Has the recent weather kept you from riding as often as you’d like? Maybe you just can’t get to the barn due to puddles, mud and more puddles? Instead of letting the lack of saddle time get you down here are some ways to maximize growth and learning when not in the saddle.
Riding, for many of us, is our main form of exercise. Less riding can mean loss of stamina and overall fitness — but it doesn’t have to! No gym is required, just motivation to strap on a pair of running shoes and hit the sidewalks or the beach. (Running in sand is a great way to build up endurance). For those who can, joining a gym can be a great motivator for exercising. Many gyms offer fun classes like yoga, spin, cross-fit, Zumba and kickboxing. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised and you have health issues or concerns, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first.
Your friend’s can help motivate you!
Downtime from the saddle can be a time to regain and improve flexibility. A physical therapist, yoga instructor, or physical fitness trainer can help you build a regimen of stretching, strength training, massage, or other alternative therapies you may need to get back into tip-top shape. Stretching has the added positive effects of increasing body awareness which translates to increased awareness in the saddle. As rider’s we’ve probably have had falls and riding related injuries. Many of us are stoic and will work through minor aches and pains when we shouldn’t. We all know someone who pushes themselves more than they should. Staying flexible can help us heal faster and more completely. Remember if you don’t use your flexibility you’ll lose your flexibility!
Learning from varied sources
Lack of saddle time does not necessarily equal lack of time learning. You can commit yourself to going down and watching local rated and unrated horse shows in person or online. So many competitions are available to watch either on premium channels for a fee or for free on YouTube, regardless if they are happening today or in the past (and of course you can visualize your show rides of the future). There may also be clinics happening in your area that you can go audit. Mary’s Tack and Feed hosts events and seminars The local library, tack store or book store are great sources of knowledge with plenty of riding and horse care books and DVD’s that can be checked out or purchased. If your schedule allows it and your trainer approves, auditing barn mates and friend’s lessons is a great auditory and visual learning tool.
Limited saddle time doesn’t mean you need to backslide on your progress. By finding the right balance between fitness, flexibility and continued learning
“If riding were all blue ribbons and bright lights, I would have quit long ago” – George Morris
Whether you idolize him or just have a passing interest, George Morris is a driving force in the Hunter/Jumper community. And today the esteemed Horseman, Trainer, Author and Judge turns 79 years old! In the past I have been very fortunate to clinic with George Morris, not once, but three times. I was also able to audit his clinics long before I rode in them, and the years in between riding with him. With that experience under my belt, I share with you three big takeaways:
- You can never be too prepared – Whether it’s reading his book before the clinic (Hunter Seat Equitation) so you can accurately and quickly answer his questions. Or being armed with the proper equipment and knowing what it is and why you use it (i.e.: knowing which bit you use and why, if you are short having stirrup leathers that taller people can use etc.)
- Be an Active Listener : If you are auditing or participating in one of Mr. Morris’ clinics remember why you are there. This isn’t a social hour for you, your friends, or someone you remember from a show 2 months ago. You are there to learn. So being awake and aware of what’s going on around you is important. If you think you misheard something, ask George. Trust me, on my “been there done that horse”, he asked me to jump the course first. I have a hard time remembering courses and wasn’t sure how to approach the jumps. I trotted up to him, asked a clarifying question and he happily gave me the answer and shooed me to jump. It helped relieve my anxiety.
- Know Your Horse – The first two times I rode with George I took my older “been there/done that horse”. He was well schooled but he had a naughty streak and an aversion to Liverpools. In the clinic environment, he did really well and I was able to work on the exercises presented, improve some, and appropriately tackled that longtime nemesis, the Liverpool. After two days my gelding no longer cared about the blue plastic tarp. The last time I rode in the clinic, I rode my young green horse. He was a mild mannered trying kind of horse; the flatwork in the advanced group was not a problem but the obstacles and exercises over fences were a bit much for him. At the end of the day he wasn’t over faced by the height but it may have been overstimulating for him and we wouldn’t reap the rewards of the experience until months later. In retrospect, the horse needed another year under saddle before going to a clinic of that caliber and that was a valuable lesson.
At the end of the day, if you’ve never participated in a clinic with him before, definitely audit a day or two first. Pay attention to the exercises and practice them at home. Discuss with your trainer and listen to your horse about whether it’s the right opportunity for you to take at this time.