A study conducted by researchers at Utrecht University in 2020 revealed that the original training program for the KFPS' Central Examination was too intense for young stallions and lead to a decline in fitness. In the second part of this study conducted in 2021, the researchers assessed adjustments to the training protocol to determine if the changes were successful. You can read more about the first part of the study here: Indications of Overtraining in the KFPS 70-Day Test.
With solid data in hand demonstrating that the young stallions were at risk of being overtrained, adjustments to the training program of the KFPS's 70-Day test were made. The training program was altered to include fewer training sessions for stallions per week and also less time cantering each week. In total, sixteen stallions participated in the follow-up study. Data was collected during the 6-week preparation period before the test began, as well as during the 70-day test. The total duration and time spent at each gait were measured during all training sessions. The horses performed three standardized exercise tests in weeks one, six, and ten of the 70-day Test. During each standardized exercise test, heart rate and plasma lactate concentration were measured.
With the new adjustments, the results indicated that, on average, the young stallions in the 70-Day Test performed with increased fitness levels in week six compared with week one. There was a small reduction in training frequency between the old training program (4.4 days a week) versus the adjusted training program (3.8 days a week). The total training time per week was also reduced by a small amount of time (less than 5 minutes per training session), primarily due to shorter walking and cantering periods per training session in the adjusted training program.
While these differences may appear insignificant at first glance, they resulted in a positive improvement in fitness in the horses. The authors of the study note that in the old training program, several intensive training sessions were performed on consecutive days. In contrast, in the adjusted training program, intensive training sessions were always followed by one or two days of rest or low-intensity training. This adjustment allowed for more recovery time for the young stallions. Below is an example of the adjusted weekly training schedule during the 70-Day Test:
WEEKS 1-6 WEEKS 6-10
MONDAY Dressage Training Driving Training
TUESDAY Low-Intensity Training Paddock Traning
WEDNESDAY Dressage Training Driving Training
THURSDAY Low-Intensity Training or No Training Paddock Turnout
FRIDAY Dressage Training Driving Training
SATURDAY Paddock Turnout Paddock Turnout
SUNDAY Paddock Turnout Paddock Turnout
The authors state in their conclusion: "Training young Friesian stallions three to four times a week with an average duration of 24 min per training session, with alternating intensities per training session, for 10 weeks improved the fitness parameters of heart rate and plasma lactate concentration after cantering during standardized exercise tests. It is important while training young Friesian stallions to alternate the training days with days of active rest or low-intensity training (no canter) to reduce the risk of overreaching or overtraining. A well-balanced training program improves the welfare and performance of the equine athlete. Young Friesian horses are well capable of performing dressage and driving training, as long as the training intensity, frequency, and duration is monitored and adjusted meticulously."
The key takeaway from this study for the average horse owner is that a balance must be struck between exercise and recovery to benefit the fitness and mental and physical well-being of the horse. This is a lesson that all Friesian owners can learn from and apply in their training programs.
The KFPS has also weighed in on the importance of this study: "The research initiated by the KFPS is an investigation into training during the Central Examination. Creating insight during the 2020 CO and then implementing improvements, 2021-2022 and upcoming years, for the benefit of the horses, with good substantiation, is what it is all about. As KFPS, we are proud to have had this research conducted and see progress in training. It is good that as KFPS you are open to these kinds of improvements and that science is discovering more and more about, in this case, training physiology."
The emphasis the KFPS has put on the health and well-being of the Friesian horse in recent years has been very commendable and transparent. Research studies, such as this two-part study, are just one of several examples that demonstrate the Studbook is indeed committed to its top breeding goal - the health of the Friesian horse.
Learn more about optimal training of the Friesian horse and this research in this KFPS College Tour with one of the researchers in this study, Dr. Carolien Munsters.
Siegers, E.; van den Broek, J.; Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan, M.; Munsters, C. Longitudinal Training and Workload Assessment in Young Friesian Stallions in Relation to Fitness, Part 2—An Adapted Training Program. Animals 2023, 13, 658. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13040658
Author's note: We wish to apologize that it was not clear to us when writing our article covering the first part of this study that there was a second part to this research. We appreciate this being brought to our attention so that we could cover the important and relevant findings in part two of this study.