Let's face it, no one likes to ride in the rain, in fact most of the horses I've met don't seem to enjoy it. But no matter what discipline you ride sooner or later you're going to end up competing in the rain. Yes, the AA / AO hunter riders have the option to scratch often at the disgust of our trainers.It's no secret we often respond to our disgusted trainers with the rally cry of "riding first thing in the morning & scratching for rain are perks of being an adult amateur!" But other disciplines don't have this luxury without blowing their whole weekend.
In all honesty though, our trainers have every right to get frustrated with us. I'm pretty sure if any of us hunter riders rode hard all year to be qualified for Devon and declared we were 'scratching due to rain' - said trainer would probably send us looking for a new trainer.
Before we begin it is important to understand the different types of wet footings out there so you are prepared for anything at your next competition. Here are several different types footings you may encounter while you school wet ring riding.
1) Slop - The sticky thick mud often found in pretty shades of chestnut & dark bay near the pasture gate. Horses tend to suck back in this footing as its a bit deep and chunky.
- This is the easiest to clean off, simply wait for it to dry and it should cake up and come off splint boots, girths etc.
-- Involuntary dismount rating - 8- avoid being a lawn dart at all costs - seriously , although soft - this footing is the number one reason most of us have expensive 'schooling breeches'.
2) Muck- it used to be grass, now it's chewed up turf with camouflaged holes where you sink half way to your knee and it sucks off your rain boots as you try to dislodged yourself.
- takes longer to dry than Slop, more difficult to remove as you think it might be dry, but that's just the outer crust. When you try to remove it, the chunk just smears all of your tack.
- Involuntary dismount rating - 10. This footing despite being saturated often has a hard base underneath with hidden rocks and other debris. Adding to your sky miles is highly discouraged in this footing. Your reward for landing in this footing includes grass stains, mystery bruises in odd shapes & 2 or more lost shoes.
3) Sloppy Footing - Generally grey in color and a combination of screenings and sand . Often filled with puddles in hoof prints after a good rain. This footing can sometimes be used for 'Whale Watching Tours' when it has rained for days on end and the base is no longer visible. .
- Involuntary Dismount Rating - 5. This footing would be a 1, as it is usually soft to land on, however the sloppy factor makes it a 5. Upon standing up you will find your boots can double as an aquarium, and your helmet can equally double as a fishbowl. These items are surprisingly sea worthy with a water retention factor that is equally surprising. The newer jumper style helmets thankfully offer more drainage then the old school velvet helmet.
4) Eurofelt- This footing looks like a giant ultra thick shredded green 'Sham Wow'. High absorbent felt pieces found in a rectangle style arena. This footing has the amazing ability to absorb copious amounts of water and is virtually dust free. Often mixed with screenings or sand.
- Involuntary Dismount Rating - 3. Although this footing is super soft to crash land on to, trying to stand back up is akin to a turtle being flipped over onto its shell. I pray no one has to experience this feeling of helplessness at a competition. Trying to catch your horse is also a treat, as it feels like you are running in quicksand. Once you are helped up, it brushes off your clothes / tack easily and you are just left with that wet diaper feeling until you dry off.
5) Technical Footings / GGT - A pale pinkish color, this footing is soft and absorbent without being terribly squishy. This footing also has the shredded 'Sham Wow' appearance but is mixed with about 50% other footings like sand or screenings. This footing fails to puddle up like the Sloppy Footing, avoiding the hoof puddles & whale watching expeditions.
- Involuntary Dismount Rating - 1.Soft but not squishy, with a base that is supportive without being hard, if you're going to get dumped, this would be the footing to do it in. Brushes off of tack and apparel easily, minimal staining factors
Now that you know the different footings we can discuss 5 top reasons to school in the rain.
Reason #1 - Riding in the rain helps condition you and your horse for sloppy conditions.
Some horses ( & riders!) simply aren't "mudders". For those of you without a 'mudder', riding in the rain conditions your horse to squishy hooves & wet footing being flicked at his belly while at a competition. It is important to experience different types of wet footing with your horse so you are prepared for anything at your next competition. This is also a great time to reach your horse things like:
Opening or holding an open umbrella does not 'Release The Kraken'.
Jumps do not house zombies. Boxes, coops & gates can make noise when the footing hits them.
Riders taking jackets on or off does not mean it's time to bolt back to the barn.
Rain sheets thrown on using the 'El Torro' method by a well meaning show mom does not mean it's time to practice your turn on the forehand at speed.
Reason #2 - Practicing in the rain develops an immunity to dodging puddles & head flipping.
As you both learn to embrace the rain and call upon your inner Wonder Twin Powers (FORM OF.... A WATER SPOUT.... FORM OF..... A MANATEE) you will both charge around the course with confidence. -- Ain't no silly rain going to ruin your competition... No one's got time for that!
Reason #3 - Cleanliness without blame.
If you own a grey, riding in the rain provides an opportunity for 'Natures Bath' as I call it. Your horse gets a good solid rinse off from Mother Nature, without you getting the 'Mare Stare' ( yes, some geldings have also mastered this skill). Also a good excuse to clean your tack & boots. Let them dry naturally, then clean it and condition it well with a quality product like Effax Leder Balsam.
Reason #4 - Figuring out what you need before you need it at a competition.
One of the worst thing about riding in the rain is that soggy wet feeling & the wet dog smell in your car on the way home. Some simple easy ideas to keep you dry and the smell at the barn would be - A raincoat - to state the obvious. A pair of Grand Prix rain pants - I love these things for shows and at home. they look tidy in the show ring, easy on and off with hidden side zippers & quite simply they work. Waterproof tall riding boots if you loathe soggy socks & wet feet. Another good thing to have on hand is a Horseware Mac In A Sac. These often have holes for your stirrups and can be ridden in. They also make waterproof saddle covers with stirrup holes. If you have trouble holding onto your irons, I love the Super Comfort Pad stirrup covers. They wrap around your foot bed and you'll never lose your irons on accident again.
- As for that smell -- Keep clean towels for YOU at the barn in a zip lock bag so they don't get mixed in with barn towels.. Nothing worse then grabbing a barn towel to wipe some schmutz off your face only to hesitate wondering exactly WHERE it has been used last.
Reason #5 - An exercise in patience.
There is nothing worse than sitting on a fidgety horse in the rain while halting at X or in the line up after the hack class. Embrace your inner cowboy and practice sitting on your horse quietly in the rain. The next time you are sitting at X or in the hack line up on a waived jacket day, and it starts to rain - you can embrace the impromptu wet T shirt contest with pride. Your horse will be standing patiently while you ask the rider on Prince Antsy Pants beside you where she got that cute sports bra!
After mastering all these reasons to ride in the rain, your lessons, schooling sessions & competitions will be a breeze no matter what mother nature throws at you.