It is hard to believe that just in mid-February, my clients and I were planning our busy competition schedule. The first schooling show of the year had taken place a few weeks prior and most of the rider’s in the barn had just entered their first recognized show of the year, which would take place middle of March near our barn outside of Austin, Texas. Excitement was high after several productive but quiet months of training over the winter.
Then, the whole world changed in an instant. It is now April and a few weeks ago, we had to close our barn to boarders and haul-ins, and cease teaching lessons and my husband’s busy travel schedule to teach clinics has been put on indefinite hold. This is a difficult time for us all and I know everybody is affected emotionally, financially and physically by what is happening right now with the pandemic. We are experiencing challenges to the likes we haven’t seen in generations. We are in unchartered waters and feelings of uncertainty, fear, grief and anger can seem to overwhelm us. We feel like we are riding a rollercoaster…going up, coming down, spinning around and leaving us to feel disoriented and uneasy.
Thankfully, my husband and I live on the farm property, as does our assistant trainer and working student so while lessons have stopped, training continues and we are so grateful to still be able to provide this service for our clients. To tell our boarders that we were closing to anybody besides the core staff was challenging and while our boarders have all been very understanding, other farms have not been so lucky.
While income has drastically decreased for all barn owners and trainers, expenses for the horses have not changed at all. I know many of my fellow barn owners are really stressed about how they will continue under the current conditions. The uncertainty of not knowing how long we will be on decreased or no income is a worry many of us share right now, in many industries across the world.
I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to share some ideas of how to stay inspired and focused even when you can’t see or ride your horse. There are still many ways to stay involved and keeping sharp while you are out of this saddle.
Focus on Theory. Many riders are often so busy with work, family and other obligations that all they can manage is their riding lesson and maybe a few rides during the week. Use this time to focus on theory. It is imperative that a rider’s education not only be focused on work in the saddle, but also in education of the rider’s mind. There are many amazing books out there on theory and dressage publications, such as Dressage Today offer articles online that are filled with great information. Create a binder where you can save and print your favorite articles, illustrations and exercises.
Audit a Clinic in your Living Room. If you are more of a visual learner, consider joining a subscription service like Dressage Today OnDemand, full of hundreds of different educational videos sorted by trainer, level and other criteria that make it easy to find something that works for you. Keep a notebook and notes just as you would if you were auditing a clinic!
Visualize. Top athletes know the power of visualization exercises. Mental imagery is incredibly powerful and studies have shown that these exercises can actually enhance performance. Close your eyes and visualize your ride as clearly as you can, using all of your senses. If you really want to have fun, dress up in your show clothes! (People have done stranger things in quarantine!)
Get out in Nature. Ok, this one isn’t really horse related (unless you can go see your horse, but I bet for many of you, that is not possible right now). Sit under a tree, look at the clouds, be barefoot in the dirt. Being in nature can be incredibly healing. Aim to get outside as much as possible.
Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can help decrease stress which increases the strength of your immune system. Right now, there is a lot of fear and if you allow it to overwhelm you, it will. Try sitting quietly for just 10-15 minutes per day (even better if you can be in nature while meditating!) and just be present with your experience. The stress reduction effects of mindfulness have been well documented. Now is a great time to begin a practice.
Journal. Many of us are experiencing a wide range of emotions right now. By journaling, we are allowing those feelings and emotions to move through us rather than bottling up inside.
Get Moving. Movement is medicine. Boost your health by making sure that you are staying active each and every day, especially if you can’t ride right now! Adopt a yoga practice to increase your flexibility so that when you get back in the saddle, you can master that sitting trot!
I know you are going through a lot right now. Just know that you are not alone and even though there is a lot of fear, stress and overwhelm right now, there is also a beauty, compassion and kindness. Deepak Chopra recently said, “You know what is more contagious than the virus? Emotion.” Let love and kindness be your guide.
I wish you all the best and I send you my love,
Jenna Arnold is a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist and bronze, silver and gold Freestyle Bar recipient. She is a writer and founder of Mindful Riding, a website and program dedicated to helping riders develop a more meaningful relationship with their horse and with themselves by balancing mind, body and spirit. She is the mother of two young daughters and runs Concordia Dressage with her husband, Martin Arnold, near Austin, Texas.