They say that success begins at home, and for show jumper and sports science expert Sean Jobin, that’s clear. Take a look at his six-week training plan to prepare for a Grand Prix event.
by Sean Jobin, with Tim Worden, PhD
We are excited to share this article as a look into the training cycle my team at Foxridge Stables and I have been developing over the past few years. After consulting with top professionals, not only in the horse world, but also in the larger sports science community, we have been working tirelessly to incorporate results, wisdom and information available to us that can help give our horses better performance, enhanced health and happiness.
We break our schedule down into 6-week cycles. The cycle described here covers May 31st to June 10th 2021. Just prior to this period we completed a CSI2* event in Tryon, NC.
We began the cycle by gathering our team at home in Columbus, OH and reviewing videos from the previous week’s Qualifier and Grand Prix. We had several rails in the class and were convinced that as a team we could achieve much better results.
One thing that becomes obvious from video review is the role that two missed back lead changes were having on reducing rideability and control. After finishing our review, we entered data gathered from our classes into a database that tracks our competition statistics over the course of the year. It’s a pretty big database that covers a lot of stats like what types of rails we are having, which leg contacted the rail, jump number, and much more.
We have found this is an efficient way to track our competition performance over the course of a year, because small details are easily forgotten and that can lead to subtle trends going unnoticed. Another area of concern we were able to identify from our dataset was a consistent struggle in triple bar to skinny vertical combinations, where we are often having the vertical fence down.
From here we can now plan a program for the next five weeks. Our goal is to peak our performance for the CSI3* in Tryon in six weeks, so we work within our training periodization framework to integrate rest, recovery and therapeutic modalities with physical training as best we can.
Our first week is focused exclusively on rest and recovery from the last competition. Tuesday is the first day of June, so the Grand Prix horses get an intramuscular injection of MoveX, a chondroitin 4 sulfate supplement administered to reduce joint inflammation and improve mobility. All the horses go outside in paddocks for 3-4 hours, alternating between smaller paddocks and bigger grass fields. On Thursday, they get a visit from our equine massage therapist who performs a monthly deep tissue massage on the horses. Any knots or areas of detectable soreness are noted and recorded for the future. We ride the horses five times this week and only once a day, taking them for long and relaxing flats, and trying to keep the effort light but engaging. On Sunday, the horses jump a small easy course so they don’t get too bored.
We structure our second week to focus on stimulating athletic abilities and making the body as efficient as possible. The Grand Prix horses are ridden twice a day, five days of the week.
Designed to get horses comfortable and focused
Same as the morning, but on different footing in the outdoor arena
Light flat workout
Work on triple bar to vertical combination that has been an issue. We also add another oxer-vertical-oxer triple combination on the opposite side of the arena to give the horses only two demanding exercises to focus on. We keep the jumps at 1.40m to help build confidence since these are such demanding exercises, but we repeat each exercise four times each. This training day is focused solely on improving the horse’s dexterity and explosive power.
-Ice boots for 15 minutes
Focus on pole work and rideability that needs improvement based on results from Wednesday flat ride
Trail ride on grass footing
Full course at 1.45m.
Light ride in the afternoon focused on stretching and mentally resetting
-Ice boots for 15 minutes
Week 3 has the same training structure, only we raise the heights of the fences to be more physically demanding. The Wednesday exercises reach a max height of 1.50m, and Saturday up to 1.60m.
Week 4 is our last week at home before we head back for two weeks of competition in Tryon. We scale back the training now to focus on recovering from the demanding training sessions from week 2 and 3. Darius’s groom will give him light massages throughout the week to keep him happy and to get a good idea of how his muscles are feeling before we leave, something that will be very important for us to gauge while away on competition. On Saturday, we do one last jump day over a simple course with mostly small fences, but a couple larger verticals and oxers to make sure they are feeling ready to show.
The whole team ships out from Columbus on Monday for the eight-hour trailer ride to Tryon for two weeks of competition, a CSI2* week first followed by the CSI3*. Darius is only entered in four classes over the next two weeks, something we’ve deliberately chosen given how strenuous his classes are and his age of 13. When the team arrives around 4pm, Darius has a drink of water and time to relax in his stall before going out for an easy lunge and two hand walks, one after the lunge and another just before night check.
Wednesday is an exciting day for a couple reasons, one being the FEI jog is that afternoon but even more so is our new Haygain system arrives. We’ve been anticipating its arrival with great excitement as it can fill an area of need in our program by providing our horses with nutritional and digestive health benefits that regular hay can’t. We’re especially taking note of the impact steamed hay has on Darius, as he does have several allergies that can come from pollens and spores that can be inhaled while eating his hay, an issue that can be eliminated by steaming the hay at high temperature.
For our Tuesday flat work, we incorporate poles to help gauge the smoothness and accuracy of our lengthening and shortening of stride. We also take the horses for two more hand walks and hand grazes for the rest of the day.
Thursday is the day of the Qualifying class for the weekend CSI2* Grand Prix. In the morning, we all wake up early and Darius’s groom will take him out for a lunge. Next, we will meet as a team to discuss how Darius is feeling. His hay has all been eaten (thankfully since he is a picky eater, he seems to love the steamed hay much better), his stall is relatively clean, and he’s been drinking well. All in all, we can tell he has settled in and has been getting good sleep which is very important to us because a good night sleep and healthy rest is one of the greatest correlations to improved performance and decreased risk of injury.
From his grooming and massage sessions, he seems to feel happy and relaxed, with no signs of tension or muscle knots. At 12pm, two hours before the qualifier, I take Darius out for a twenty-minute flat ride. I try to only use these flats to get myself and Darius warmed up and in sync rather than trying to cram in any last-minute training. There’s nothing to do now, it’s time to rely on the last five weeks of training instead.
I really like our pre-warmup routine, it gives myself and Darius time away from each other an hour before the class to chill out. Darius will get his mane braided and an extra long groom with his favourite curry comb, followed by a gentle massage. About thirty minutes before we are set to be in the ring, Darius is brought down to the warmup. I’ll wait until we’re eight trips away before getting on and starting to flat. Since we decided that the lead changes needed extra attention, I decide to ride him off his hackamore rein for more control and school a couple lead changes before jumping. Once I start jumping, I switch back to the snaffle since I like him carrying more speed and feeling freer with his head towards the fence. After eight jumps, we head into the ring where we posted a clear round and one rail in the jump off to finish in 7th place.
Immediately after exiting the ring, Darius gets treats from me and his groom and then heads to the FEI boot check station. Next, he goes for as long a hand walk as possible, followed by fifteen minutes in Ice-Compression boots. When he’s all done his therapies, he goes out for a twenty-minute hand graze. We’ll then usually take this time to go over the video of the round and analyze what to practice for the Grand Prix on Saturday. His rail in the jump off came in a very difficult turn into a double vertical combination that we approached at high speed, and we decide I overrode the line causing our jump to flatten out. Darius then gets water with Gatorade as a treat and to help his electrolyte intake, and then finally liniment wraps on all four legs before he is put away for the evening.
Friday, we focus mostly on keeping Darius lighter on the forehand at his gallop step, something we use a lot of pole work to help with as well. He also goes for several hand walks throughout the day, basically as many as he wants. On this particular day it was blistering hot in the mountains of North Carolina, and he really preferred to be in the spacious stall with his fans. I don’t blame him.
On Saturday we repeat the same routine we followed Thursday, but since the CSI2* Grand Prix is a night class, I flat him later in the day closer to the 8pm start time. I’m always really excited to compete him in night classes, especially at Tryon where they put on a great show. A lot of horses shrink when the ring fills with spectators and the lights shine bright, but like any athlete with an ego, Darius does better when there’s people watching.
We do our same warmup routine, but with slight variations in that I jumped one extra very tall vertical. After jumping clear in the first round of the Grand Prix, Darius heads back to the stalls for a rest before coming back to jump off. Unfortunately, it was not our night, as I sent Darius a little too fast to his second last oxer while leaving a stride out and incurred a rail. Regardless, he once again finished 7th in the Grand Prix and I thought he jumped an amazing two rounds where small adjustments in my ride could have easily helped him out. He gets all of his usual therapies after the class, plus his favourite time where everyone comes down to the stalls and gives him tons of attention and treats.
On the calendar, the CSI3* week is the one we’re all waiting for. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are all designated as rest and recovery days, something that can be pretty difficult being so far from home and not having any paddocks available. Still, we make out well, and luckily the stalls in Tryon are spacious, clean, and comfortable with great ventilation. Even better is the eventing track in the mountainous area just behind the show ground. It’s a stunning hike past rivers and lakes and scenic forests that is just unbeatable for helping a horse and rider reset their mind.
On Thursday, the 1.50m Qualifier does not go our way when we knock two rails down in the triple combination, but it was clear a rider error that I caused, and I was actually feeling great after the round despite the results. I knew he was feeling and jumping in peak condition and that was my number one priority. I can easily fix my own riding decisions.
Saturday night ended up being one of our best nights of competition together since we’ve been a pair. Darius had his best result at that level, posting a double clear in the CSI3* Grand Prix and finishing in 2nd place. There were some difficult conditions with rain during the evening, but he pulled through with an amazing effort and we as a team were thrilled. Some very tall verticals mixed in with an extremely demanding triple combination near the end of the course were all tough, but what I was most excited about was how well we performed in a very short six stride line that consisted of a very wide triple bar to 1.60m vertical.
After reviewing the class, completing our recovery therapies, and making sure Darius felt happy and comfortable, we began drawing up a plan for our next six-week cycle. Thanks to the help of so many professionals who have shared their insight in veterinary, sport, health and nutrition science who have made this project possible, we hope to continue pursuing our goal of growing our program and results through this methodology.