Sarah Radford gets expert advice from top riders and trainers about how to get the most out of a session on the gallops

In terms of fitness, many eventers agree that a reasonably “blood” horse in regular work shouldn’t require a dedicated programme of gallop work to be prepared to compete at novice level or below.

Regular gallop work becomes more crucial for three day, long-format or eventing at intermediate level and above, but that doesn’t mean that fast work shouldn’t form an essential part of competition preparation.

Building up to an event
“The majority of our clients are professional eventers, and they’ll come once every four or five days in the build up to a big event,” says Angela Siddorn, who runs the eight-furlong Broxton Hall gallop in Cheshire. “But we also have dressage, endurance riders and showjumpers, plus people who just want a canter and a change of scenery.”

If improving your horse’s fitness is the main goal, eventer and British Eventing coach Nick Gauntlett suggests introducing interval training sessions.

“It depends very much on the horse, but if you were looking to add a bit more fitness, then you might want to introduce some fast work up a hill as that improves stamina,” he says. “I might do 4min at three-quarter pace, give them a break and let the heart rate come down, then do that twice more.

“If they were competing at a higher level or being prepared for a three-day, then I’d gallop every fourth day. I’d start on 4min and then increase it. I might go up to three lots of 6min at ¾ pace and give them a sprint every now and then.”

British junior and under-18 event team coach Caroline Moore says that while the level of fitness required to compete at novice may not compare to that of a four-star, it still needs to be respected.

“The horse has to be ready for the job,” advises Caroline. “They have to gallop at 520mpm for five minutes plus and they need to be fit enough.

“Alternating sprints and slows [slower canter work] has a good effect, as it doesn’t kill the limbs,” she advises. “The most important thing is to have a plan for what fast work you are going to do, and then be aware that if the horse tires earlier than it should do, you need to read the signs and drop the work down.”

Preparation for the rider
Caroline believes that exercise on the gallops is as important to prepare the rider for cross-country as it is for the horse.

“Putting the rider on the gallops really benefits their balance, muscles and understanding,” she says. “You don’t want your first fast work to be in competition and find that you are exhausted three-quarters of the way round.”

Gallops also provide an invaluable opportunity for schooling and honing your cross-country performance.

“If you have a horse that struggles to make the time, it can be useful to get them upsides another horse and encourage them to be competitive. It will help them learn to gallop properly,” says Nick.

“Practising gear changes is important. The ability to get to and from a faster speed helps waste as little time as possible.”

Another benefit of a dedicated gallop is for learning to judge pace.

“You can put markers on the gallops every 520m or so, then see how long it takes.

Introduce gear changes to simulate changing speed for fences, and see if you cover the distance in the same time,” he says.

Options and prices
➤ Prices vary but expect to pay £12-20 per horse. There is usually no time restriction.
➤ Some gallops provide extra perks, such as warm-water wash-off or a manège to allow you to warm up, which can be especially useful if you are boxing to the venue.
➤ A gallop with a gradient can help build a horse’s stamina, whereas flat gallops may be preferable for encouraging a stuffy horse or to practise judging pace. A circular gallop is ideal for long slow canter work.
➤ Whether opting for a grass gallop or an all-weather surface, Caroline Moore advises not saving money at the expense of your horse’s legs. “Make sure it is well-maintained, not too deep or lumpy, and ideally get as close as you can to the surface you will compete on,” she says.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (22 January 2015)