September 13, 2013

Heart Rate monitors - Part 3

After all that trouble getting the monitor situated and all set up correctly, I was excited to get on and get going. It being winter in Wisconsin, riding outside was "at your own risk" and since I didn't have time to deal with frostbite to all my extremities I headed to the indoor arena. My incredibly bright "pat myself on the back" idea of trialing it at the barn first quickly became a very dumb idea. I hadn't spent a whole lot of time inspecting the construction material of the indoor arena and that lack of attention to detail became my downfall.

I jumped up on Gem, hit the "ON" button and strode off staring down at my watch waiting to see her heart rate data. Nothing was showing. Either her heart rate was so incredibly low that it wasn't registering or something was wrong. I got off and inspected the electrodes. They were well saturated with cold water and pressed firmly against her body. I turned it off and then back on and tried again. Still nothing. Now I knew my horse had to have a heart beat of some sort, so obviously something was wrong. And that's when I noticed the building I was riding in. It was made out of metal. The worst type of material to allow a satellite signal to come through and hit my watch. Darn. All that work for a whole lot of nothing. I was deflated, but rode on anyway and just ignored the monitor. When we were done I untacked her and looked for rub marks and was happy to note it did not affect her at all.

I spoke with the hubs and the weekend was supposed to be sunny and not deathly cold, so we planned to hit the trails to try the thing outside. I made sure to wet the electrodes at the barn before we left and the drive was only 20 minutes, so they remained nice and wet when we arrived at the trail head. This time I noted that we were in a nice free and open spot without cover and when I turned it on I got a nice read out. Her heart rate was low - in the low 40s. Great! We walked off down the trail and I made note to look at the watch periodically to see what it was telling me. It told me that at a walk her heart rate remained very low - upper 40s to low 50s depending on the terrain. Ok, great! I was excited about all this new data. When we picked up the trot and I noticed it was still low it began to dawn on me that I had actually no clue what these numbers meant. I had no actual reference point to compare them to and so while they seemed interesting they were in fact useless.

I did remember a training guide that used the monitor as the main focus of all rides. I recalled a data point that was frequently used - a set of intervals of 10 minutes at a heart rate of 180 bpm. At the time I didn't take much notice of it since I didn't know anything about heart rate, but as we picked up a canter up a hill and I noted that her heart rate remained below 100 I began to question the possibility of hitting that mark and maintaining it for 10 minutes. What would I need to do? I asked her for a faster canter. Nope, nowhere close to 180. I finally asked for a full out gallop and we still only got to 150. The only time during the entire ride that her heart rate came close to 180 was when she spooked at a tree branch on the ground. Ok...I get it...the way to get her heart rate up is to scare the living crap out of her for 10 minutes straight.

With that idea thrown out the window I began to play around with different gaits and looking to see what it did to her heart rate. Was a fast trot creating a higher heart rate than a slow canter? How quickly did her heart rate recover at the walk after a long trot? How about after a canter? How about going from a canter to a trot? Hills? Jumping over logs? I kept track of the impact of terrain and gait on her heart rate as we went down the trail. I found it all very interesting.

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