Hello everyone!  It’s now a gorgeous Spring, and we are all making plans for the show season and goals that we would like to accomplish with our horses!

Many of us do not have an indoor to work in during the winter and are on a shortened time frame to get ready for show season. We also have concerns left over from last year’s performance. Needless to to say we become “goal oriented” and “on a mission”. That being said it’s also time to reflect on your horse’s needs. We often forget that just like humans, they can become out off shape due to lack of activity. Our four legged partner has been spending its days trying to keep warm and enjoy doing nothing but vegging. Now spring is coming, nature is calling, and barometric change is affecting the natural order of things in our partner’s life.  Concentration is a lost art, awareness is at an all time high, and the flight mode is just simply pleasurable for them. So what’s a rider to do? Answer: Be patient, alert, and don’t overdo what you are working towards. Remember that in getting prepared for show season you must cover these areas for success: conditioning, concentration, understanding,and most of all willingness.

Suggestions for your spring game plan:

1. Develop a simple warm up on a loose rein that allows your horse freedom of movement and addresses the basic aids and movements such as halt, walk trot, canter, 20m circle, straight line. By keeping it simple you can evaluate your horse’s level of understanding and physical needs. Don’t assume you can start where you left off last year and remember that through inactivity your horse’s body has changed. If your horse does not respond willingly and freely to the basic commands and movements then everything else turns into a larger challenge.

Another advantage to keeping things simple at first is that by keeping your demands simple you are more likely to re-develop the concentration of your horse which has been lost to being “on recess”  all winter combined with what I call “the Ya-yahs”. We all have seen the “Ya-yahs”The horse walks out defiantly taller then you remember, breathing fire with eyes that are able to look in many directions at once. Use this to your advantage! Don’t strap them down with side reins. Make sure stirrups are properly secured, tighten your girth, put the reins over your horse’s head and twist them underneath his neck till the reins have some tension then slide the throat latch strap through  the center twist and re-secure to the bridle. If you are not sure how to secure reins, ask a knowledgeable person to help you.

Make sure the horse is facing you then turn him loose. Let the horse play and kick its heels up. Why not enjoy your horse’s power and natural beauty? Isn’t that what got us hooked on horses in the first place? Let them express themselves and complain a little about going to work. By allowing this freedom you save wear and tear on your body and it settles the horse in. I often use a little plastic bottle with rocks in it to get them to play. By using the bottle it gets the horse over noise sensitivity and motivates the horse to exert itself without force.  The only warning I give is make sure the designated play area has solid fencing that is at least four and a half feet high, the footing isn’t slippery, and you don’t force them to run. Let the horse pick its gaits and watch for the nose staying to the ground for too long. They will challenge you to see if they can roll, so you have to be ready and send them forward. Usually it’s the horses way of saying “tag, you’re it!” and do you love your saddle? If you are not confident you can get there on time just don’t tack your horse up till after you play with it.

Understand that playing with your horse is a bonus for you. You develop conditioning, agility, and coordination. (Also, if your horse bucks you don’t have to ride it.)  Bucking is also nature’s chiropractor and can save you money in the long run. I know that there are many trainers out there who disagree, but after 40-some years of training horses I have found that by channeling the buck to an appropriate time and place, it doesn’t seem to appear under saddle unless the rider is battling with their horse. Horses need to express themselves. By allowing a time and place you save time getting your horse to concentrate when they are under saddle. Also remember by the time warm weather hits most horses will look at you and say “Really?”.

2. When working on transitions and new movements don’t ask your horse to perform for long periods of time. Don’t overwhelm your horse by trying to perfect the movement. Simple repetition with no expectations from you will allow the horse to problem solve and get confident in its balance and coordination . It also allows the horse to concentrate on matters at hand. Once the horse is confident, relaxed and balanced then add more steps to the movement and transitions in and out of the movements to strengthen your horse.  One of the sayings I tell my students is “You do not create perfection; perfection creates itself”.

We as riders must always remember that a horse thinks simply and responds to stimulation. By over practicing and repeating things too often we deaden our horse’s senses and overwhelm them mentally. A horses greatest reward is not to have to concentrate about anything but just exist. So by working on something only five to ten minutes at a time then dropping the rein and just letting them relax with no movement from the rider for a few minutes is a very stimulating reward. Letting your horse relax and what I call defrag confirms to the horse that they are on the right track which in turn gives them confidence in understanding what is asked of them thus generating willingness to perform. As noted Midwest dressage trainer and author Chuck Grant liked to say said “Ask often, expect little or nothing and reward generously”.

In closing I hope that these little tips help you towards a successful 2017 show season.