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Racehorse Conditioning Systems Interview with Jimmy Takter

RCS: With which horses do you use the resistance cart… all of them or just some?

JT: I give all my horses some resistance conditioning as 2 year olds. We focus resistance work mostly preparing for the 3 yr old season and beyond. If we believe a horse is more mature and stronger we will jog with very light pressure 25 bar to just get them to learn how to pull the cart. Presently our concentration with resistance is 3 year olds and older. I am not saying that working babies with resistance is bad it is just that in my operation we minimize it with 2year olds. In any event with a 2 year old we will not go above 50 Bar.

Note: Bar is the universal value measuring system of air and liquid pressure.

RCS: So are you saying that you take that 2 yr old season to get them conditioned with their gaiting and so forth?

JT: Getting ready for the freshman season is all about learning. The pressure cart is one of the things we want our horses to learn. Usually in April we’ll throw in a little resistance work. In the past we did mostly walking with the ProTrainer now much of the time it’s jogging. And maturity of the horse is an important consideration and to me it’s a judgment call. This is one of the things I like about a resistance cart it’s a tool with a lot of versatility.

RCS: Do you find that some horses just don’t get it? That they resist or fight the cart?

JT: It may not be for every horse. A few horses seem to fight it at first but usually get the idea. Some keep their heads too high. If the horse relaxes lowers its head and works the whole body I like that. It’s like driving a 4 wheel drive in the snow all wheels are working in sync. If they keep the head too high they put too much strain on the back muscles along the spine. If we give them a little experience at a time we will have better success building them with resistance work as they mature.

RCS: Please reinforce that Jimmy. What signs do you see when a horse tells you that he or she doesn’t like resistance conditioning?

JT: Again, I don’t like horses that keep their head high. They put a little bit too much strain on the back muscles along the spine. Those horses you need to be very careful what kind of pressure you have on them. Maybe just jog easy with minimal pressure for a week or so and see if they relax and keep the head down and enjoy the work. Most get it right away.

RCS: Typically, what is your starting pressure/resistance amount?

JT: If the horse is relaxed, I will start with 50 bar.

RCS: What in your history of using this tool, what is the maximum you have ever gone on the bar scale?

JT: The maximum I have gone is 100. I haven’t gone over that, you know they work up themselves pretty hard at 100. I think however that as a horse gets stronger over the months higher levels could be OK. I practice that it is better to err on the side of caution.

RCS: So the horse has completed the 2 year old season and its had a taste of pulling with resistance, will you give them a little bit of time off?

JT: Yes, we give them about 5 to 6 weeks off after the 2 Year Old season.

RCS: When do you start using the resistance cart as a regular conditioning tool?

JT: About 3 to 4 weeks into training for the upcoming season we start using resistance in their program. Then we try to use the resistance cart three times a week. First we jog them for about 4 or 5 minutes to warm up with no pressure and then we do 30 second pressure on and 30 second off, about 1/8 mile intervals at 50 bar.

RCS: Jogging not walking?

JT: We like jogging.

RCS: How many 30 second, 1/8 mile intervals will you do that first week?

JT: We’ll do 40 1/8 mile intervals, 20 with pressure 20 without pressure and the finish with a couple of miles warm down in an easy jog.

RCS: As you move forward, do you increase the number of intervals or do you increase the pressure?

JT: I increase the pressure. Some horses we increase to up to 70 bar in a few weeks. It depends on how the horse handles themselves. If the horse likes the work then we’ll go ahead and increase the pressure.

RCS: What is the top amount of pressure you use in your training?

JT: I top out at 100 bar, right now I have 3 or 4 colts training at 100 and the rest are at about 50 to 70 bar and we train with the PT for 3 days a week

RCS: Do you use resistance in conditioning pacers? Is Mr Feelgood a resistance cart product?

JT: Absolutely.

RCS: Do you train with resistance differently with your pacers than your trotters?

JT: Well I train more trotters than pacers but I think pacers actually learn to work easier with a pressure cart than a trotter. The pacer seems to find their rhythm easier.

RCS: A lot of people think that to use a resistance cart it takes too much time. What do you think about that?

JT: Not the way I do it. I’m running a large operation and we try to have a variety of training, we use all kind of tools that are available. In the same token you have to have a method that works on a daily basis. We’re training about 70 horses, if I had maybe 5 or 6 horses it would have been a different ball game. The way we are doing it, it’s not more time consuming than you just jogging the horse. If you jog a horse, 5, 6, 7 or 8 miles, the way we do it with our resistance carts, it takes about the same amount of time or less. We just get more value with the work and less wear and tear on our horses.

RCS: Most of your resistance work now is with jogging? Do you still use resistance with walking?

JT: Yes, I like to walk horses using the ProTrainer after surgery. When they are ready, we walk them with very little pressure. We may walk them for an hour or so a day as part of their rehabilitation program.

RCS: You are one of the world’s best trainers. You have won over 50 million dollars training harness horse’s globally, you use a lot of different tools, are a brilliant horseman, a very hard worker and run a smooth operation. What percentage of your success do you attribute to resistance conditioning and the ProTrainer?

JT: Well, it’s very hard to say. We’ve seen better results since we started jogging with resistance and 1/8 mile intervals than in the past with just walking. I’m getting better results. It’s only been a few years that I have been jogging with our ProTrainers and I like what I see and feel.

RCS: Very innovative Jimmy, but let’s get back to my question, when we visited with Trond Smedshammer and asked him to assign a percentage of his success attributed to resistance condition, he thought about 20 %. Do you believe that could be a fair assessment for you?

JT: Again, from my perspective that is difficult to say exactly. We try to mix up the activity. Trond is very is successful. There is no doubt however that resistance conditioning is a big part of my success too. Look at training human athletes. Using resistance, intervals of stressing and relaxing muscles are very big part of their training.

RCS: Do you feel there are direct correlations between human and equine exercise physiology?

JT: In some aspects, yes. Of course the feedback is not the same. The horse can not verbalize when they have had enough. That’s my job as the trainer, I need to know my athletes and understand the tools I use and there are limits to both. I and my team are the judges of results in training. Of course the results we get on the track is a huge bench mark. We need to use our senses, looking, feeling and hearing as well as good horsemanship and hard work will get us to where we want to be. Absolutely the tools we use and how we use them are vital elements to our success.

For sure horses are going faster and faster, they can breakdown pretty easy. That’s why a resistance conditioning cart is such a valuable tool. We do not need to go so fast so often to build up the muscle systems. Our ProTrainers are great tools and we probably still have much to learn about their ultimate potential. But for now I know we get better work with less concussion.

RCS: Do you see anything or do you look to see anything in the horse physically as far as the muscle development with using the resistance cart?

JT: Yes, we especially see more muscle development in the rear. As they build themselves up they actually enjoy it. Most horses are really having fun and you can see they like the work.

RCS: Do you do any speed work or any faster work with the resistance cart?

JT: No, I don’t go there yet. My operation is based on training 2 and 3 yr olds. I do know trainers in Sweden and now some in the US and Canada who are successful with integrating more speed with their resistance work. But always sensitivity to the horse is important. For sure proper foundations must be laid.

RCS: If you were not in the kind of operation you have now, if you were in an operation where you are dealing with a myriad of different kinds of horses some claimers, some condition and maybe some stakes horses; how would you use a resistance cart?

JT: I’d have to think about that. I like the pressure cart and I’ve seen trainers do miracles with horses that are really feeling crappie and have bad coordination and things like that; I’ve seen horses sound up in it. If you’ve got to train away the problem a resistance tool can be used very successfully.

RCS: How do you use your ProTrainers during the season?

JT: I don’t use resistance as much during the season, as it get close to racing season I back off a little bit with the pressure cart. I have two very good horses however and all we do is work, mostly walk, with them and our intervals during the season. So I use it some in the summer, but more for specific horses.

RCS: If a horse, for example, has confirmation issues and you’re not able to really train the horse the way you would another horse; that’s when you may step in and use the resistance cart more?

JT: Correct. I’m beginning to see there is value in ongoing, in season, training with a resistance cart, especially with using a heart monitor. I just need more time to wrap my head around those ideas.

RSC: Do you monitor your horse’s heart rates?

JT: I have been just checking heart rates at 12 minutes after a workout for years. We determine what may be a usual heart rate. If the heart rate would be significantly higher we may be dealing with a problem of which we are not yet aware.

RCS: You’ve read our paper: It is not a Mystery, Resistance Conditioning and Heart Monitoring, what’s your take on all of that?

JT: It’s logical. The science is not new but combining these two tools in day to day applications is evolutionary

RCS: You have been using the Polar CS600 for about 6 months, overall what is your feeling about the product?

JT: I think it’s a great concept and product. We now used the CS600 with almost all of our horses. We have played with some different exercises, steady state, intervals and training at faster miles. There is a lot of information available and we are working on a plan to identify what information is most important for our operation. Looking at the exercises on a computer is good. We have another perspective of our horse’s status and condition.

RCS: Please expand on the term “horse’s status and condition”.

JT: Of course each horse is unique, with the heart monitor we see much more about what’s really going on with each horse while they are working. I’m just becoming aware of working in the zones and beginning to understand how we can focus on stimulating certain muscle fibers. With all the horses some of the time or some horses more of the time we want high intensity work but not so much speed. We use our resistance carts to help us with that. By using these two tools in concert, one helping the other, I see a new way to get great training value safely, in less time and with less concussion than we would get with so much speed work. We of course still do our speed work for all our good reasons and in our way, but this combination opens up a new dimension. I’m betting in the long run we’ll see improvement on our bottom line

RCS: Time and people management is a huge concern do you see that using the Polar CS600 regularly as taking too much time?

JT: With 70 plus horses in training it still seems so difficult having their heart rates recorded all the time. Until I learn more and re-build some of our systems we are not using the heart monitor as much as we will in the future. When we get to a point where each harness has its own electrode belt, each cart has a speed sensor and each of my trainers have their own transmitter and receiver it will be a lot easier. Right now I’m in a learning mode and I still need work on integrating what we have to start and getting a deeper understanding of the science. For now we’re getting bench marks with our horses. We are presently under utilizing the information available to us.

RCS: You said, “Understanding the Science”, would you please expand on that.

JT: I better understand that this heart monitoring of race horses, as you have stated more than once, is a huge iceberg and right now all we see is the tip. Some things we do know are the importance of working in zones. For example, we know to go from 150 to 170 beats per minute we are working on the aerobic system, the slow twitch muscles and that’s endurance. For that we do long miles, steady state. When we go over 200 beats per minute we are working on the anaerobic system, the fast twitch muscle fibers which are strength and supports speed. We are also helping build a tolerance and systems in the horse to better manage lactic acid over 200 bpm. For our anaerobic work we do short intervals and short recovery periods.

We can only target those systems if we are using a heart monitor. This works for human sprinters and middle distance runners. Heart monitors and resistance tools are a huge part of training any human athlete.

Again, we can only target the zones and systems if we are using a heart monitor and to add in the resistance cart just makes it easier on the horse. It’s very logical and blends in beautifully with our program. I don’t so much feel that I am changing my operation it works pretty well; all I’m doing is adding a more tools and creating greater value. I know you and the guys at Polar are working on getting us more information, methods and protocols. I’m ready!

RCS: Once you have monitored a horse’s workout, do you download the information in the computer?

JT: We did that all the time at the beginning but have gotten away from that. We need to start downloading workouts more again. We’re working on systems to better manage the tools and the data. Training my people is part of our plan. To get the most from the systems the more data recorded and stored for later re-call the better. With 70 or so horses, I’m thinking about hiring a part time person to help with our heart rate operation.

RCS: Are you working with the zone technique at this time?

JT: A little bit. When a horse is working and is at the beats per minute you want, speed is part of the equation but only as it relates to keeping the heart rate where I want it. Of course the amount of resistance we apply with the cart plays into that as well. With some horses maybe we go little bit slower or faster or a use a little more or less resistance. The heart monitor tells me where we are. There is less guessing. A horse may feel very strong, but may be over or under worked. The heart monitor gives us more information and we can better pin-point the value of the work. With the heart monitor we more quickly identify the cheaters and by adding the resistance we get them more productive earlier.

RCS: Interesting, so what you are saying is by using the heart rate monitor you are taking out some of the guess work?

JT: You take out a lot of the guess work. Once you know the levels (zones), you have a much better chance of working a horse at the right level, at the correct time and seeing results.

RCS: Have you run tests on any of your horses to find out what their maximum heart rate is?

JT: I have not done that yet. I am very conservative with our young horses and am cautious to not stress too much too soon. Until we get into the swing of things better and become more exact with each horse we’re going with the estimate average of 230 beats per minute.

RCS: Have you done any testing with the CS600 to determine the resting heart rate of your horses? With the new belt you can leave it on over night and find out the true resting heart rate.

JT: Well that is an interesting area as my understanding is that a horse that is in a better condition may have a lower resting heart rate. We like to put the heart monitor on at least 30 minutes before going out to get a daily reading and keep it on at least 10 minutes after the workout.

RCS: Are you the only person in your operation to use the heart monitor?

JT: No, we have three units right now and when we are slowly but surely training our team. The CS600 is really easy to hook up and use.

RCS: How do you perceive using a heart monitor in the future?

JT: I work a lot by feel. Resistance carts have been at the core of our operation for years and heart monitoring is the next frontier, actually the blending of both is our next frontier. I want results and positive returns on our investments. The heart monitor among all else it is a tool to help us see were you are in conditioning our horses. A lot of the baby’s are very willing and they go very fast and they feel like they are doing it easily. Are they getting too much work? Are they getting enough? As we learn more the heart monitor can give us more information to consider.

RCS: So the heart monitor is helping you identify that?

JT: Well it will give you an indication that this horse may need to stay at that level he is, maybe back off before you go further or turn up the intensity now. We have more information…so it’s a little less feelings and more facts.

RCS: Thank you for your time Jimmy. It has been informative to get your thoughts and tips on using the ProTrainer resistance cart and your new experiences on using the Polar CS600 Heart Monitor. In conclusion do you have anything you would care to add?

JT: You’re welcome, thanks for stopping by. I have nothing to add now but I think you guys are on the right track with combining the resistance cart and heart monitor tools.


Racehorse Conditioning Systems
24 Old Stage Road – PO Box 130
Albrightsville, PA 18210
Tele: 570-722-COLT(2658)
Fax: 570-722-2659
E-mail: joeg@rcswins.com

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