Thursday, September 26, 2013

Picking up your Pieces

Well, here I am again surprisingly close to my last blog. I have a bad habit of abandoning my blogging duties when things get so busy that my computer gathers dust in the wake. Anyhow, I find it quite ironic that my last post was about getting your "ducks in a row," as there is a vital piece missing from that blog entry. It is the nature of our sport and our horses that despite all the preparations, sometimes things can and WILL go wrong. The important thing is how to bounce back from these inevitable setbacks. If you missed the excitement of Plantation CIC last weekend, there was a large collection of horses and riders that unfortunately got to taste the footing on the cross country. I was one of those riders. After having a brilliant ride through the tough water complex in the CIC** on Sunday, Zara and I had a miscommunication that lead to a major spill on the table at #21. Luckily for both of us, as she went down I was catapulted in one direction and she rolled in the other, and neither of us faced any very major injuries. With a well planned fall season for my horses, a now separated shoulder, and question of how Zara and I will tackle our next big table, I am left with the tough work of picking up my pieces.

First on my list, and should be on anyone's, will be to let myself heal! This sounds easy... who doesn't want a few days of being a couch potato, and resting up a bum shoulder. To answer.... ME! I cannot stand being still, seeing my horses have to take vacation when they are so ready to go, and I feel so fit and game. Days off from riding are the very last thing that I want as I hope to do Fairhill International in 3 weeks. I realize that this goal seems unrealistic with my shoulder, but that is my goal none-the-less.

Next, keep the horses going without micro-managing their rides TOO much. All my horses, whether mine or a clients are on very particular programs, and to deviate from this program is like missing your only TV show that doesn't get re-aired or go online. Disastrous, to anyone that watches a TV show. I have no TV shows. Therefore, my horses must be on their programs! Unfortunately for my needs, my horses' and exerciser's welfare must be a priority, so in order to at least maintain their current situations, I will have to make due with modification.

Another difficult step in picking up my pieces will be being flexible. As much as I love my horses, when I get to be back in the tack, there's a good chance the day that I planned to jump, my arm will be trying to escape from the containment of my shoulder, as it feels it is right now. Sadly those days may fall on an important day, but I will have to stay flexible to allow myself and my horses the best possible schooling and healing.

Along with being flexible, to pick up the pieces I will have to rebuild confidence with patience. I know that I am a strong cross country rider, and that I have conquered some of the toughest advanced tracks around America. But, I also must accept that I am not super-human, and am not immune to the possibility of my own guts being shaken up from our dirt-eating party at Plantation. We will have to start small, and minimize negative experiences AND minimize mistakes if I am to accomplish my goal this fall.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, to make sure my pieces come back together in perfect order I will have to LISTEN TO MY HORSE. If we begin getting back to dressage scores and we don't feel we are together, we will have to take a step back and make sure I'm riding as well as I can be for Zara's sake. If we begin jumping and something seems majorly different in her style or mine, again, we will need to step back and evaluate what's going on. We will need to practice with super mentor Sally to help decide where the issues may be and what can fix them. And lastly, I will have to listen to Zara if we are even on those last few days schooling for Fairhill and she gives me an indication that we are not ready.

I do not undervalue how lucky I am to have a horse quick enough on her feet to at least try and land from our disaster jump. And I will not take for granted that this time our mistake was forgiven, but next time our problems may be much more serious at such a miscommunication.

These are my thoughts for the day my shoulder hurt enough that I am just getting out to the barn at 4:30pm. Resting is like torture, but I know I need it if I want my shoulder to be strong enough. Keep thinking healing thoughts fans, and we will be at Fairhill to root on my fellow riders at our tailgate spot whether or not Zara and I are running.

Check out these awesome photos of Zara from Plantation!

Stay ON!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting your "Ducks in a Row"

As a way to review the happenings of the last few months, I'd like to share some thoughts about training, lessoning and preparing for events and shows. Getting your ducks in a row is how we all work, train, and prepare every single day for our goals.
In your daily training for your next competition, a consistent program helps you and your horse stay on target for your upcoming goals, and keep track of previous training sessions and how to move forward in the work.  If you only manage to do a real dressage school once a week on your schedule, it is difficult a week later to keep a steady build of confidence and practice going. As for jumping, exercises need to be focused and to the point to maintain your horse's health and joints. If you jump twice a week for example, and you do grids once and course lines the other: on grid day, exercises would build upon the previous course lines school on portions that were weak. Building distances for yourself and your horse to work through with ground poles and cavaletti allow you to work together every time. For course work, you must recall what kind of canter work it took to most successfully work through the grids. This consistency and building blocks style of work keeps you on track for improvement, and also makes it fairly easy to take it back a step if things feel a little off. Remember in addition to consistent work, horses also need to understand that sometimes they are allowed to relax and enjoy. Whether this means cooling out on a nice walk outside the arena or spending a fitness day on some good winding trails instead of hills.

As many professionals do, I maintain a consistent lesson program for my own horses. This Spring and Summer, I pretty much focused on exclusively dressage lessons at Hassler Dressage since the chaos of my schedule didn't allow the time to haul up to Sally Cousins for our jump tune-ups. Since Zara wasn't competing yet anyways, this wasn't a huge issue. Anyways, every week, my actively training horses would lesson at Hassler - Skogen the dressage pony, Zara, and baby thoroughbred Geoni. Keeping in regular lessons is a vital part your competition preparations. A mentor that sees you and your horses on a consistent basis allows you to keep track of the odds and ends that may become bad habits if let go. They help to establish a plan for your ride, whether it's how to nail that leg yield, enhance the cadence and elasticity in your gaits, or stay STRAIGHT on a center-line. In addition to these points, your instructor is someone who gets to see how you and your horse flow from the ground regularly, and can help identify little gaps in not only training but also soundness. A subtle favoring of a direction, lead or balance may not translate to you on top as a possible health issue, but could be noticeable to your trainer.

When it comes to competition prep, all of the above are very important elements, but also keep your routine, your mental health, and your time management in mind. A well planned preparation night must include a pointed ride to feel ready and not over-faced or overwhelmed for the next day, plus braiding and bathing, careful packing, and a good meal before the end of the evening. Some of us also have superstitious rituals, but to each their own on that front! Your pre competing ride often depends on your horse; for example, Zara does best on a 2-a-day schedule, with the day before including dressage and a light gallop ride. I try to complete her rides earlier in the day, so she has some downtime, and I don't feel stressed with her preparations. Typically an early finish to the day of riding, followed by a dinner adventure with some friends, then a return to the barn to put in braids for the night before going home to relax. Your packing should be done without rushing to assure you don't forget anything, and leave time to double check! Your evening plans should be relaxing but stimulating -- if it's too relaxing it may allow you to dwell on the day to come. Know and practice your test, but (easier said than done, I know) don't obsess over it. If you've gotten all your ducks together and marching this far, knowing the test should not be of worry.

When you're down to the wire, and preparing to "enter at A," it is the time to show off how well you have prepared. A carefully calculated warmup, following a well planned arrival and tack up are your final steps to bringing your very best into the ring. Always remember to consider how far it is to get to the warm up, that it will take a few minutes to do bit check, and that the chaotic warm up may distract your horse. Stay focused on what you need to accomplish in your warm up to give yourself the best chance at a stellar test. Find your own area, and keep your work focused. Keep yourself breathing deep, and show off the hours, days, weeks, months, years or whatever excessive, insane amount of time you devote to your competition. Smile at that judge like you know you've got it, and make a positive impact.