BY NINA FEDRIZZI
Summertime is officially here, and for competitive riders, the living is anything but easy! Whether you’ve been on the circuit since January or are just gearing up for your first walk-trot outing of the season, summer is the busiest time of year for most of us in the sport, but that’s no reason to let yourself feel overwhelmed or underprepared.
The year’s halfway point is the perfect time for you and your horse to get organized, get fit, and start riding better. Here, we’ve rounded up eight, pro-approved ways to make summer show season your best season yet.
1. Give your horse a makeover.
With mud season in the rearview, your horse’s coat is probably in good shape, but don’t neglect the rest of him! Grab your barnmates and schedule a weekend makeover party to wash, clip, and trim your horses into show ring shape (after all, even body clipping is more fun with friends). Need a great scrubbing mitt? The honeycomb-shaped Supracor Stimulite ($34) is naturally antibacterial, exfoliating, and, in general, a horse-washing game changer.
2. Get your horse back into shape.
Show season requires a different kind of fitness from horses, especially if you plan on competing for months on end or for back-to-back weekends in a row. Conditioning is a broad and highly complex topic, and also one of the most misunderstood according Kirsten Johnson, owner of the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC) in Versailles, Kentucky. “Every horse is an individual and there is no cookie-cutter approach, but these are the basics I’ve found to be the most effective,” she says:
- Whenever possible, keep your horse in light work [throughout the year], especially if he’s a senior. “Older horses’ bodies need more time to get back into shape after doing nothing, so as your horse progresses in age, a steady amount of light work throughout the [off season] is, I think, very important.”
- Plan your horse’s fitness schedule around what’s best for him, not for you. While that might mean increasing the frequency of his work, Johnson stresses the idea of “training smarter”—not necessarily training longer or harder if it will put added stress on his joints. In general, she advises, consistency is key.
- Depending on your horse’s health needs, age, and fitness level, a rehab facility like KESMARC, with water therapy access, could be worth considering. “We can give you a lot more horse more quickly than if you’re trying to work around your own schedule,” says Johnson.
- Look at your supplement program and talk to your vet, if necessary, to make sure your horse has what he needs to maintain healthy joints, a healthy gut, and a healthy immune system during the potentially stressful conditioning process and on into your show season.
3. Spring clean your cleaning equipment.
When’s the last time you washed your grooming gear? If they answer is a resounding, “Hmmm?” then your brushes and tote are probably due for some attention. Protect your horse from potential skin conditions and make sure you’re prepared to hit the road when your barn does: dump and scrub your grooming bag, soak and disinfect your brushes, and restock those grooming products you’ll be making good use of this summer (hoof dressing, fly spray, liniment, show sheen, braiding and clipping supplies, etc.).
4. Hit the gym.
Good riding doesn’t start or end in the saddle, and the time to improve your own show ring fitness is now. “Most people who maybe slack a little over the winter tend to go really hard on the treadmill, the bike, or outdoor running,” says Mike Barthelemy, a Wellington, Florida-based personal trainer specializing in equestrian fitness whose client list includes show jumper Eugenio Garza, dressage rider Anna Buffini, and, yes, George Morris himself. According to Barthelemy, however, intensive cardio, by itself, can only get you so far. “Every rider should have a good strength training workout that includes cardiovascular combination exercises in between,” he explains. Barthelemy recommends mixing up sets of squats, planks, lunges, curls, and mountain climbers with 20-30 minutes of cardio work, such as riding a bike, jogging, or sets of high knees.
5. Plan your schedule—and your budget.
At the top levels of the sport, the ability to choose the right classes and events for a particular horse can often make or break a competition season. For most amateurs, however, planning the show schedule is usually a question of juggling work, family commitments, and—just as importantly—your budget. Review your barn’s summer competition schedule and then make a point to check-in with your trainer to see what shows could be a good fit for you and your horse. Then, find out what it will cost to get you there. After all, there’s nothing worse than burning through your horse show savings before you plan to!
6. Take inventory.
If it’s been a while since your last horse show, it may be a good time to make sure competition clothes still fit (yikes!), are stain-free, and in good working order—with enough time to order some replacement duds if necessary. Equally important: check to make sure that your show tack and equipment are clean and shipshape. Those threadbare stirrup leathers? A definite no-go!
7. Pack like a pro.
Most busy show barns have their horse show packing process down to a science—or, at least, down to an hour’s worth of preparations or less. By thinking through your own requirements ahead of time and taking shortcuts where you can, you’ll make packing that much faster and less painful, and decrease your chances of forgetting something important (pssst: a checklist like this one is never a bad idea!). Here are just a few things you can always prep and pack in advance:
- Coat bag (complete set of clean show clothes, riding belts, breeches-friendly underwear, hairnets, raincoat, stain remover pen)
- Boot bag (clean boots, boot and/or tack cleaning supplies, extra boot socks)
- Bathing bucket (shampoo + conditioner, sweat scraper, sponge, mane comb, mitt, detangler, body brace, clean towels)
- Blanket bag (competition sheet, scrim, Irish knit, ear bonnet, show and schooling pads)
8. Set Goals!
You can’t consider yourself truly ready to take summer show season by storm until you know where you are currently in your riding—and where you want to be. Plan a sit-down with your trainer to talk about your goals for the rest of the year: Where do you want to show and with what horse(s)? What division do you want to be in by the end of the year? What improvements do you want to make in your riding in the next few months? Don’t be afraid to aim high (well, okay, maybe save WEG qualification for 2022!) but also give yourself some more reasonable, immediate goals. Things like jumping clear in your next classic round, not looking for your leads, or mastering your nerves before an equitation class are the types of aspirations that can help you stay in the positive and keep moving forward all year long.