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.

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