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Importance of Detraining Programs for Athletic HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 16, 2017

Appropriate training to ensure a horse’s fitness requires much time and energy. But what do you do if your horse needs a break during training or competition? The concept of “detraining” isn’t often considered, and how best to approach a detraining schedule remains unclear to many trainers and riders.

Detraining simply refers to a reduction in the regular training schedule. Such breaks occur for various reasons, such as acute or chronic injuries, psychological or behavioral issues, or the need for additional rehabilitation.Detraining is associated with a decrease in fitness, as assessed using various physiological parameters, including:

  • Maximal rate of oxygen consumption (the more fit a horse, the more oxygen it consumes);
  • Maximal cardiac output and stroke volume (hearts of fit horses can eject more blood per contraction than unfit horses); and
  • Maximal heart rate, which is the most number of times the heart can beat under physical stress (fit horses have higher maximal heart rates).

While some circumstances, such as sudden tendon injury or bone fracture, do not permit gradual detraining schedules, others do. Behavioral issues necessitating a break from a demanding training schedule or perhaps a flare-up of a musculoskeletal issue may allow riders to back off from training slowly.

According to one study*, being able to maintain some level of exercise during rehabilitation maintained fitness better than horses that were only hand-walked or on complete stall rest. Specifically, horses still able to canter lightly for merely three minutes a day, five days a week, maintained higher performance variables, including maximal heart rate.

The researchers concluded, “These results suggest that it might be possible to identify a minimal threshold exercise intensity or protocol during detraining that would promote maintenance of important performance-related variables.”

In other words, devising detraining protocols tailored to specific medical and psychological conditions would not only allow time for healing but also maintain athletic fitness to facilitate return to training.

“Even horses in detraining benefit from advanced nutritional support to maintain condition, electrolyte status, and musculoskeletal health. Restore SR helps replenish valuable electrolytes. This slow-release formula allows horses to absorb the electrolytes over time for sustained absorption,” recommended Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Australian horse owners should look to Restore or Endura-Max. For supporting joint health, consider KER•Flex and Synovate HA. In Australia, choose Glucos-A-Flex.

While the benefits of slow detraining were noted in this study, many injuries require stall rest, which can affect bone strength due to demineralization. To avoid this, look for DuraPlex, a bone mineralization supplement that helps maintain healthy bone metabolism during layup. Bone Food is available in Australia.

*Mukai K, Hiraga A, Takahashi T, et al. 2017. Effects of maintaining different exercise intensities during detraining on aerobic capacity in Thoroughbreds. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 78(2):215-222.