walking over raised cavalletti
5 Trot sets: 2 minutes of trotting with walk intervals of 4 minutes
3 Trot sets: 1 minute trotting over trot poles in an arc with 2 minute walk intervals
Cool down: 10-15 minute perimeter walk
Since we’ve been trail riding for awhile now, he joyfully strided out around the farm–he loves exploring the trails, looking for something he hasn’t seen before–you’d think he’d be spooky, but he’s unbelievably brave. Today, the neighbors were firing what I assume were their new Christmas presents: .22 rifles. We had to walk right past them, within 20 yards, and Johnny barely flinched (though, I wanted to yell something obnoxious at them, since they could obviously see us walking past). He did fairly well with the cavalletti, too, though with only 2 raised poles, I didn’t feel like we got the desired effect. (Note to barn manager: we need more cavalletti.)
The first trot set was great. I set my watch timer for 2 minutes, and the two minutes of sustained trotting didn’t seem to faze him a bit–his respiratory effort was only slightly increased. Midway through the second trot set, I realized we could probably go ahead and go over the trot poles. The center was perfect for a medium trot, but Johnny drifted outward, and he just couldn’t quite extend to a full extended trot to hit the outside of the arc just right. I worked hard the next time around to keep him between my aids, and he nailed the center, resulting in an absolutely glorious, floaty, suspension-filled trot. It was like the holy grail of trots! I swear I heard angels singing… But, my watch timer went off just then; two minutes go by amazingly fast! By the end of the third set, I could feel fatigue setting in–he was using muscles he hadn’t used in quite some time, so I cut his workout short, ending in a fourth, easier trot set before cooling him down.
I think if we’d just been doing easy trot sets, we probably could have squeezed in 5 good trot sets and maybe one or two trips over the poles, but the pole work was definitely an eye-opener: if I can get that medium trot from him, we’ll be unstoppable in dressage! I was quick to praise him as he strided out, but there’s no way he can continue that trot for very long in his current fitness state. We’ll keep working at it, though!
A little tip of the day for you: to set trot poles up on an arc, say on 20 meter circle, take a 10 meter longe line (or any measured rope) and stake one end into the ground (I used a jump cup pin). Pull the line taut, and place poles parallel to the line. Measure or walk off your distance for the next pole, using the line to maintain the same arc all the way around. No more crooked poles, readjusting, or awkward distances! You can continue around the circle placing cones as visual aids for helping improve 20 meter circles.