Who else has been sitting for most of the winter and both you and your horse have put on a few extra pounds? I am right there with you. It sometimes seems daunting to get back in the groove of things with the hopes of getting ready for show season. So here are a few great places to start. You want to give yourself at least a good 2 months to get back in the swing of things.
Back to Basics
If your horse has been sitting for a while, some good groundwork is never a bad place to start. Maybe their manners are still intact, but if they now resemble a feral animal, then groundwork is a good refresher… leading, standing, all the basics. And then lunging is a super helpful tool to get their little brains working again. The first few lunges may just be a rodeo, but you can gradually add in elements of transitions, changes of directions, moving their bodies, etc to get their noggins back in gear. And let's be honest, giving a small lunge before you get back on is just a smart idea if you’re not too keen on a bronc ride.
When I’m first to bring a horse back into work I try to keep the rides brief and low pressure. Just let them get out, stretch their legs, start to build some muscle and endurance again. Not only can it be physically dangerous to pound into them too early, but it can turn them ring sour as well. I love to get out hacking early (as long as you don’t fear for your life) and hit the trails. I love it, the horses love it, and when they're hills it's a great conditioning tool. Just keep it low pressure so your pony enjoys their time spent in the saddle.
Once you’ve got your ponies into a little bit more of a routine of ridden work, you can start adding the schooling factor and test out your buttons. Lots of pole work will keep your conditioning interesting while aiding in all the skills necessary to make it around the show ring successfully. They'll help perfect your rhythm, straightness, and track which all translate right into your course work. But this way it's low impact on your horse as opposed to pounding over jumps too early. Lots of transitions transitions transitions as well! Use those booties and build them muscles!
Hit The Gym(nastics)
Gymnastics are not only great for legging your horse up after a break, but they will get your butt into gear as well! Simple jump grids will give your horse confidence jumping again and you can work on your position (gotta get ready for the Eq classes). My favorite set up is the one pictured below from horsejournals.com!
The trot poles help establish your horse’s rhythm and balance and then the one stride to one stride is easy and flowing while encouraging your horse to rock back so they make the nicest jump. (Stay tuned for an exciting blog post all about pole and gymnastic exercises!)
Let's Get Down To Business
Then start with simple courses and work your way up from there. What classes are you going to show in that first show back? This will help pinpoint what kind of course work you need to focus on. But all divisions can benefit from practicing your lengthening and shortening of stride, to help you find that correct distance to the jump. Tip: it's not a terrible idea to start at a lower fence height than you ended last season. That way you can give both you and your horse a good confidence booster.
Remember for the first show back, that winning isn't everything. The most important factor is giving your horse a good, positive, and successful experience. Same for you the rider as well. You may not be perfect, but just go there with a good mindset to have some fun!
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