Returning to training after an injury or a period of rest in the field is a delicate period for the athletic horse. Several challenges arise and fitness work is subject to questions. How to optimize the return to performance while minimizing the risk of injury? How do we know if the workload is increasing too fast or not enough? How can we be sure that the horse has recovered his full capacities?
The unprecedented period we are going through and the suspension of races for more than two months has caused the whole sector to worry, doubt and question many subjects. The work of the horses is one of them. Some have chosen to stop the horses entirely, others to work them more lightly due to a lack of manpower, but all have been forced to review their training schedules. The deadlines are no longer the same, the targeted races have changed, and the work of each horse has therefore been adapted accordingly.
In three simple points, Arioneo’s data analysts give you some keys to help your horses get back to work thanks to Equimetre data.
GRADUALLY ADAPT THE WORKLOAD
In order to resume training and regain their fitness level the horse’s workload should gradually increase and each training should be assimilated in order to pass to the next level in the best conditions. In this way the risks of over and under-training can be avoided. To what extent can Equimetre’s data help to measure the gradual increase in workload?
The analysis of recovery can enable the trainer to judge the assimilation of the day’s work in order to adapt the next session. To analyse the recovery, 4 zones in the review of the evolution of the heart rate during exercise can be useful.
- Heart rate (HR) when leaving the box: this HR serves as a reference for the analysis of HR during the rest of the effort, it is the first recorded by Equimetre. It is specific to each horse and does not give any indication of its level of fitness.
- Heart rate during the warm-up period: the heart rate should stabilize and then drop slightly when the horse is warmed up and ready to support a more consequent effort. If you notice abnormally high heart rates while the horse appears calm, this may be a sign of pain that manifests itself as an unexplained increase in heart rate. In this case, a veterinary opinion may be necessary to remove any doubt and start working with peace of mind.
- Heart rate during exercise: a fit horse will show a constant increase in heart rate throughout the exercise and its HR will immediately fall when speed decrease. When a stagnation of the heart rate occurs during exercise, it is a sign that the effort required from the horse is very high and that it must mobilize the maximum of its respiratory capacity. During this period when the heart rate peaks, the horse accumulates oxygen debts and it is observed that the heart rate persists at high levels even after the reduction in speed, in order to compensate for the lack of oxygen caused by the intense effort.
- Recovery: Immediately after effort, the heart rate stabilizes at a first level, which is the recovery after effort. In a second time, it decreases again and at 15 minutes, we can analyze the recovery after 15 minutes. The lower the latter, the better the recovery. An ideal recovery would be a return to the initial heart rate after 15 minutes. When the horse struggles to return to a low heart rate, it indicates that the work has been very intense for him and that this stage has not yet been perfectly assimilated. It will therefore be interesting to allow a recovery period (light work on the next day, followed by a rest day) and then repeat the exercise to improve recovery before moving on to a higher workload.
MINIMIZING THE RISK OF INJURY
Returning to work is a delicate and injury prone period. Veterinary return to work protocols recommend a gradual return to training so as not to skip steps. Equimetre data and heart rate analysis can help detect pain and respiratory problems.
In case of pain or respiratory issues, review of training data shows abnormalities in two key areas:
- During the warm-up phase: peaks in heart rate may express pain or anxiety.
- During speed work: a very high heart rate from the start, which ceilings throughout the work period, can indicate respiratory problems that prevent the horse from working properly.
In case of doubt, veterinary advice is essential.
ANALYZE THE HORSE’S STATE OF FITNESS IN RELATION TO THE RACE TARGETED
The objective of returning to training being the return to the races, the question therefore arises as to when the horse is ready to race again. How do you know if the gradual increase in workload has paid off? Is the horse back to its state of fitness before the interruption of work? To find out, three key points can help answer these questions.
Compare with the fitness state before the break : If training data prior to the work interruption are available, these can be used as a reference. This is especially interesting if the horse has already shown good racing qualities, as data from before the successful race shows what the horse’s training should look like when it is at its best. Thus, by comparing two similar trainings (similar speed, distance and training process), thanks to the Comparison tool of the Equimetre platform for example, it is relevant to compare the horse’s recovery levels. A horse that has recovered its fitness level should then have HR levels for fast recovery and at 15 minutes at least as low as during these reference trainings.
How to choose the reference training for optimum comparison?
The training that will use to carry out the comparison should be a speed wor, even on a short distance. For example, it can be a work with progressing speed in the beginning, followed by a steep acceleration on 600m.
Be careful always to compare what can be compared (ground, quality of the ground, weather, distance etc.).
Compare with a good horse: in the case where no reference training is available for the same horse, the same process can be carried out using a reference training of another horse. Choosing a good horse that has shown racing performance and selecting one of his comparable trainings can give good ideas about the fitness level of the horse that needs to return to racing.
Compare split times with the split times of the target race: To complement the above analysis, studying race times and comparing them to training times can also give a clear idea of the horse’s level. This can be done by looking for past split times from the target race and comparing them to the horse’s last speed work. There are three things to look for.
1. Make sure to compare the race times with trainings that can be compared to them (distance, ground, quality of the ground, weather).
2. Focus the comparison on intermediate times by superposing the intermediate race times with training times. This gives a good idea of the horse’s speed ability for the targeted race. The table of split times presented for each training session on the Equimetre platform is a good tool for this exercise.
3. In order to evaluate whether the speed work required a lot of effort from the horse, we can study the horse’s recovery and the evolution of its heart rate during this effort. If during training, on a ground comparable to the reference race ground, the horse’s speed data show intermediate times lower (thus faster) than those of the race and if the recovery for this training is good, the training data indicates that the horse is ready to run.