Introduction to Fitness Programs

Deben Valley Equine Vet Clinic were extremely fortunate to be able to welcome Dr David Marlin, an equine physiology consultant to our evening talk on October 14th 2010.

Over seventy people attended to talk and according to our survey were all extremely impressed by this speaker; David was able to communicate well with both amateur and professional horse owners alike. David slightly re-invented the wheel in some senses, because we have obviously been harbouring some antiquated ideas about training horses in the UK,  particularly our obsession  with wanting to work horses six days out of seven.

David Marlin gave a very clear presentation about what fitness actually is and how once one reaches a certain level the danger is to over train and actually cause damage to joints, ligaments and bone, rather than increase fitness.  He briefly touched on different types of horse being more suitable for difference types of job and some horses being easier to train than others.  The use of a heart monitor seems to be paramount in training a horse for real athletic challenges and to monitor their status once a horse has attained a suitable level of fitness enabling them to do the job in hand.

David Marlin has various fitness programmes that he has devised for athletic horses involving maybe two days of work and one day off, or three days of work and one day off.  That is a day completely off, maybe turned out in the field, but not even being walked out.

Obviously horses that suffer from diseases and particularly conditions like metabolic syndrome or exertional rhabdomyolosis (tying up) will need to be managed according to their disease.

The veterinary aspect of fitness was covered by Helen Whitbread including whether actually having a fit horse can reduce the level of injury.  The pattern of injury seen in certain types of horses showed strong correlation between David Marlins opinion and that of Helen.

Certain injuries are undoubtedly more common in athletic horses such as tendonitis of the superficial digital flexor, suspensory ligament inflammation and fetlock joint inflammation for instance are extremely common.  In some cases the type of work the horse used for predisposes it to certain injuries.

In brief, ensuring your horse is fit enough to do the job can minimize the injury risk.  However, over training a horse will actually increase its risk of injury so fitness plans needs to be tailored to the type of work you are doing with a horse.  Bringing some science into our training programmes would be a great initiative and heart rate monitors are one of the simplest ways of doing that.

Last reviewed May 2019