For the equestrian, this time of year is usually when we prepare to do the equivalent of spring cleaning. Some of it is related to the barn...like that pile of blankets with an aroma that will make your eyes water. Some of it is waiting until the boot sucking mud firms up so we can pretend not to notice our non-winter riding boots are a bit snug in the calf. Then there are the critters that once looked cute and fluffy but now look like wild mangy freaks showing a little summer coat and a bit more winter coat than you care to deal with or—bring home on your clothes and in your mouth. My horse, Trooper, looks especially mangy due to the horrible ragged trace clip (long story) that was extremely functional but not appropriate for public viewing.
However, we all know that the current times are anything but “usual” and our spring schedule will be far from normal. Those of us unable to see and/or ride our equines, whether by choice or not, are suddenly finding ourselves without the escape, exercise, goals and four-legged therapy we are used to.
So what is a directionless Ammy to do with all of this extra quality time at home?
For me, I have had some hopes and dreams of a triumphant return to the show ring as a “competent” Training Level team. Note there are total air quotes around “competent.” That goal does not go away, it just means it will be set further down the road.
We, of course, need to find something to help us maintain balance when the world seems unsteady. But we can do this—c’mon, we are equestrians! Our lives revolve around an expensive, insane (admit it) sport dependent on fragile creatures who are masters at throwing curve balls into our plans. This is just the metaphorical “abscess” of the competition season. Time to swear, soak, wrap and plan the next thing.
1. Admittedly the first thing I did as a coping strategy (after I found toilet paper) was to peruse websites of some of my favorite equestrian stores. And I may or may not have made a couple of frivolous, self-isolation purchases. I hope my hubby isn’t reading this. One of these hypothetical purchases is a pair of tall boots that would be used just for shows. They are beautiful, shiny, made of cement and I will soon be embarking on a new hobby of breaking them in...new jogging attire perhaps? Bicycle boots? Well at least I would be riding something!
2. If you are looking for a less financially draining way to spend time working toward your goals, leverage articles and videos like what Dressage Today offers to fill some time productively. As much as we prefer a ground person to help us figure out our problems...I think most of us know what we could work on. Why not find something written or videoed by a trainer you respect. Create a bookmarks folder to collect these minutes of gold on your phone for future use. Even though I tend to forget to look at my phone, and Trooper never seems to look like the pretty horse performing the exercise, I can at least pretend to try to emulate behaviors of successful folks.
3. When I played basketball in high school, my coach was a big proponent of visualization exercises before each game. There are a decent amount of articles and studies that say visualization can help improve your skills. So take that exercise you just bookmarked watch or read it then go into a quiet room (or play music) and meditate on you and your horse executing this exercise perfectly. It could be helpful once you are allowed back to riding again. The advantage here is that you don’t have the complexities of your body, his body, footing, monsters in the corner, annoying people in the ring … etc. You are blissfully focused on perfection. Maybe you can do this the same time of day you typically ride.
4. While we are hanging out at home at our computers eating as much comfort food as we can procure, fitness may be a concern. I wasn’t just riding Trooper for his fitness—it would be nice if I could trot three times around the ring and not be out of breath. This is the time to dust off that treadmill or take your dog/cat/husband/kid out for regular walks. Maybe even some online yoga. I have seen plenty of riding-focused fitness videos online as well. It will never replace riding but we can do our best.
5. My next idea may be in the “Woo Woo” category for some folks, but have you ever considered working with an animal communicator? This can be done remotely. Have you ever wondered about that quirky thing your horse does? Maybe there is a reason you hadn’t considered. Do this with a bunch of friends and their horses. It is super fun to share the story of your reading and what it uncovered about your horse. Heck, we personify our horses anyway. Why not explore another avenue to try to find out more? I have done this with dogs and horses, and while many people have reasons to be skeptical of these types of things, I actually found it fun, and to be honest, helpful! I learned about body issues, strong opinions, and had some burning questions answered about preferences and history. I never said anything about the animal prior and any body pain concerns were confirmed by scientific methods either before or after so take that as you will. Check with your horse network, as a recommendation is probably the best way to go.
6. Of course the social outlet of our equine buddies is critical to our sanity during this time. Do you remember the times you used to talk all night long about dressage theory with one of your equine buddies? When was the last time you had time to do that? Get that webcam going, call up some old equine friends and catch up! Or get your barn group on a call and have a happy hour. Maybe you can show off the bruises from that painful frivolous self-isolation purchase you made for their amusement.
7. Got Fat Mare TV? It is foaling season, folks! Do you know someone who has a camera in their barn watching for a new fuzzy nugget? Breeders, I bet you can employ an army of 24/7 baby watchers on camera while you blissfully rest in your house. That said, even if you are not an official watcher, hopefully you know some folks who are willing to share that camera feed with you. There is nothing more fun than to keep checking to see if a little mini-me has appeared in the stall with mama. I find it amusing how long I have caught myself in a zenlike trance watching a mare roam around a stall. The best was when a spider crawled across the camera. AAAH! Luckily the mare was not eaten by the giant spider.
8. For the folks who were considering showing for the first time or moving up to a new test, why wait to learn your test? Back when I was able to do more showing, I would run through the test on foot in a little rectangular area. It is actually amazing how different it is if you trot it out on foot, rather than just memorizing it on paper. Maybe even practice “spook at C” and plan your recovery into the next movement.
9. For the competitive folks who just can’t live without that little kick of adrenaline and feedback from judges, how about some kind of virtual competition with your friends? What do you want to compete in? Juggling? Doggie dressage videos? Judges comments should be both humorous, yet Simon Cowell-level cutting. I bet someone has some horse tack that could use some cleaning by the loser. And maybe a Quarantine Games trophy for the winner? Obviously a video of the victory gallop around the backyard is required.
10. You know you want me to say it… Let's do some Bedazzling! Yes! C’mon, you know you want to! Fun for introverts and extroverts alike! Hard hats, coats, boots, saddle pads, horse trailers are just screaming for some ornamentation! Let’s show off our excess pent up energy by blinding the judges with enough sparkly crystals they will think they have entered the dressage disco zone. Why should our horses be the only ones with the sparkly browband? Watch out judges: We have been sequestered with our family humans for a long time! I’m kidding... kind of.
Regardless of how you spend your time, remember to keep looking forward to the future as this too will pass. Take care of family and friends! Keep your humans away from other humans, go outside as the weather gets milder and help those who need help. I am not a hugger per se but I offer y’all an awkward one-armed hug. Remember that we are all in this together.