Preparing for Indoors
Indoors have officially begun, and that means rigorous training for both horse and rider. All of the big equitation finals test the rider’s and horse’s abilities over tough tracks. It’s no surprise to anyone that the jumps themselves can be quite extravagant in addition to the course itself. Both of these elements of an equitation finals course can be very intimidating. However, preparing yourself and your horse for any surprises is not as hard as you may think.
I train out of Duncan Run Farm in Central Ohio where I board my horse Coveted (aka Kasper). He is 7 years old and has never stepped foot in a finals environment, and neither have I. In three short weeks, we are going to be making that leap into our finals career together at the CP National Horse Show in Kentucky. My horse is greener than some others, so being brave to the jumps is quite hit or miss. But, ever since we returned from our show in September, we’ve been pulling out all the stops to help make him more confident. And it’s been quite a success. Here’s how we did it:
Decorate the Jumps. My trainer brought out her creative side and really tried her hardest to create some of the weirdest jumps my horse should ever see. Some of these included very brightly colored, weirdly designed tarps, wrapped around some of the poles. They either dangled down the front, or were meticulously placed over the jumps, covering the poles. Some tarps were even draped across oxers (covering both front and back rails), or just completely covering the jumps so that you could only see the standards. My dad even bought some AstroTurf from the hardware store and wrapped some poles to make them “fuzzy,” or spiraled Halloween themed garland around the poles. What really tested my horse was Halloween themed fabric that was draped over the front rail of an oxer (on a pretty windy night, too!).
Decorate Everywhere and Anywhere. I didn’t expect to show up to my lesson one day and find corn stalks and mums in every corner of our indoor last week. But, turns out, my horse finds those things pretty suspicious, so I’m glad we pulled those out. We also put mums and pumpkins in front of standards, and my trainer hung various Halloween signs and decor on them, too. Just any sort of decoration that might be seen at some of our up and coming shows.
Be Confident. For any green horse who is scared of something, they need to lean on their rider for assistance on anything they are unsure about. But this includes ANY horse. In my particular case, I needed to be confident in my decisions to the fences, so that I could give him the best possible ride when he is a bit hesitant to them. It’s taken months for me to find that confidence to give him, and I’m still slowly working towards getting better. My biggest problem is working myself up about whether or not he will spook or refuse something. But thinking about something else, and just about getting it done really helps me with this.
Equitation, Equitation, Equitation. Courses and technical tasks are included in my lessons to improve my basics and eye to all the jumps as well. And most importantly, I’ve been working hard to improve my equitation. An equitation trainer I train with - on occasion - has always told me: “Form defines function.” Basically, your position affects you and your horse’s ability to navigate a course. Improving your position can improve the quality of your rides. No stirrups are high on my list (although I need to do more of it), as well as exercises for my core strength, like crunches or planks. The better I am with my body and position, the more effective I can be when I need to assist my horse with something as stressful as a major final.
Even if you aren’t going to a big final, pulling out some fun and interesting jumps can help any horse be brave in any setting, and to any fence. Plus, it’s just really fun to jump things that aren’t normally seen everyday.