The concept of tapering is a very obvious one, but one that is often seriously overlooked to the detriment of horse and rider.
If you are unsure, tapering is basically increasing and decreasing the intensity/volume of work over a period of time. Through this method, you increase your horse’s workload as you build fitness or intensity of training, but cut back prior to competition. Even if you aren’t competing, tapering is an essential concept because the ‘cut back’ period is what allows the body to recover and the brain to process. When I say recover, I mean it is a chance for microtraumas to heal, muscle glycogen levels to increase, and the body to generally take a ‘timeout’.
If you are competing, you are hopefully doing this already, and if any of you aren’t then you should be! Even if you are a 1 horse happy hacker, tapering is a good plan for prolonging the longevity of you and your horse. Not allowing healing and recovery after moderate/strenuous and repeated exercise is a sure way to contribute to more serious injury over time.
The mental step back is just as important. We all know what it is like when we work hard on any task that requires a lot of concentration – revision, tax returns, business agreements – we need a break. Too long and we get information overload. Too many days in a row and we get bored. The same is true for horses; they like us need to be kept fresh.
I was reminded of this earlier this week when schooling Lizzie. She has worked really hard the last couple of weeks, learning to do shoulder and hind quarter positioning on a circle. It is physically demanding for her, especially on the left rein, and mentally demanding for both of us. We set off for another schooling session, and she just wasn’t keen; she’s never exactly keen to leave her bed, but on this day she was almost dragging her feet. Fortunately for her, I had already decided that we would do something different; something short and sweet. And it worked, 20 minutes of working purely on the quality of her trot and my position was all that we both needed, and got great results.
The best thing was that physically and mentally we both did much less, but still achieved a great deal. We tapered because we did less physically and mentally and took the pressure off, but it was still productive. So your take home message is – allow time within your training for tapering for both you and your horse and you will reap the benefits in the long term.