Friday, December 13, 2013

Conditioning for 2014

After the seriousness of my last blog, I decided to a) find a happier note to post on b) post a bit sooner than I have in the past. Maybe I can keep this trend going!!

Come the end of every year, there's a lot of reflection on the successes and failures of the previous season. There also comes a lot of planning for the coming season, new goals, and new ideas. As such, a few of my goals for the up coming season are to produce more quality sale horses with a solid competition record, get to a CCI*, and develop my riders to each move up a level confidently!

I should mention here that I am BEYOND lucky to have a heated farm to work out of, so there is less chance of me missing rides due to in climate weather, but please keep that sort of thing in consideration with your personal schedule. If you miss a day, don't skip a work out. That's why I never put things to a Monday-Sunday schedule, it's always Day 1-7.

How pretty is this?? I'm quite lucky. For more information on my new facility, check out or

As we head into our "training time" here in the Midwest, much of what we work on in the next three months sets the tone for our success in the next year. Your horses base of fitness is the best thing you can possibly do for them, so in light of that I decided I'd put some of my conditioning/training plans and goals on here, and try and track them every few weeks, so you can see the progression that my horses at different levels are making each month. I will also make note of their TPR (Temperature, Pulse and Respiration). Currently, I have 5 horses in my program, as well as a few lesson horses that I'm looking to keep more fit. Here is a start with Jag and Qui's training/conditioning program for the next month!

Man in Black "Jag" - 5 yr old Preliminary OTTB gelding. My goal for him for 3 months out is to be jumping around some local jumper shows at 3'-3'6 divisions, as well as schooling comfortably at 2nd level dressage. He will see his first event in either late March or early April.  Jag is currently still on his vacation from River Glen, though I sat on him for the first time yesterday for a 20 minute walk/hack session just to stretch his legs and remind him that he knows how to be ridden. He has two more weeks of pretty much just sitting in the field (he lives out 24/7 during his vacations so we can best let him grow and stretch his legs, and be as relaxed and normal as possible) looking pretty before he'll start back to work. When he does, we will do a week of 40 -80 minutes of just straight walking, briskly. I will try and do most of my walks around our trails so I can utilize the snow as well, make him work a bit harder, and some of that work will also include road walking as well to strengthen his tendons back up. Then real work will start up, all prefaced by 20 minutes of walking and finishing with 10 minutes of walking:

Day 1: 20 minutes trotting long and low.
Day 2: Light dressage school with circles, long and low canters off his back. No longer than 25 minutes.
Day 3: 20 minute trot set, include trot poles scattered through the arena
Day 4: Dressage
Day 5: Hack

Week 2/3

Day 1: 25 minute trot set
Day 2: Dressage school
Day 3: Hack
Day 4: Light jump school, with xs and low cavaletti, canter poles working on foot work
Day 5: Dressage

Week 4

Day 1: 25 minute trot set
Day 2: Dressage
Day 3: Hack
Day 4: Grid work
Day 5: 25 minute trot set with Dressage
Day 6: Pole work (canter/trot poles)

Millenium Qui "Qui" or Red Horse - Qui had 2 weeks off following Heritage Park, and then 4 weeks of very light rights just to keep him working as he's the type of horse that doesn't do well physically in a full vacation. He does best in a consistent schedule so too much of a change can stress him out. I'm just beginning to put him back to full work now that we're all settled in the new barn. His goal for 3 months is to be ready to ready to compete at Training Level, as well as actively competing in jumper shows this winter. He is already at least "partially" fit but because my goal for him after last season was improved relaxation and strength, he has different aims from his conditioning. He also will spend a lot of time walking to relax.

Week 1

Day 1: 25 minutes trotting long and low (yet forward)
Day 2: Trot Pole work while incorporating dressage
Day 3: Hack
Day 4: 25 minute trot set with Dressage
Day 5: Hack

Week 2/3

Day 1: 25 minute trot set long and low (yet forward)
Day 2: Dressage (includes trot poles and canter poles)
Day 3: Hack
Day 4: Jump work over little cavalettis and low verticals with 9' placement poles on both sides all trotted or walked.
Day 5: 25 minute trot set with Dressage

Week 4

Day 1: 30 minute trot set long and low
Day 2: Dressage - Lots of transitions up and down, improve straightness, simple lateral work
Day 3: Hack
Day 4: Jump School - Grid work (bounces, bending lines, adjustablity)
Day 5: Hack
Day 6: Course work at 2'

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Learning To Sit (the trot, on the couch, or the beach or wherever else you might be)

I've been a big follower of Denny Emerson's page on Facebook for the last year, and one post really hit home for me a few months ago, about learning to sit the trot. You know what his advice was? Practice. Over, and over and over again. On any and every horse that you ride, every ride, for as long as you can, as well as you can. Some of my horses that I ride naturally have a more swinging trot that seems to pull you into the saddle, and makes it MUCH easier to sit. Red Horse (Qui) is one of those horses. I'm working hard to develop his strength through his back. To do this, I've focused on a lot of long and low work, and while he's in this lower frame he's not allowed to just meander. I look to really PUSH him into this lower frame so he truly engages that hind end. That's really what develops those haunch and back muscles. When he's at his best, his trot is absolutely unbelievable. It pulls you RIGHT in, and he just floats across the ground. I don't even have to work to sit his trot. The hardest thing for him is to relax through his back though. He can be a bit of a worrier, so most of ride the first part of my ride is spent on getting him to take that deep breath and relax that back so he can really move. We do circles, we spiral in and out, we walk for the first 15 minutes, we do LOTS of transitions, anything to not let him to lock that back against me.

Fancy.... from his first time in water this summer :) 

It's interesting that I spend SO much time working on getting him to relax, slow his mind down, and improve his focus, yet I'm pretty positive I can't think of the last time that I actually sat down and relaxed, let alone if I'd know what day it is if you asked me. I struggle with relaxing, sitting still, focusing.... Unless I'm actually riding. Here's a bit of a story about working to over come some of these things to put your best foot forward.

The Tuesday after Heritage Park, after a great show, I decided Jag was JUST reaching his peak for the season, having only started in August, and decided to head down to River Glen to run the Prelim down there, along with my working student who was running Training. That same evening, I got some devastating news of the very untimely death of a family member that  prodded me to take a week away from riding and teaching to be with those I love. Thankfully Kayla was able to keep Jag going on the lunge and with trot sets for me to keep him fit. I came back a bit the week after, though my head was very much still not in the game, I'll fully admit. It was then that I started to think about withdrawing because of everything, but as I've mentioned in past posts, it's quite hard to justify loosing the entry fee to myself, so I told myself I'd suck it up and just deal with it, so I could coach Kayla as well.

Thankfully Kayla and Stacey were there to make me laugh... :) 

As I headed down to TN, I spent the 12 hour trip working to get my mental state together. So much of my head was still back in Chicago, I knew it was going to be a really tough weekend to stay focused, and to really get the best of my horse. Part of me was nervous that he wasn't fit enough, that I hadn't prepped him enough, typical nerves exasperated by feeling very torn about whether I should be trying to enjoy myself, the guilt...

As I tacked up for my dressage test, I sat down for 15 minutes and told myself in a firm voice to relax, and just focus on my test. I went through it over and over again, I focused on exactly what I wanted from Jag, and what exercises worked best to get the best work out of him, and how I was going to spend each minute of my warm up. I got on, and followed my own plan to the absolute minute. Never once did I allow my mind to wander from anything but the exercises I was looking to accomplish. I dropped my score 4 points from the weekend before, and as the same judge judged all 3 prelim divisions I would have sat in the top 3 in any of the divisions, making me quite thrilled with how well Jag did, and how easily I could cut even more points from my score. Show jumping wasn't my best performance but my horse proved how much he's already grown at the level and skipped right around the biggest course we've seen to date.

Remembering so much of why we love our horses is for their healing power. I can't tell you how much time in the last month or two I've spent crying into his neck. 

When I walked the cross country course I'll admit I cried twice, that I felt like I shouldn't be there at all, that I was wrong, that it was too big and technical for so early in Jag's prelim career, that I hadn't done enough to prep him, all the self doubt came out all at once. So I walked it a few more times. It got better. When I tacked up the next day, my only focus was to give my horse the most confident ride I could produce. It didn't matter if we had 20 time penalties, it didn't matter about anything else but finishing my season on a high note for Jag, and feeling like he was confident in the level. And wouldn't you know it he dragged me around the course, feeling 110% confident to every single line, no fliers, no nervous chips, no misses at all. He showed me that for all of my stress and worry, and with 2 weeks of me basically leaving him to be lunged and trotted, that he knew his job. Have I mentioned how blessed I am to have this horse in my life?

This one is about the size of a queen bed ... 

The biggest thing I always stress to my students is the need for an excellent fitness base (thank you Katie for instilling that in me). ALL of my horses spend at least one day a week only trotting for 25-35 minutes, long and low, usually over hills. Jag has only gone on 2 gallop sets, and at all three of his Prelims he returned to his resting heart rate in under 3 minutes of coming off course in three very different climates. Fitness is about strenght, it's about endurance, and it's about one day a week where the horse can just mentally relax. I generally do my trots out in a field, but I ask for nothing more than for them to be either long and low, or simply just relaxed. No leg yields, no big bending, nothing complicated. But most horses hold this fitness extremely well, and once you have established a good base, it's there for the long term. It's the same thing in your training. If your horse has a strong base of support in their training, there is no need during competition season to overly pound them over jump after jump at height. Jag didn't even jump to height once before his last show.
Find any and every reason to be happy. Even though I didn't win, and dropped placing for running so slow, I was happy that I was able to put things aside and enjoy the ride on my lovely horse. 

And what I learned too is that there are times when us as riders need to take time to just sit. I needed to learn that just because I'm not spending 7 days a week 18 hours a day in the barn doesn't mean I'm not working hard. I needed to learn to work smarter, not harder. I was spending time doing needless things, wasting time at the barn because I felt the need to look busy so that clients would see me as hard working. I don't sleep much as it is, so I always felt if I wasn't working, that I was loosing ground on everything. And you know what suffered? Everything in my life. I realized with the passing of my loved one that I didn't want to get to the top at the expense of anything else. I wanted to have a life, a family, a boyfriend, friends. I wanted to have mornings that I slept in, days that I went to the museum. Weekends where I went skiing, or to a movie. I don't want to get rich (in any career) at the expense of these things. I want every time I   Yet again, I felt that at 24 I should at least be running around CCI** if I wanted to call myself a professional. Or selling a horse a week. Must spend more time working. What I really needed to do was to spend more time being a better person, marketing more efficiently, working the horses more efficiently, and being better about time management so that I could get the most out of each day, not just look busy. And I needed to enjoy my rides a bit more. I needed to learn to sit.

Oh dear... Me and Isabel (one of my clients) actually got all dressed up and went out like real people!! 

So in the 6 weeks that Jag gets off this season, as I have moved into a new farm (yay!! Check it out at and as I take on new clients, new horses, and new responsibilities, I've made myself really stick to a schedule. I've made myself take days off, be home at certain times when in the past I would simply beg for forgiveness about running late or missing appointments. I have made sure that those close to me, both at home and at the barn, truly understand how thankful I am for their support, of which I have been thankful to have so much of in the last few months. Every time we go through hardships in our lives, we should remember not to spend too much time being sad, but how we can use these experiences to make ourselves better. This Thanksgiving I went out, cuddled with my ponies, then headed back home to spend the day relaxing with family and friends (and making entirely too many truffles :)

The boyfriend and I. He's put up with quite a lot in 8 years :) 

As riders, when you give your horse much needed vacation time every year, make sure that you use it to relax a bit too, and know that you aren't what is causing your horse stress. And enjoy every moment of your life. Big or little. Enjoy your loved ones. Spend more time smiling, and less time stressing. Hug more, and truly enjoy each of your rides on your horses, and realized how blessed we are to have these animals in our lives. Sometimes we need to practice sitting. On a couch, or on a beach, or with our family.