Everyday Conditioning: Getting ready for gametime

This week, Katie Passerotti gives readers some “This ain’t rocket science, kids” homework designed to make sure all your hard work doesn’t go flying out the window at the horse show.

From Katie:

I am three weeks away from either eventing glory or a huge eventing fail.  I am trying to hedge my bets on the glory side, but XC schooling is hard to come by and the last time we were out Bastian decided that pretty much everything else in the world other than the jump in front of him was interesting and demanded his full attention lest it try to attack us.  We’re narrowing our focus and as I get closer to that big day (did I mention we are doing the 2′ starter division–I mean it’s not like we’re aiming for Rolex here…), we are working on specific exercises that will benefit both me and my horse physically and mentally.

Bastian is fit and I wish I was as fit as him, but I’m not so I’ve got to step my own game up and get to gettin’.  But my in-the-saddle time is working out wonderfully; here are some of the exercises and skills that we are focusing on. They are basics.  Things that you might look at and say, “Duh, I know we have to do that.”  But as horse people, I think we sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees and we need to be reminded to the little stuff.

Skill #1: Get it Done.
I have to admit that I’m a bit of a spoiled dressage diva, living it up in my 60×20 standard arena.  Man, you have space to get stuff done in there.  Transition between F and B?  You have a dozen strides to prepare, balance and make a nice transition.  Things aren’t working out for me so nicely in the small arena of eventing.  I canter my circle at A (thank goodness 20 meters is 20 meters, no matter how you slice it!) and then have to do that F-B transition down to trot, which usually happens at B or right after.  I come around the corner thinking “OK, prepare, half-halt, sit, leg, oh crap there’s B! TROT!”   You have really got to be on the ball in the small arena and heaven forbid you have a horse with a huge stride–you have maybe five strides before you hit the end of the arena, total.  Every stride, every second counts.  I have got to get Bastian cued up and be prepared for what’s about to happen next, there aren’t a lot of breather moments worked in there.  I’m using the “overdoing” it method.  Every time I pass a letter in the dressage arena I do a transition.  There isn’t a lot of time to fix or recover from a sloppy up or down–it has to be correct from the start and Bastian needs to be alert and saying, “OK, what’s next mom, whats next!”  This same thing applies to those of you that ride equitation or horsemanship.  The 4-H kid I talked about last time that I used to help, I set up the most wicked equitation patterns for her.  The cones would practically be on top of each other and I would make her canter-halt-trot-walk-canter.  They were tough patterns, but when she went to the shows, she always, always got the pattern 100% correct and did it accurately, something that was rewarded by the judge.  So that is what we’re working on now, getting it done when it needs to happen and keeping our focus.

Skill# 2: Spook my Horse
Well, kinda.  I don’t want my horse to spook, but I want my horse to see something new, scary and equine-eating and say, “Oh really, well I. Don’t. Care.”  And we have a better chance of getting the I-don’t-care reaction at home since he feels pretty comfortable there, so what can I do to spice things up?  He is actually excellent on the flat, but I get so focused on getting from one side of the jump to the other when we’re working over fences that I forget to pay attention to the outside world. I’m not convinced that he’s going to go over everything he sees when it’s a new jump so that is on our agenda.  What can I do that makes this jump scary (because I really need more stress in my life…)?  It doesn’t need to be high, just enough that he looks at it and learns that the only acceptable answers is GO!  Generally that is his answer–he only says no when I completely fail him and curl up into the fetal position of nothingness. Scary jumps? Absolutely. (Of course be smart about what you do, challenge yourself and your horse but don’t do anything unsafe. If you have any moments of doubt, get help from your instructor!)

Skill #3: I’ve lost my stirrup!
We all know that horrible feeling of losing our stirrup and of course it happens at the most inopportune times.  Luckily it’s an easy fix.  Are you ready for this?  Drop your stirrups and then pick them back up.  Now do it at the trot.  Now do it at the canter.  Now do it between fences (not in a line or anything). And ride without your stirrups.  A lot.  If you’re nervous about riding without your stirrups you can build all of those muscles up  at the walk and they will build up fast.  Do two point at the walk for a lap or two of your arena.  Better yet, post the walk.  You will be saying ouch in no time.  It makes a huge difference though!  When you do lose your stirrup, if you’ve done your homework you’ll get them back super quick. And when a judge calls for no stirrups in an equitation class you will be smiling the whole time because you are prepared.

Skill #4: Practice and Prepare your warm-up
Use your watch to time how long it takes you to prepare your horse to be ring ready.  Time yourself for at least a week so you can get a good average.  At what point does he feel like a blue ribbon horse and when does he start to dive down into the murky waters of other coloured ribbons?  Especially at shows, riders have a tendency to over-warm up their horses.  Those show nerves will make you keep trotting and cantering until both you and your horse is exhausted.   What exercises do you need to do to get your horse to show his blue ribbon personality?  When I first started showing Bastian as a green 5 year old we would do a lot of transitions–it got him focused and paying attention to me. Now that he’s a seasoned dressage pony our warm-up involves getting him moving in front of my leg (he’s turned into quite the lazy bones most days) and alert.  Experiment with some different methods.  If you have a bad case of show nerves, try taking a nice walk around the show grounds to get both of you relaxed. It won’t exhaust either of you the way that trotting or cantering for 30 minutes will. You or your horse being tired will not help matters.  I was lucky enough to audit a Conrad Schumacher clinic and attend his dinner lecture; he talked about his very thing.  He encouraged riders to have a plan for their warm-up that would bring out the best in themselves and their horses and to practice that warm-up at home.  And you know if The Conrad says it, it’s good stuff.

Some of these may seem like no-brainers.  But it’s the no-brainers that we are often quickest to forget.  When we get back to the basics of the matter and examine the pyramid of our training, these are four simple exercises that will lead to bigger, better, and more complicated things. What other simple exercises and “no-brainers” do you recommend?

Photo: HN

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