Cees has spent the last 20 years training horses with heart rate monitoring and analysis. He welcomes inquiries from Hylofit customers to provide supplementary data analysis and consultancy services.
How did your company, Heart for Horses, come to be?
When my son outgrew his riding pony, Frits, we decided to train him for driving in a harness. Frits was fierce and learned fast so we increased his training intensity, but then he began to lose his tail hair. Although there was no formal diagnosis, a blood sample revealed that he may be suffering from overtraining. I love our horses and was determined to find a way to bring more data to our training decisions. I bought a heart rate monitor and began to measure Frits’ heart rate over time, as well as his recovery after training. I used this data to balance his training regimen, alternating between hard and light work days. This approach led my son to 4 Dutch National Driving Championships with Frits and both individual and team silver at the FEI World Pony Driving Championships in 2005. People recognized the success and asked me how we trained. And from this, Heart for Horses was born.
How did the equestrian community initially respond to your technology driven training techniques?
It took several years to bring the benefits of heart rate training to the attention of high-level equestrian athletes and officials. The horse world is very traditional and I struggled to convince riders to alter their training habits. My first break came when I worked with the coach of the Dutch Olympic Eventing team, Martin Lips, and was able to prove the value of heart rate measurement training. From there word spread other disciplines began to express interest in the training techniques I was developing. I have since served as an equine heart rate expert for the Dutch Friesian Stud KFPS, the Dutch Olympic Organization NOC NSF. I measured the Olympic dressage and jumping teams, and also the U25, young riders, juniors and ponies in dressage and eventing. Now, training based on heart rate measurement is widely used in eventing and endurance, and is on the rise in jumping and dressage.
Give an example of why data-driven training is important?
Measuring heart rate is a great way to understand how hard the horse and rider are working during a training session. This can be especially informative in dressage where it is not always as it looks. Very often a rider will think that their horse is working hard but when we measure both the heart rates we find that the rider is working much harder than their horse. The ability to have real-time feedback on training intensity and compare exercises to track progress brings a new level of objectivity to training practices.
What are the biggest challenges owners face in horse training and performance today?
Preserving the welfare of their horse while training. Overtraining and injuries are common problems for many owners. I believe that the most important thing in a relationship with your horse is your connection. Riders need to trust what they feel and then use modern technology to support their decisions.
How does training with a heart rate monitor address the challenge of preserving horse welfare?
Pulse measurement is an excellent way to get to know your horse. The most important ingredient of any training program is the degree of effort. Training too hard or for too long is an invitation to injury and fatigue. Training with a low effort has little effect. Heart rate measurement enables a rider to train efficiently and responsibly. By monitoring the pulse of a horse during training the rider has an objective measurement of urrent conditioning and needed recovery. This prevents overload.
What are basic things that every horse owner should know about her horse?
In order to properly care for your horse every owner should always have a working knowledge of their horses’ vitals, temperature, pulse and respiration. Furthermore, I find that every horse owner should know when the normal values re variable for a horse. The resting heart rate of a horse varies from 25 to 40. Stress, pain and disease can increase the heart rate. When your horse has a daily resting heart rate of 28, when one day it is measured at 44, they know that something is wrong.
What is the smartest way to train a horse?
Always start with a benchmark and then use measurement as a reference. Find a good balance between hard and easy training days and make sure the training suits the physical and psychological conditions and possibilities of the horse. One size never fits all and the key to success is an individualized customized training program for each horse based on a variety of factors, including breed, discipline and maximum heart rate capacity.
What is the most important goal of the work you do?
I love horses and I think of myself as an equine missionary. I want to convince the equestrian world that modern training techniques can add real value to a horse’s health and performance. Adding a heart rate monitor to existing training practices provides the type of expert insights you normally could only gain from years and years of experience.