This past weekend I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to compete at the Oakhurst Three Day Long Format Event/Clinic (Oakhurst 3DE). The aspect of the Oakhurst Three Day Long Format Event that made… More
Riding horses can be one of the most frustrating and yet rewarding sports. Riding requires hours and hours of commitment, hard work, perseverance, and sometimes even blood, sweat and tears. There are times, even when we are giving 110% of all of these things, that we seem to be getting little in return. But then there is that one moment when it all seems to come together. In this perfect, harmonious moment when your contact is perfect, your leg is in the proper spot, your seat is quiet and you have the undivided attention of your equine partner. Sometimes this moment is just that; a moment. It may only last for two or three strides before we lose it again and this can be extremely frustrating. Developing feel is a crucial learning curve of riding, regardless of discipline, but is a learning curve that can take years (literally, years!). What makes this so difficult is that is one of those things that cannot be taught, but must be learned through experience and doing. This experience can become even more difficult to achieve if you happen to be riding a green or uneducated horse. Some horses are naturally athletic and find it very easy to work into contact, be collected etc. Others that are not so athletic, or have simply not been as well schooled, can have a much harder time with this especially if they missed out on the essentials in their younger years (not their fault!!).
During this time of learning and development for both rider and horse it is okay to ask for help. Many times as riders and horse owners we let our pride overtake our ability to recognize when it’s okay to ask for help. However, quite often seeking the help of a more experienced professional can provide exceptional benefits including a great educational experience for you horse. This can make the moments of frustration less and the moments of quality work and schooling greater!!
This time of training for your horse can mean a time of good training and schooling for you as a rider too! If you are lucky enough to have access to multiple horses this is the perfect opportunity to ride them all! Seriously, all of them. There is something to learn on every horse from the school horses to the dressage pros to the eventing schoolmasters. This is such a great opportunity to help yourself develop feel and aids on horses that know their job inside out with their eyes closed while your horse is learning these skills. Then you will hopefully be able to transfer these skills back to your horse and become a force to be reckoned with!! Plus, your trainer will certainly appreciate the work that you put in even though you are not riding your horse J
All riders go through various learning curves in their career from minor to major, but persevering and putting the work and commitment in is what gets you through the learning curve and makes you a better, stronger and smarter rider!
2016 has come and gone, and we are now well under way with 2017. Like many other years 2016 absolutely flew by with a whirlwind of great opportunities and awesome experiences. And now, after a bit of a mental and physical break for both Breaking Boundaries and I, it is once again time to sit down and prepare for 2017!
The coming days will involve evaluating the 2016 season, planning 2017 competition dates, and developing a workout schedule for Breaking Boundaries. Developing a schedule for your horse is a very important component to ensure that you are ready to tackle the season. Your workout schedule needs to include all components of your competition; dressage, show jumping and conditioning for cross country. How much of each that you do will depend on your own horse’s strengths and weaknesses. This is where an evaluation of your 2016 season will come in handy. Some horses may need to spend some time tuning up their show jumping skills while others may need to have an extra flat school or two per week. All event horses, however, should spend time conditioning in order to be fit. The amount and type of conditioning that needs to be performed will depend on how easily your horse fits up and what level he is going to be competing at. For example, Breaking Boundaries will begin conditioning in the next couple of weeks starting with trot sets (since he has had a considerable amount of time off) and working up to gallop sets closer to the start of his season.
So how do you determine when you need to start conditioning? The simplest way to determine the answer is to first decide what your competition season will look like and work backwards. While the first competition is very important to determine when they need to be fit by, the whole season is important to make sure that our horse will be able maintain his fitness level throughout the season and avoid a burn out. In general conditioning can be broken down into two periods; the Preparatory Period and the Competitive Period.
The Preparatory Period is broken into two sub periods; the General Preparatory and the Specific Preparatory. The General Preparatory usually lasts 4-6 weeks and is the time that is spent building the base of the conditioning. This may involve quite a bit of walking and then introducing trot sets and low intensity flat and jump schools. This is considered a period of low intensity and high volume workouts for the horse. Since many of us are conditioning in the Canadian winter, the snow can actually be your friend to easily increase the intensity of a conditioning ride by making your horse walk through deeper snow! The Specific Preparatory begins to focus on more skill specific workouts with an increase in intensity, also lasting 4-6 weeks.
The Competitive Period is then broken down into three sub periods; The Pre-Competitive, The Main Competitive and Tapering. The Pre-Competitive period is generally a 4-6 week period prior to the first competition during which the volume of the workouts remains high and intensity continues to increase. More fine tuning skill workouts will likely be introduced, and more intense and specific conditioning workouts will begin. The Main Competitive period is a time of maintaining fitness and skills within the competition season with a maintained intensity but usually reduced volume, allowing for rest days. The Tapering periods are times within the Main Competitive period in which the horse is given anywhere from 3-10 days off or with light hacking only. These are incorporated into the Main Competitive period, usually after a big competition, to allow the horse to rest and avoid burn out.
By planning out and working backwards from you Competitive Period it is relatively simple to develop a timely and appropriate workout schedule that incorporates all aspects of necessary training!
After a well-earned vacation for the month of November, the horses have now moved to their winter home and begun working again. Unfortunately the winter home is still in Canada…but at least there is an indoor arena and a nice warm tack room!!
Bringing horses back to work after a break can be exciting, especially if you have not been riding much yourself. While it is tempting to jump right back in where you left off, it is important to contain your excitement and ease back into a routine. Bringing a horse back into work after a simple vacation is less stressful than a break after an injury for example, however similar procedures should still be followed. Regardless of the reason for time off, the horse has still lost fitness and maybe some muscling and strength. This is important to keep in mind before hopping on and flat schooling for an hour the first ride back.
One of the most important steps that should be taken (and the one which requires the most patience!) is doing a little bit of legging up. This does not mean that your horse has to be competition fit, but he does need to gradually start using his muscles and building cardiovascular fitness again. This is an essential step because during work we ask our horses to use their muscles more intensely and in a different manner than they do when frolicking in the fields. A great way to achieve a good quality legging up period is by hacking! Personally I like to hack for at least two to three weeks when a horse is coming back, depending on the length and reason for the time off. I generally spend the first week walking, sometimes up to an hour or more a day, then progressing to short trot sets over the next couple of weeks. As I said earlier, your horse does not need to be competition fit but it is important to establish a base fitness and get his working muscles back in action again. How long it takes your horse regains his fitness can depend on a few variables;
· How fit was he before the break? – a horse that was Training/Preliminary or higher level fit will likely regain fitness quite quickly
· His breed – the lighter, more naturally athletic breeds such as thoroughbreds generally need very little work to fit up compared to the heavier breeds. This is simply due to their physical makeup.
· Nutrition – a horse that receives the right balance of concentrates to forage and receive all the nutrients and necessary components in his diet will find it easier to gain and maintain fitness, than a horse on an insufficient diet.
There are of course many, many other factors as well but the most important of all may simply be time!
If you are not lucky enough to have the space to hack use the arena but stay large as much as possible (no circles!!). After these few weeks of hacking your horse should be ready to get back in the ring and ease into flat and jump schools again. During this time it is still crucial to pay attention to what your horse is telling you. If he is tired after 15 minutes of trotting be sure to give him a break. Even though you have spent the time to build a base fitness, they will be working harder in the ring than hacking with a higher intensity, different footing etc. The last thing you want to do is move too fast and have a sore horse at the beginning of your winter boot camp! Keeping this in mind, it is also a good idea (and fun!) to maintain a hack routine within your regular work regime. I like to have all the horses I work with hack AT LEAST twice a week, if not more. This is not only a great way to maintain and build their fitness throughout the winter, but it is also a good mental break for your horse to get out of the arena. If you are strapped for time, try taking your horse for a hack as his warm up or cool down and incorporate it into you regular riding time. If you have the time however, there are few things better for your horse, physically and mentally, than going for a good hour long hack a few times a week. And to make it even better try getting a group of friends together. The conversations and laughs make the time fly by!
For most of us Canadians, who are stuck up here in the north, the eventing season is complete for another year. Fortunately at Quantum this means Fall Fun Times!! This is the time of year when we take advantage of the last bit of nice weather while the horses are still fit from competition before taking some time off. As you can probably imagine this means a lot of adventurous hacks and, of course, jumping lessons! This is often a good time to have fun in the cross country field, playing over some of the bigger jumps and just having fun, before the footing gets soggy.
Now, this is not to say that all training goes out the window either. This is just a time when we try out new exercises and skill building activities to improve our performance. The fall is the perfect time of year to work on skills you want to improve or difficulties that you had throughout the season. What makes this such a perfect time for these developments is that you can try out different exercises and focus on specifics without the stress of getting things done before the next event. It is also a good idea to do this before taking some down time, because any issues or difficulties that you had will still be fresh in your mind and the horses are still fit to do some additional skill work.
As well as having some fun and making some improvements, the fall is also the time to make a plan for the winter and the coming season. Even though next season seems ages away it is important to have a plan going into the winter, especially if you are planning on an upgrade in the coming season. As much as I would like to curl up with a hot chocolate and watch International Velvet on most winter days, these cold months are crucial for making improvements and developing skills to ensure another successful season.
The winter plan is also quite important for horses at the higher levels who need to be fit from the very beginning of the season. Establishing a conditioning program in the winter can be difficult because of the weather, but is so important to make sure that your horse is keen and fit at his first event, but not so fit that he peaks and declines before the end of the season. This requires some very careful planning and balancing, so it is often wise to seek the advice of an experienced professional.
Going into this winter Breaking Boundaries and I will be working a lot on our dressage. As for some eventers, dressage is our weakest phase but has been gradually improving and will be greatly improved this winter!! How will we do this? Well, for Breaking Boundaries this will mean some training boot camp, and for myself it will mean lots of lessons… Lots! It is sure to take a lot of work and grit to get through the Great Canadian Winter that the weatherman has promised, but with the right amount of perseverance and determination we are sure to get through it and rock all of our dressage tests next season!
This weekend marked the last event of the season for Breaking Boundaries and I at Ottawa Fall Horse Trials. It was a fantastic event to end the year on; he was a star in dressage, navigated a tough stadium course and was absolutely phenomenal on cross country!! In the spring we upgraded to Preliminary (Yay!!) and had a ton of fun mixed with a ton of learning! It has been loaded with ups and downs, bringing it to a bittersweet ending. The bitter comes with knowing that we now have to wait a whole six months until we get to do it again! I guess there’s just something about the thrill and adrenaline of competing that makes me sad it’s over. The sweet, however, comes with knowing that I can catch up on some sleep (maybe…) and give my poor bank account a rest for a while!
So what exactly have I learned this year? Almost too many things to mention, but I would like to share a few of the most important ones with you.
1) It is not always perfect…
Not every training ride and every competition goes as perfectly as we planned or as we would like it to. As a perfectionist this took me a very long time to get a grasp on, and I’m still working on it! Sometimes our horses are just not in the same mindset as us that day, sometimes it’s circumstantial such as a windy day, a spooky stadium ring or the every foreboding judges booth! But sometimes it just isn’t your day.
2) …And that’s ok!
Everyone makes mistakes! If our rides were always perfect what would we learn? Some of the best lessons that I have learned this season, and over the last couple of years, have come from making mistakes. Anyone who is great at anything didn’t start out being great. It takes an unbelievable amount of continuous work, effort and time no matter what level you are at. As long as you walk away having learnt something from your mistakes you will be on the right path to fixing them!
3) Learn how to handle stress.
This one was HUGE for me this season. Along with being a perfectionist, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and succeed. This often causes me to have a lot of, sometimes unnecessary, stress. This season, with my upgrade to prelim, I really had to figure out a strategy to handle the stress and focus my energy on riding well. I learned some new techniques, such as visualization and mental awareness, and I became much more focused on controlling the things that I can control and excelling in the areas of my riding that are already strong. I am getting a much better handle on this now, and it has truly made a positive difference in my riding!
4) A good support team is essential!
Your support team includes everyone from your coaches, grooms, team members, family and anyone who helps you to excel in competition and training. All of these people play a vital role in your success personally and professionally. They all want to see you succeed as much as you want it yourself. None of them are there because they have to be, they are there because they want to be! They are the people who believe in you even when you don’t, and they help to get you back on track!! I truly could not do it without them!
5) We do this because we love it!
This is a very easy thing to forget during the pressure of competition and on the down days. But at the end of the day, we continue in this sport because we are passionate and we love it! Why else would we get out of bed before the sun seven days a week to be personal slaves to our horses?! I won’t deny that sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this, but then I think about where I would be if I wasn’t doing this and every time I come to the same conclusion; I could be anywhere else doing anything else but I would not be nearly as satisfied, challenged or immersed in any other place. Any other career would just be a job, but here my career is my passion and my life!
So through all of this I am ready to tackle the winter and be ready for Bromont 2017!!
Stay tuned for some awesome, hopefully fun, inspiring blogs!
Not only will I write about our new journey to the the stars (the CCI’s!!!) but I will also be sharing tid-bits, lessons learned, barn hacks and tricks and much more!
My mission is to make it a fun and interesting journey for both you and I!
Thought I’d better start with a bit of a get-to-know-me. So here goes!
My name is Taylor Symon and I am an eventer from a small town outside of London, Ontario Canada. I, like most other girls, got the horse bug at a young age and had parents who were nice enough to let me take lessons. Unfortunately for them, it was not just a phase for me!
Three and a half years ago I purchased my current horse; a big hearted, VERY green Clydesdale x Thoroughbred and named him Breaking Boundaries (or Quincy as he is known at home), with the hopes of teaching him to event (he was just figuring out crossrails!) Turned out he is fantastic and was quickly going Entry with decent results. Then came the biggest turn in my life so far; I up and moved to the great city of Ottawa Canada to attend the University of Guelph Kemptville Campus, and received my diploma of Equine Care and Management. I am still here and I now, with pride, call Ottawa my home.
Upon graduating university, I found a new stable, a new coach and totally new experiences, some of which I will discuss in later posts! As an added bonus to all of this I have a career which allows me to truly live the dream – hanging out with horses all day, riding, coaching and always learning something new! So no, amongst all these amazing things, Breaking Boundaries and I are currently successfully competing at Preliminary level, have learnt more than I ever imagined along the way and have soooo much more to learn! Some of the big and small lessons that I have learned are part of what inspired me to start this blog, as I hope to share them with you!
My current goal that we are working towards is competing at the Bromont CCI* Three Day Event in June of 2017. This will be a new experience for both Breaking Boundaries and I, and I am so unbelievably excited for the journey!!!!!! (Yes, multiple exclamations excited!!!!) While for some riders a one star is seen as the bottom of the top, I prefer to view it as the start of a dream that I have been able to transform into a realistic and attainable goal. If you had asked me four years ago what I would like to accomplish in my riding, I would have told you that I dreamed of going training level. When I completed the Minimum Eligibility Requirements for a CCI* and became qualified to compete at Bromont 2017, it was a completely surreal feeling. I’m still wrapping my head around the reality of it! Now it is a matter of improving and fine tuning over the winter to be able to bring our A game to Bromont. After Bromont and a season of one stars, my goal with Breaking Boundaries is to compete at the intermediate (CCI**) level.
So, all this to say that in achieving and surpassing my goals and reaching a point in my riding career that I never thought I would, I have discovered new drive, motivation, passion and inspiration within myself and Breaking Boundaries. This has been my biggest inspiration to start this blog. I would like to invite you to follow me on this journey, and beyond, and I hope that it will bring inspiration and passion to other young riders who think that their dreams will only ever be dreams. I can personally attest to the fact that with the right work ethic, support and passion the seemingly impossible can become more than possible!