Hopefully you had a horse at home to make social isolation easier and more fun. After all, who is lonely and bored when they have a horse? Broke, frustrated, exhausted perhaps – but never lonely or bored!
Even if you’ve been able to ride regularly, without competitions there hasn’t been that intensity of training. Focus has been hard and coaches have been difficult to get to on a regular basis. So now that we’re gearing back up to normal, everyone is champing at the bit and ready for some competitions and fun.
Getting back into full throttle competition mode might take a bit of work, so here are some tips to help you finish off 2020 better than it started:
1. Rider fitness: Have you been focusing on keeping up your fitness with all that home-time during the pandemic? In reality, who hasn’t been indulging in an extra bit of Netflix? Surely no-one will ever be the same again after watching Joe Exotic! After slouching on the couch you might need to go to the chiropractor or physio so that you’re able to sit up straight and balanced in the saddle. Always make sure that you’re doing the right thing before you start worrying about your horse.
2. Horse attention: The next point of order will be checking your horse’s responsiveness on the ground. Leading horses is a basic skill which is overlooked 99% of the time. Does your horse come forward calmly and promptly when you apply lead pressure? Are they paying attention to you, or are they just hanging around at the end of the lead? Training basics need to be finely tuned. If your horse has also been enjoying a little bit of couch time over the competition break, let him know you are back in business. No more slacking off.
3. Check out all your gear: Do your jodhpurs still fit? Seriously, quite a few people have relaxed their waist lines during social isolation. And while you’re checking circumferences, are your float tires fully pumped up?
4. Transport manners: Remember, it’s been a while since you went out so don’t leave it till the morning of the competition or your coaching clinic before checking that your horse remembers how to load on the trailer (the August 2019 issue of HorseVibes includes an in-depth article on floating). Older horses with a history of being good floaters will probably go straight on like it was yesterday. Younger horses might need a couple trial runs in the lead-up to going out. So, don’t leave it to the last minute.
5. Lessons and coaching: Getting a bit more variety in your training while under the hopefully watchful eye of your coach will be the best starting point in developing your competition plan. This will also test your fitness – can you ride a full 45 minutes without collapsing?
6. From adrenaline to calm: It can be easy to ask your horse to remain nice and calm and steady when you’re in the home paddock all the time. Preparing for the excitement of new places means that you practice revving them up a bit then bring them back to the calm and steady way of going they had earlier. This will help get them ready for the extra adrenaline and speed they’ll have to deal with out in public. Sometimes you just need to go for a hoon in an area where you and your horse already feel comfortable and safe. You can adjust to that really ‘forward feeling’ and practice bringing the horse back to a long and low trot or walk.
7. Ride more: It’s the day before your first show back, and this is where you need to be riding your horse more than brushing it. My personal motto: Brush less, ride more. Yes, presentation is important but not getting bucked off is importanter (and yes, that’s now a word!). This doesn’t mean lunge them into the ground and get them overtired, but make sure you put in the time required to get your horse listening and relaxed.
8. Frisk-free outing: The same idea applies on the morning of the show. Make sure you get the horse on the float nice and early so you have time for a slightly longer warm-up ride. Again, you don’t want to overtire them, especially since their fitness may not be at its peak. That extra warm-up time might just be another ten minutes of walking. If in doubt, ask your coach. They know best. No bias here 😉
9. Start lower: Some riders might still be aiming for their original end of year goals despite this extended time between competitions. It’s unlikely that your horse knows what your plan is though. Starting one level or height down from where you left off is always a low stress way to start out. That way, you can keep the horse confident and also get over any first day nerves yourself. Don’t over-face your horse or yourself – we’ve still got another six months of 2020 ahead of us!
10. Take care: Many organisers are anticipating a bit of mayhem as riders descend like locusts on the first fresh paddock of the year. Although you haven’t seen anyone for six months, that’s no reason for you not to keep an eye on your horse – the day out is also about them, so not too much human socialising. Also watch out for other fresh horses!
And just before I head out to give a cross country clinic, can I please say thank you to everyone who tolerated this lock down so that we are now all incredibly healthy and ready to ride. What a great community of riders and Australians!
Charlie Brister of Brister Equestrian is an all-round horseman based in western Sydney. His expertise is in re-training problem horses, as well as coaching riders in the art of cross-country, show jumping and dressage.