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Let’s Hack

As we are about to dive head first into the summer show season, right now is a crucial time to break bad habits, gain muscle, and create a strong foundation that will propel you to success in the show ring. While lessoning, jumping and working with your trainer teaches you many necessary skills that are essential for show preparation, it’s also important to take your hacks and flatting days seriously. Whether it be a new partnership or an old one, you can constantly learn more about your horse if you are present and focused during the frequent time we spend riding our horses. I’m not going to lie, there are plenty of days that I set aside for light hacks, bareback rides, and just plain old fun, but I also spend a lot of time in the saddle focusing on my weaknesses, and trying to best prepare myself for moments in the ring. Today I want to share what I do, specifically for my horse and generally as a rider to make sure my rides are productive and focused, especially weeks/days before showing.

Please don't roll your eyes, because I know, this may seem implied, but organizing my weeks and rides has made a huge difference for me and what I’m able to accomplish each ride. As a person, and as a rider, I can get easily distracted and side tracked. Some barn days I can take 15 minutes to get ready, others I can spend close to an hour pacing through the aisles, chatting with friends, and messing around. But, when it comes to my rides, I try to set myself up for success and focus before my feet even step in the stirrups. What I try to accomplish on a Monday, my off day, or at some point before the apex of the week is map out what my week will look like : What days I'm lessoning, what days I have more or less time at the barn, if I can ride extras, and what days need to be more intense, or more relaxed. For me, I’m constantly planning and structuring my rides around what Flay is doing the day before, or after. This means making sure my horse feels prepared the day before a jump school, and that the day/following days we can take time to rest and settle on what we learned. For me recently, I've been focused on how my horse moves laterally. Knowing that's something that we typically do in my lessons, rather than drill it constantly and possibly confuse Flay, I try to incrementally work on some component of it, hoping that when the time comes, we can apply what we are working on in our lesson. Along with this, I try to make sure that the day after a lesson, or even a hard flat, my ride caters to how hard Flay works. If we really focused on him and gave him an intense workout, I'll be sure to prioritize stretching and looseness rather than drill down on a more taxing subject. 

Although I'm a preaching organization, I am not perfect. Some weeks and rides I feel like I missed the point and didn’t establish focus, which is totally ok! Whether I am able to structure a week, or just jot down some things I’d like to work on while tacking up, what I’m trying to get across is how beneficial it can be to establish a goal and focus before you even begin riding. Trust me, while I adore my horse more than anything, I’ll be the first to admit he has strong stubborn opinions, quite like me. Even if I feel like something isn’t going right, if I establish some loose goals (for example, some of my recent ones have been work on Flay’s right bend, and moving forward into contact), I can feel complete and satisfied with myself and my horse. This may seem silly, but this small feeling of reward and accomplishment is not only good for your wellbeing, but also your horses.

A more specific point I’d like to bring up, that correlates with what I’ve said above, is finding productivity in less conventional ways. Like us, horses can get bored. Walk, trot, canter. Same familiar ring. If you feel like your days become repetitive, there’s a good chance your horse might feel similarly. What I’ve learned recently for myself and my horse is that every ride can look different. There is no magic formula or equation that says we must do each gait for x amount of time, or that every ride must start and end the same way. I fully believe that Flay gets bored of typical rides. At my farm, we are so lucky to have beautiful, hilly fields and trails across the property, which Flay absolutely loves. With the warmer weather, at least once a week I try and have a “field day”, and also go on daily adventures pre and post ride. On the other hand, when I’ve noticed something lacking in my riding, like a lack of stability in my leg, I’ll be sure to set aside time to use exercises like no stirrups to my advantage. I’ve also recently picked up some wrist weights, which are an innovative way for me to work on my hands. 

Another way I like to spend my rides is learning about Flay. Understanding your horse is extremely important, and using that to make a tricky ride become an educational ride is what differentiates a good rider from a great rider. For me, that means knowing what Flay is capable of, and trying to ask him as correctly and strongly as possible without pushing him too hard, or confusing him. I’ve recently been utilizing the hilly terrain around our property to engage muscle without an excessive amount of work as I find it’s enjoyable for Flay while also continuing to condition his body for the shows ahead. That’s one way I find a balance that works for me and my horse, but I also do things like mock flat classes, and mock tests with friends as a way to directly benefit and prepare us for our performance in the show ring. 

As we approach an exciting summer, I hope these tips can help you reach your goals, and utilize all the time you have in the saddle. Summer is for fun and relaxation, but it’s also the runway,  at least for me, for a busy fall ahead. By putting in the work now you will not only better your foundation as a rider, but also set yourself up for success and ease when the time comes to show off! 


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