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Horse Show Season - 4 months, 6 months, year round?!


Lesson 5: Basic Fitness Program Design

As you have progressed through this equestrian series, you have started to change your mindset that you are an athlete. It is now time to look at how to design a basic fitness program that will allow you to train for optimal performance.

Like most sports we look at equestrian sports as having seasons. We can break down our yearly calendar into phases based on these seasons: off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season (recovery). Where you live, which discipline you show in, whether you are a part-time or full-time rider, and your typical show schedule, will all have a factor on how long each season is. They can range from week(s) to months!

This breakdown of the sport into seasons is a well-known training principle called periodization. Each of these phases is broken down into a specific time-frame and requires a different approach to your fitness training – the goal is to progress your training through each phase by manipulating some variables to ensure you are prepared come show season!

Let’s look at each phase or season in more detail.


In your off-season we assume there are no horse shows or events. This is your preparation phase for both you and your horse for the upcoming show season.

The goal of your fitness program during the off-season is to build both a strength and cardiovascular base, improve your flexibility & mobility, and allow the neuromuscular system to adapt to the gradual increase in training.

Two terms we will discuss during these seasons is volume & intensity. Volume in strength training terms means the total number of repetitions, sets, and exercises performed in a session. For cardiovascular training it refers to the total distance and/or time of a conditioning program.

Intensity in strength training relates to the amount of weight or load lifted in relation to your maximal strength, and in cardiovascular training is typically measured as a percentage of your maximal heart rate.

Your fitness focus during the off-season is on higher volume and lower intensity training.


Your pre-season involves more technique focused lessons, and perhaps a few warm-up schooling shows. You are gradually putting the final touches on getting you and your horse show ready.

The goal of your fitness program during the pre-season is to maintain or improve your sport specific flexibility & mobility, work on muscles that are involved in the technique of your sport, and incorporate any sport specific style of strengthening or cardiovascular endurance. *Take a look back to Part 2 of this series to review what specific muscles you should be focusing on!

The volume & intensity variables start to progress during the pre-season with your volume being low to moderate & intensity moving to moderate to high.


It’s show time! The assumption is you will have a busy show schedule, long days, and minimal breaks between shows.

The goal of your fitness program during the in-season is to have all the hard work you put into your workouts during the off-season and pre-season carry you through show season. You should have the strength and endurance to perform show after show. Additionally, that hard work will aid in injury prevention.

Your workouts will be of low volume during this phase, but the intensity of your workouts will be high. Flexibility, mobility, and nutrition for recovery will be important during this phase.


Phew! Both you and your horse get a well-deserved break.

The goal of your fitness program during the post-season is to rest & recover, rehabilitate any injuries that may have occurred during the in-season, and to mentally & physically decompress.

Your workouts should not be formal – allow yourself a break from your regular strength and conditioning program. Think more toward recreational type of activities – go for a walk, swimming, cycling, yoga, tennis…

Volume & intensity should be low during the post-season phase. Rest, recover, reflect, and rejuvenate!

The final upcoming lesson in this Equestrian series will look at nutrition at the horse shows & on the road.

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