The Goldilocks principle when applied to training loads in rehab is basically what you would expect - training just enough to cause adaptive changes, but not enough to cause injury. You should feel like you’ve worked but recover within 24-48 hours (JUST RIGHT). Soreness that lasts longer than 48 hours suggests you need to back off a little (TOO HOT), while no soreness or feeling of effort suggests you need to push a little more (TOO COLD).
However, when our horses can’t tell us if they are sore or not following training, how do we enough if what we are doing is “just right”?
For this post, we are applying these principles to injury management and rehab. Similar principles for training and performance can apply, but it’s a little more complex depending on your sport and your level. But essentially, we know that for regular training we need to train at a consistent level that increases gradually in order to improve. Sometimes we will have larger increases in training load (such as during competition or clinics) and sometimes we will have decreases (light work days or holidays/spelling). The body can cope with these well, as long as we have kept up training at an otherwise consistent level on all the other weeks.
When it comes to injury management and rehabilitation though, often we see people training themselves or their horse in the ‘too cold’ zone, either by training not enough, not long enough or at too low intensity. While we have to be mindful of not doing too much and allowing the injured tissue to recover, it’s important to remember that the body and its tissues require load in order to heal. One of the most important concepts in orthopaedics in this century is the understanding that loading accelerates healing of bone, fibrous tissue, and skeletal muscle. Ever had a knee or hip replacement? If so you’ll know those pesky physios want you up and walking on day 1! Those of you who have had episodes of back pain will know that you usually feel worse lying in bed and that getting up and doing some gentle exercise typically makes you feel better. That's because the human (and horse) body is adaptable and transformable, it's not like a machine that simply breaks down.
Signs your horse may not be working hard enough will simply be that you are seeing little to no change in their injury recovery, muscle development or movement (NO CHANGE = TOO COLD). Signs that you may be doing too much will be increased resistance to training, behavioural changes, lameness, heat or swelling that doesn’t go away after 24 hours or persistent pain response on palpation of the affected area (NEGATIVE CHANGE = TOO HOT). It’s important to note that sometimes this will occur if there is an underlying issue in the recovery and in these cases you should always seek veterinary advice.
But if your horse appears to be gaining muscle, is moving better and seems happier in their work, chances are you’re getting the loads “just right” (POSITIVE CHANGE = JUST RIGHT).
However, this can be difficult to achieve, and you will have ups and downs.