Assessing your less-than stellar ride of the day.

untitled As a nine-to-fiver, even with a few years of good coaching under my belt, there are some imperfect days.  On those really awful, tear-inspiring moments, when you are aghast that your lovely animal is suddenly not comprehending the task  you are requesting I want to share my own reaction-habits that minimize further dramatic endings. Here are my most effective strategies at handling the sudden miscommunication.

The horse will always improve to the riders better position.

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This lesson has been instilled in me. In the years of being coached, I am familiar with some of my largest weaknesses.  One of those is a large disconnect and body-“un” awareness through my right shoulder-elbow-to hand.  75% of my own dressage struggles come as I hold tension in my right shoulder.  Obviously, this differs for each rider, but I do a halt and body check.  For me this usually involves a deep breath, dropping both my shoulders away from my neck where I’m holding them, and focusing on riding very centered. This manual process of riding very aware of where my position is, always to some degree improves the ride on the horse that I am on.

Some days, you are just tired.

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Mondays are usually my horse’s vacation day.  It’s usually the busiest at the office. Every now and then if I know later in the week I’ll need to stay in the city, I’ll put in a late Monday ride. But it’s essential for my young-horses who are just learning things themselves, to have the very best version of me on their backs. That does mean, I need to be fit, awake, and fully focused on their needs. I can feel these days coming as I drive to the barn, whem I’m already mentally and physically exhausted.  And for me, on those days, rather than pack in a drilled day of dressage or a jump-day, I go and take my horse on a monotonous but still as important fitness day. The regularity of a long trot set doesn’t permit me to fiddle with exercises  that both my horse and I struggle with. They come back fit, and I’ll save the hard work for the next day when I know my noggin is completely focused and patient.

Know when to call it a day.

Photo courtesy of US Eventing/Jessica Duffy

This is the hardest part I believe for any rider.  It was ingrained in me very young, that once you request your horse to do something you stay with them until the task is completed correctly.  However, now through trial and error I firmly believe some days you cut your losses, before you go bankrupt.  For example, and perhaps one of my owners is reading this.  I still stand by the decision.  A pony in training had been in my hands about a week, when I, curious as to his bravery and level of training over-fences opted to pop him over a large log in our jump field.  At this point, he had been eager to hack around the barn and jump the small cross-rails in the ring.  So, I picked up a canter and headed towards a solid but seemingly unassuming log. As I approached, I noticed his focus hadn’t made onto the log and he ran into it. I don’t think he even realized the response was supposed to be ‘jump,’ as he hit it. Then shocked at the imaginable sting and object that just prohibited him from continuing, he surged backwards fearful and suddenly untrusting of the person on his back.  At this point you have two choices, and I think the younger me would have chosen the first. I could have, adamant that horse must obey at all costs, smacked him with my crop and attempted to, probably unsuccessfully, cowboy him over the log in front of me. Perhaps, I’d accomplish this but at the cost of fracturing his trust and confidence over solid obstacles even more? Rather, I just acknowledged it was a foolish request I had just made, and proceeded to finish my hack and leave the log-question for another day. My horse wasn’t acting rudely, or attempting to be naughty, in which I’d have no qualms with a smart crop to the bum, but from genuine confusion and cautiosness.  As a rider, I had just requested something he didn’t understand and was in no form ready for. I had to swallow my own pride, and make a game plan. Later in the following weeks, we found smaller logs and obstacles he could walk or trot over, and without any delay as soon as the task was understood he’s now happily jumping every solid object in site, minus the fence that he grazes in. Pride has no place in the tack, and some days are just as essential to recognize your mistake, and regroup for another day.

Call a professional

1This while seemingly obvious, can be a last resort for the rider whose budgeting her horse shows month-to-month. I value my instructors and try to run move-ups and training decisions by them, but sometimes in the middle of a season you hit a rut or issue that needs immediate mending and that part of your budget wasn’t accounted for. At one point I was riding my young horse with some success and managing fairly easily to run clean. I knew there was some lack of education on the ride-ability over more technical options, but believed we were still making forward progress and traveling safely. But during a small show, that lack of education showed up in a summer-salting horse and rider. For the first seconds of breathlessness, I managed to crawl up on all fours to see my horse galloping away. Red flag. Halt. SOS. Call the best medics in town, and I’m not talking about the surgical kind. My medic, was a firm coach to pull me back five-steps and give me direction on how to fill the small but visible holes in my horse’s training.  I was lucky that I could hobble around for the next week and didn’t have more damage. I booked a trip to Aiken, and cut off my show season for the spring. Your competition can wait, you and your horse’s safety should always come first.  Looking back, while it could have been a fluke accident, that little pitfall forced me to fix some holes in our training before I moved up to fences that could actually end up with an emergency room visit or worse.

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I I am by no-means a rider with a wealth of skill or daily training, but I do believe I’ve maximized my horse’s successes by minimizing my own opportunity for error which is increased by fatigue, pride, or lack of experience. We all make mistakes as riders, even the professionals. Becoming a mindful rider has been very critical in my own small success. I think through mindfullness, I’m more capable not only to understand complications in my own riding, but also to prevent future ones.

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