Sally Cousins’ Weekly Training Tip: Training Versus Strengthening

We are delighted to introduce Sally Cousins as our newest guest blogger, as she shares her wealth of knowledge with us in the form of weekly training tips. We hope these nuggets of information can be integrated directly into your program at home and can influence the way you ride and train your horses. Be sure to check out both the Sally Cousins Eventing website and keep up with her on Facebook.

Sally Cousins and Tsunami at Rolex. Photo by Mike McNally.

Sally Cousins and Tsunami at Rolex. Photo by Mike McNally.

Sally has been riding and competing at the highest levels for more than 30 years, starting with Badminton and Burghley at the tender age of 20, and has continued to compete at the CCI4* level for the rest of her career. She also integrated a serious job as a stock broker for Merrill Lynch with her career as a rider, before deciding after 16 years to become a true riding professional. Sally is known in the eventing world for riding some of the most difficult horses, and she loves a challenge. It is our pleasure to share her thoughts with you here on EN!

From Sally:

In our sport, we talk a lot about training and fitness and not as much about strengthening the horse. Once we have taught the horse something and it understands the aids, it can still take months for the horse to be strong enough to do the work or exercise properly or for any length of time.

Sometimes when our work starts to deteriorate, it is not that the horse doesn’t understand; it’s actually not strong enough to maintain the work. It’s important for us as riders and trainers not to try to use just stronger aids, but to think of exercises that will help our horse get strong enough to carry the work that we are asking of him. I do a lot of transitions, raised trotting poles and hill work to try to strengthen my horses. 

When you begin asking it to perform more difficult work, it may only be able to hold it for five or six strides before you have to reapply the same aids to keep the same quality of work. As it gets stronger, it will be able to carry the work for longer and longer periods of time. What might have started with just five or six good strides may, over the course of six months, turn into 30 minutes of quality work. 

It’s important for us when we’re training to evaluate wether the horse doesn’t understand the aids, isn’t able to carry the work or is being naughty. I try to always give my horses the benefit of the doubt. Most horses have a pretty good work ethic, and sometimes they are unable to do the work because they are sore somewhere. So if I’m stuck, I will take the horse to the barn and try another day.

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