Setbacks in Riding
Colic. Lameness. Arthritis. Abscesses. Soreness. Stiffness. Ulcers. Etc.
Unless you have the most incredible luck, if you've been in this sport long enough, you have had at least one personal experience revolving around the topics above. From riding, to keeping and caring for horses, there is always the threat of injury and accident, small, large, and everything in between. At any time, and any place, your path in riding can change abruptly. Like much in life, being an equestrian does not follow a straight path from point A to B. And unfortunately, when plans do change, you can’t stay sharp in your sport by stepping outside and kicking a ball or shooting hoops. Our sport relies on our horses, and when your partner needs time off or is injured, in most cases, it’s difficult to consistently stay in the saddle due to logistics, finances, and limited opportunities.
Unfortunately over the past 2 years, I have spent a lot of time upset, frustrated, and honestly angry over injuries and situations in the horse world that I can’t control. From Floyd having to retire due to a suspensory injury, to Lux’s step away from the competitive life, and most recently, Flay’s colic and my own injuries, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to not only keep improving as a horsewoman and equestrian outside of the barn, but to learn ways to keep expanding my knowledge when riding my horse isn’t available. Nothing will ever beat riding your horse, but through my different experiences, I have learned some of the best ways to continue growing as a rider when setbacks occur.
My first strategy, one that I use almost every day, injury or not, is studying. No, I don’t necessarily mean pulling out the flashcards kind of studying, I mean analyzing and absorbing content that’s easily accessible to you. Whether it's watching the nine-hour YouTube video of the 2013 Maclay finals (highly recommended), reading up on some facts about the basics of the equitation, or understanding the process of leg yielding, you can find so much information from highly regarded professionals, judges, vets, and trainers. It seems obvious to be saying this, but I feel as though people don’t turn to these resources enough. We have our trainers, who teach us lessons that could never be understood through books and videos. But, there is also so much in this confusing sport that can be clarified through a different point of view, or even just a visual representation. My trainers have even sent me video tutorials by professionals (a specific one being an Anne Kurinski clinic on the auto-release) after teaching me something I have yet to fully understand. Whether it be because you are missing out on lessons due to injury, curious about a command that was asked on a recent test, or wondering more about the specifications for USET Finals, a search on Google or a quick library trip can unlock unlimited material. When going to the barn and riding isn’t an option, learning and continuing to expand your capabilities and understanding can only benefit you when it's time to get back in the saddle
Similar to my thoughts above, I find keeping a “Riding Notebook” can help you organize your thoughts and help motivate and encourage you when things aren’t ideal. I started a notebook when I first moved to my new barn this summer, and originally started by describing how I felt when I was able to get rides. I wasn’t paired up with Noodle at this time and was getting rides solely because of the kindness of people helping me back into riding after nearly a month and a half off. I wrote down what felt weak, when I felt strong, how I could change when I got my next ride, and what I wanted to work on. I started my notebook with no serious meaning behind it, but really just as an outlet to get my thoughts, learnings, and questions out of my head and onto the paper. My notebook continued to grow into a place where I stored ideas about flat work, lateral work, horse care, horse terminology, reflections on lessons, thoughts on shows, and even just random tidbits that I think of. I know in theory this seems like a silly “horse diary”, but in reality, this notebook is what helped me continue to feel excited when my journey with riding felt hopeless. Maybe you write in it once a week, maybe twice a day. Just having a place to keep harvesting your love and curiosity for horses is beneficial during times when there isn’t a clear plan ahead.
My next course of action when having to take time away from riding is focusing on getting myself in the best shape I can so I can hit the ground running when the time comes to hop back in the saddle. I find focusing on one aspect of my riding, like a loose lower leg, is the best way to start out exercising. Pinpointing one area of weakness helps make the process of exercising less overwhelming, and more rewarding! I try to start out by finding workout videos that talk me through the movements to understand what will help me grow and tone my muscles. Eventually, it’s fun to create your own workout at home or in the gym, but using programs like Peloton, or a horse-related company like Train Like Athletes can help you start out and educate you on how to correctly move your body. Now, even with consistent rides, I try to find times to work out and continue to train as hard as our horses work for us. While our sport is different than others, working out, whether it be going on a 30-minute run or strength training, is extremely important whether you are strengthening for finals season, or trying to keep improving during time off.
Lastly, trying to find opportunities and connections can help you stay involved around your barn. Spending time at your barn, helping around a show, and staying in contact with your trainer even when not riding can help you maintain your barn relationships and keep you feeling like you are still part of the team. Clean extra tack, sweep the aisle, offer a hand turning out horses; anything that gets you in the barn is time well spent, and as a side bonus you’re helping all of the people who work so hard to provide us the incredible experiences we have with our animals. Recently, on weekends and days off from school, I’ve been able to spend 8+ hours at the barn. During those days, I really only ride Noodle, and maybe an extra horse that might need to stretch their legs. I spend the rest of day helping set jumps, organizing, tacking up horses, building jumps, and just observing and learning all that goes on behind the scenes to keep a barn operating smoothly. It’s amazing the knowledge I have absorbed just by listening and watching the incredible trainers, grooms, managers and fellow horsewomen at my barn. I also have formed relationships, and have shown that I am willing to put in the hard work and spend the extra hours even when I don’t have my own horse to ride. I am forever grateful for the people at my barn who allow me the chance to live out my horsegirl dreams. I can’t stress enough that so much growth in this sport can happen out of the saddle.
While being able to ride your own horse is an unmatched feeling, in this sport, we need to find ways to stay active as riders when life throws us on different paths. I hope that by using some of these strategies, you can continue to excel even when situations aren’t ideal. This goes for riding, and for life. Nothing is guaranteed to be easy, and it is up to you to find ways to be your own biggest supporter and continue to keep improving. While I would never wish a setback on anyone, including myself, setbacks can help us grow in other ways, and help us deepen our appreciation and love for the horse, and the sport.