If the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has you feeling a little stir crazy (not to mention anxious and depressed) and you want to compete and become a better rider, rest assured, you’re not alone. This past week, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) fell into step with the rest of the country, suspending all USEF-licensed events and activities until May 3rd. For horsemen and women everywhere, the verdict did nothing to lift the mood.
That said, we’re all in this together, and most of us can still agree that no time is wasted when it’s spent in the company of horses. Although our time away from competition may be unplanned, we can still look at the silver lining: a chance to buckle down, do our riding and training homework, brush up on our horsemanship, and improve our programs where we can.
From on-the-ground exercises to mental training you can do at home, we’re tapping our network of experts (think: Brian Moggre, Lucy Deslauriers, and more) to find out five ways you can become a better equestrian, even when you’re not competing. That way, when Coronavirus is just a distant memory, you’ll be ready to return to the show ring swinging!
1. Let Your Horse Be a Horse
Sure, you may have planned to compete this month. But now that your horse has to take some unexpected time off, why not make the most of it? As a longtime student of John and Beezie Madden, Maddy Goetzmann knows the value in letting your horse take a breather — whether that means pulling his shoes and turning him out in the field, or just trail riding or easing up on his workload. “The most important thing I’ve learned from [John and Beezie] is to let the horses be horses, and to remember that they’re animals,” Maddy says. “Sometimes, the horses just need a break in their schedule, and it’s important to pay attention to everything [they are] telling you.”
2. Embrace Your Inner “Horse Junkie”
“I’m a little bit of a horse junkie, so I definitely like to keep tabs on what’s going on around the world,” says CP Palm Beach Masters Final CSI5* runner-up Brian Moggre, who enjoys following along with major show jumping events around the globe, especially the Global Champions League. Though events may be on hold for the time being, books, social media, and YouTube rounds and tutorials are still a great source of education for aspiring riders to do their homework and become a better rider. “I’m a die-hard horse lover, so [even when I have downtime], it’s all about the horses for me,” says Brian.
3. Make Your Mount a Better Shipper
Whether your horse is young and green, or an experienced shipper who could use a refresher course, there’s no time like the present to improve your horse’s trailering mindset, especially when the pressure is off. “Practice, practice, practice,” advises Brook Ledge Horse Transportation’s Andrea Gotwals-Boone. “When getting young horses prepared for a happy trailering experience, make sure you take your time and end on a good note, just like [you would at the end of a] riding lesson. Use treats, as most animals (and people) are highly motivated by the rewards of food. Once you have your horse in the trailer, have a treat in there. Perhaps you can [even] work up to doing an evening feeding in the trailer so that once your horse is in, he stays in, and finds comfort inside.”
4. Work On Your Mental Game
Many of the sport’s best athletes will be the first ones to tell you: riding is a mental game. If you’ve considered booking a session but have never worked with a mental coach before, now may be the time — especially since many can conduct their interviews remotely via Skype or phone. “I think I’ve learned to kind of take [nervous] energy and put it toward a positive outcome. If I can’t, I’ve learned to just turn it off. At the end of the day, it’s a mental strength to be able to have that control over yourself,” says Beyaert Farm rider/trainer Mattias Tromp. “I think breathing exercises and things like that are there to help you master that — it’s an emotional muscle, and it takes time to strengthen it. You’re not going to have it right away, you have to keep building [it].”
5. Tune-Up Your Turn Out
Spending some extra time at home grooming and bathing your horse isn’t just good horsemanship, it’s a great way to build your bond together one-on-one. That’s been a cornerstone of PonyApp U25 Ambassador Lucy Deslauriers’ program with her top horse, Hester, especially when it comes to their brushing routine. “I think one of the things we really try to [do] is curry — I think that really goes a long way,” Lucy says. “It’s not fancy, and it’s not a [special] product, but elbow grease does a lot.”