Why Should I Use Heart Rate Zones to Train with my Horse?


Measuring heart rate is an objective way see how hard your horse is working. Riders use heart rate, and more specifically heart rate zones, to determine the right intensity or effort for every workout.

“Zones” are like guide posts for training with heart rate. Think of it as following speed limit signs on roads. If you want to have a light, active recovery workout then you should stay in Zone 1, which is up to 60% of your horse’s maximum heart rate. But if you want to have a hard, threshold workout then you should try hitting Zone 4, which is 80% to 90% of your horse’s maximum heart rate.

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In order to effectively train with heart rate zones, you first need to know your horse’s maximum heart rate. This maximum can range from 200 to 240 beats per minute (bpm). The Hylofit default maximum heart rate is set at the lower end of the range, at 200 bpm. We suggest you start with the default setting and change over time as you get to know your horse’s heart rate. Remember, your horse’s max heart rate is impacted by age and fitness as well as genetic factors. When using Hylofit, Eliane van Reesema sets a max heart rate of 160 for Adelante, her 17-year old Grand Prix horse. His fitness and performance goals are completely met through routine training at lower levels of intensity.

If you are unsure and want a precise maximum heart rate number, you should consult an expert.

Generally zones are based on your horse’s lactate threshold, which becomes the point from which the other zones are based—anything below the threshold heart rate zone (Zone 4) is more aerobic in nature and easier in intensity, anything at or above this threshold is more anaerobic and higher in intensity.

Don’t let the zone percentages confuse you. The idea is to understand what the zones mean and then create a training plan to achieve your workout goals.


Here is an easy guide for how to use each zone in your training.

Zone 1: up to 60% of maximum heart rate – A very light intensity effort level marked by easy breathing. Use it for warm up, cool down, and active recovery workouts. Compare it to going for a light jog.

Zone 2: 60-70% of maximum heart rate – A light intensity effort level. Use it for strengthening and conditioning.

Zone 3: 70-80% of maximum heart rate: A moderate intensity effort level where you can hear breathing begin to increase and the horse’s aerobic power kicks in. Train here to build stamina.

Zone 4: 80-90% of maximum heart rate: A hard intensity effort that is just outside your horse’s comfort zone. Use it for tempo rides to raise the lactate threshold and train to ride faster at a reduced effort level. Training here is usually for power and speed disciplines (eventing, reining, racing etc)

Zone 5: 90-100% of maximum heart rate: A hard intensity effort well outside your horse’s comfort zone. Training in this zone should be very limited and sustained for very brief periods of time. As a comparison to humans, this zone should feel like a full out sprint in the final finish of a race.

The goal is to vary your training across zones (as appropriate for your discipline and training goals) to train balanced, build strength and coordination and gain maximum fitness benefits. Training variability will lead to an improvement in recovery and performance, and a healthier horse.

Use Hylofit to train smarter and know your ride.

Kate Motley