the latest research shows that walking gets the horse just as fit as trotting or cantering.
I was taught (100 years ago when I was doing CTR) that you do the gait you plan to ride, at about the percentage you plan to ride it. So if you plan to trot 75%, walk 5%, canter 20%, you should train at those percentages.
I felt that the horse is landing on two feet at the trot so less concussion than landing on one foot. I felt the trot was easier on their body and took less energy than an equal distance at the canter
I have been reading a lot about long & slow - so I'm taking that to mean a lot of walking for longer distances. I would assume the long distance at a slower pace is good for building the muscle/ strengthen bones and ligaments which would be needed for incorporating more trotting work??
And as far as I know condition (as in fitness) is a much faster process than getting ligaments and bones strong enough to work long and hard. This is where I think long and slow rides come into play.
could a horse be fit enough to canter most of the way for a 100 mile ride if they only walked beforehand? It's not likely they would have the stamina at the canter. Something to consider is the mental fitness also. It requires a different kind of mental focus to go at faster speeds for a long period of time. Some horses struggle with that and need to be worked up to it.
Regarding whether trotting or cantering is more efficient, my personal experience with horses is that it depends on the horse.
I picked some bits of pieces out of all the previous fitness/conditioning convo that resonated with me.
I, too, was taught the benefits of long, slow distance to build the foundation. Cardio fitness comes first, followed by soft tissue, followed by bone (and I was always told 3 months, 6 months, 12 months respectively for time it takes for those to fully develop). I was also taught that you needed to train how you you planned to compete, both in terms of amount of time in each gait and in terms of speed. I was taught some horses were trotters and some preferred the canter; the smartest thing to do was use the favored gait the most but try to develop the other so they weren't always using the same muscles.
All those things made sense to me from what I knew of physiology and what I had experienced with my own body. So to start with, that was how I trained. Dream was a trotter, so we did walking, trotting, and a bit of cantering. We went from mostly walking to mostly trotting over time. I was a bit concerned with Dream as she was lazy to train, not wanting to go particularly fast even with much urging. I worried heading into my first competition that we would barely make the time, as we rarely made even a 6 mph average pace when training.
Well wasn't I shocked when Dream was a whole different animal at a competition!! Instead of her normal 7 mph training trot, she wanted to rocket down the trail at 10-12 mph! I spent the whole first ride arguing with her about pace, as I was convinced she was going to have massive problems since we were going so much faster than we trained. And not just for the first few miles - she was that way the whole LD! But as the ride went on and she only got more disgusted with my trying to hold her to training pace, I kept watching my heart rate monitor, just sure she would start to show distress. But she didn't! Despite what I had been taught, she was just fine going that pace for the entire ride.
That was my first hint at there being more to this conditioning thing than I had been taught. Dream always trained like a plug with the exception of an occasional yeehaw moment. Yet she consistently went to rides and was able to maintain a much
faster overall pace for the entire ride - even on a 100! I stopped paying attention to what I was told about "proper" conditioning pacing versus competition pacing and started paying more attention to her working heart rates and her recoveries.
Since then, I have tended to pay more attention to heart rate and recovery than overall pace in general. I still believe in starting slowly and increasing speed or distance or terrain challenge one element at a time, but I am less worried about is my horse trotting at 6 mph or 8 mph versus trotting for whatever distance. I try to make a general plan for the conditioning ride in terms of is my goal a speed work or a hill work or brain work, but we all know those plans must be flexible because of the very nature of horses!
More recently, I have had another major change in thinking because of Lani and Kathy. I have mentioned that their endurance horses are only ridden at rides. And I mean that literally - the rest of their training is now done exclusively by the euroxciser
While some models do go fast enough to allow the horses to trot, my understanding is Kathy puts everyone on it at the walk daily for 1-3 hours (changing direction every 30 min or so). The timing when we were in Florida last year was 2 hours day 1, 1 hour day 2, 3 hours day 3, day off, then repeat.
To start with, I was very skeptical.. how could walking around - even for hours - allow the horses to be able to trot and canter for miles? I expected the hotness Duroc and Fluffy showed at the initial rides to be short lived, but the horses showed me just how fit they really were. Even Flo, who was normally pretty mellow, was roaring to go. I still don't understand why it works.. but it sure seems to.
The handful of big name riders I know - the Reynolds, Meg Sleeper, Val Kanavy - are all using a euroxciser as the foundation of their training program. How much (or if) they actually ride the horses on conditioning rides has more to do with the horse's mental status than anything.