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Equestrian sport is steeped in history and romance, the unique challenge of a partnership working together causes a lot of variables to be at play whatever level you’re riding at. Do you want to improve your horses performance? Read on!

The team

An initial chat with yourself, coach or wider team to establish what you want to achieve in the next set time frame, helps us to remain focused. This can ensure resources are targeting areas of requirement, aiming to reduce wasting time, money, energy. Once you’ve outlined your schedule, main goals and process goals it becomes a lot more manageable to understand what you need to do daily to stay on track.

Tracking training load

You’re probably already gathering a lot of data. Yard diaries, year planners and stable management apps are usually used to record what exercise each horse did on a given day. By having the option to add more detail to this can be useful to look back over to understand what went well or what could be improved. Building on this idea it is easier to see how individual horses are responding to the training, it is easier to spot patterns in training. Examples of this might be how are you progressing a horses training program, did they get injured when the work load increased by over half the normal amount?

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Using heart rate monitors in training

Heart rate (HR) is a great easy to use metric to keep a track of how hard you are working your horse in sessions. Using app such as Polar Flow to analyse the data, you can see if the purpose of the session was achieved. For example if you’re getting fit for a cross country round did you work hard enough for the time you aimed for or if you were jumping a course did the horse find it easy (lower HR). How much rest do you give your horse in between practising dressage movements or jumping fences, has their heart returned to resting. As fitness increases the return to resting HR is quicker.

Rating how easy or hard a part of training was

RPE is another great metric, even easier to use. RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion i.e. how hard on a scale was that. There are a few scales out there including the Borg scale, this runs from 820. As long as you are talking the same scale as your team it doesn’t matter what you use whether it is 1-10 or green, amber, red, or easy, medium, hard. The key is to find a way to communicate how you felt something went. You could be describing a training session or a fence or movement, by recording this brief piece of information when looking back at training it will immediately make more sense to you.

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This will also help others who work with you by understanding what you enjoy. Building on this, a few comments can help add colour to the RPE rating. Keeping a track of this can highlight times of plateau or possibly red flags, both of which prompt us to think of why. Furthermore spotting red flags can lower the risk of carrying on down a path which isn’t working.

Looking ahead

In future there will no doubt be more and more metrics. A part of the picture is increasing self- awareness, why do you do what you do? Data can only partly help answer this question!

Looking across other sports: cycling is now dominated by power meters, rugby and football by accelerometer packs. These sports also have large teams of experts who understand how to translate this data for the coach and athlete. The athlete is the centre of team, ultimately we are all working towards the same goal, achieving the best performance. Support staff make athletes life easier to allow the athlete to be as stress free as possible. We aim to do this for our horses, but what if we could do it smarter and with the help of more knowledgeable people.

Spending time and money in a fashion where you will gain knowledge, appreciating the human side of performance and therefore increasing the longevity in horse sports.

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