Fit for Kentucky: Lisa Marie Fergusson’s Five-Star Fitness Plan

As event rider Lisa Marie Fergusson gears up for her fourth crack at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian, she’s spent a lot of time perfecting her fitness routine. Her horse, Honor Me, is a 13-year-old Welsh/Thoroughbred cross, and while he holds his fitness well once its established, Lisa says it can be more of a challenge to get him fit versus his full Thoroughbred barn mates.

Photo - Jenni Autry & Eventing Nation 

In 2018, Lisa and “Tali”, as he’s known at home, represented Canada at the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, NC, and in the lead-up to this event she began adding in some pool work. On the cross country course at WEG, there was a long, uphill pull near the very end of the course. This would test the fitness levels of each and every horse, having jumped nearly all of the jumping efforts prior to this hill. As for Tali? “He galloped right up that hill,” Lisa laughed.

Fitness is key for any event horse, at any level. For Tali, Lisa has always paid attention to what he tells her when it comes to his condition. With the recent addition of a Hylofit system, Lisa says her training now takes on an even better dimension.

We wanted to test out Hylofit while Tali went in the pool. Watch and pay attention to his heart rate as measured by Hylofit!

“[Tali] holds his fitness pretty well, but to put the base on has been a learning experience,” Lisa says of her program, which includes plenty of pool work as well as time on the Aqua Tread, trot sets, and even some fox hunting. “I think he definitely gets fitter on hills than anywhere else. Down in Florida, where it’s more flat, I find it difficult to get his heart rate up where it needs to be on conditioning sets.”

Lisa prefers hill work, which is plentiful in Pennsylvania where she bases during the spring and summer. “The hills are easier on the horses,” she comments. “You don’t have to gallop as hard or as much to get the same level of work as you do on flat ground. The variation is really good for them.”

Now using Hylofit, Lisa is able to see exactly how Tali’s heart is responding to the varying fitness work she integrates into his program. Throughout the year, Lisa will even take Tali out fox hunting on the local countryside, which she says is invaluable for learning to gallop on different footing while maintaining balance and control.

Lisa says she began swimming Tali in preparation for WEG last year, and after seeing the good results she has continued to utilize the pool as she gears up for the Kentucky CCI5*-L.

“I’ll start at once a week for the first two weeks, then I bump it up to twice per week,” she explains. “Then we’ll taper off right before Kentucky and just do once per week. I incorporate this with his trot and gallop sets and have really seen great results.”

As the Hylofit data shows, swimming gets Tali’s heart rate up into higher-zone work, while also lessening the concussion and resulting wear and tear on his body. On average, Tali’s heart rate would work in the 170-180 bpm range while swimming, which is a healthy working heart rate for higher levels of exercise.

By using Hylofit to track her rides, Lisa has been able to fine-tune her program. With a horse without 100 percent “blood”, it can be more challenging to form and maintain a good base of fitness. Hylofit eliminates some of that guesswork, and Lisa looks forward to using the equipment on her other horses as they prepare for their competitions.

“With the young horses, they’re easily excitable, which the Hylofit will pick up when their heart rate increases,” Lisa says. “So you can then adjust your training to help them work through that excitement since now you know when it happens. And the Hylofit will tell on the rider, too!”

As she looks ahead to Kentucky, Lisa knows she has the best horse underneath her thanks to painstaking, empathetic training. One of her goals is to get closer to making the time.

“Tali always does great on an 11-minute course,” she explains. “But I wouldn’t say he’s a super fast horse. You have to be efficient with him. I actually called (British eventing star) William Fox-Pitt to ask him about his conditioning program, and he really gave me some tips for Tali. Ever since we started swimming him, he’s felt stronger. I’d rather have a couple of time faults over having to gallop and gallop my horses to get them fit, so it’s a hard balance.”

With the addition of Hylofit to Lisa’s program, she can now track each and every ride, which gives her even more knowledge of Tali’s fitness. And all of this hard work is culminating in just a few short weeks, as Lisa gets ready to gallop out of the start box in Kentucky once again with her favorite partner.

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