A Love Letter to Training Rides

While I had my Trainer or AT hop on Frankie with some regularity (if not frequency) during the first few years of owning him, 2018 was the first year that I set aside a larger portion of our budget for a more regimented schedule of training rides. Frankie spent pretty much all of our show season in his 2x/week program of pro rides in addition to his rides with me.

As a training tool for competition, these rides were absolutely invaluable. My lessons always built on the exercises that Frankie had worked on that week, so there was a ton of consistency and continuity in our work. The extra saddle time helped his fitness immensely, and the correctness of the work made sure the right muscles were developing appropriately. It was a very sympathetic program, but rigorous nonetheless. And while Frankie likes to pretend that he’s a lazy slug that hates work, he actually thrived in such a busy program- both physically and mentally.

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AT taking Frankfurter in a schooling round at Lake Placid before I arrived

But as we kick off 2019, I’m not in the midst of show season, I’m not planning on having a particularly busy or competitive show season in the next few months- but I still have Frankie in a 2x/week program.

And I still love it just as much, albeit for slightly different reasons.

For one, there’s the continued benefit to Frankie. His training rides are tailored to exactly what he needs to work on- not any other horse, not his rider. Just him. While he’s always been a confident horse, I’ve found that these sessions have made that confidence absolutely skyrocket as he’s been set up for success and praised for trying. He’s kept fit, he’s kept limber, he’s kept educated.

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A very blurry screenshot of AT taking Frankie in for miles in the 1.20m at Upperville

But there’s also several enormous benefits to me.

The first and most obvious benefit is when I’m in the saddle. A fit and well-educated horse is a million times easier and (in my book) more fun to ride. Especially Frankie, who tunes into me much more easily when he’s in consistent moderate-heavy work. So as I’m getting back into shape and gaining my strength back, having his help makes it much easier and more enjoyable. Basically I only have to worry about myself since I know he’s got this on lock.

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And AT giving him a great ride in his first ever 1.20m class at Blue Rock

The other benefit is when I’m out of the saddle- namely, that I actually feel that I can take days out of the saddle. As much as I love being at the barn and want to be there all the time, I have other responsibilities to take care of (that I ignored for like 3 years straight womp womp). It used to be that I’d try to cram everything in after the barn and would have to stay up super late, or I’d just push everything to the weekend when I had a bit more time. But now I feel like I can take a day to go home after work and take care of things without feeling guilty about not seeing Frankie. He’s still getting worked, he’s still progressing. It’s allowing me to find a different balance in my life without sacrificing Frankie’s quality of workload.

Basically instead of trying to be an ammy that trains like a pro, these pro rides let me be an ammy that trains like an ammy. Some days I’m a pretty good ammy, some days I’m a pretty floppy ammy, some days I’m an absentee ammy, some days I’m a competitive ammy. I work hard, I cross train, I spend most of my time obsessing about my horse and his care and his work and his health and his schedule and all things Francis-related. But it’s really really refreshing to give myself permission to spend time on other things every once in a while without feeling like I’m trading away my progress in the saddle.

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All that pro attention has made one extremely ammy-friendly pony

I’m still figuring out what my new normal is as a newlywed, and I’m so grateful to have the help of wonderful people and a great program at the barn to help me as I adjust.

 

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Thought Exercise: Turnout

As you all know, one of my favorite aspects of my barn is everyone’s willingness to talk through different aspects of the industry. Of course my trainer and I spend a ton of time talking about (1) how to ride more better and (2) how to schedule shows to meet my goals without going broke. But she also takes the time to talk to me about the overall industry and the moving parts that make up the equestrian competition world.

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OK real quick I know I’m supposed to be reviewing my jumpoff but what do you think of allowing nose nets in the hunters THIS IS IMPORTANT

One thing that we were talking about recently was turnout. All the horses in our barn get turned out for at least 12ish hours a day, with many staying out closer to 24 hours if the weather is nice (they’ll come in for meals and riding, and then go right back out). They all go out in groups unless they’re in the med paddock, and will only stay in if there is truly extreme weather.

I love this for Frankie. No matter how intense our training program gets, he gets guaranteed “horse time” every day to stretch, roll, interact with his buddies, and relax. Of course there’s always a risk that he could get injured, but for me the benefits of group turnout outweigh the risks. We’ve had several people bring their horses into the barn and warn, “she’s spooky, he’s hot, be careful, he needs a specific bit, etc.” Once they’re on the full turnout schedule, literally every single one of these horses has ended up being completely chill. Without exception.

But this isn’t a blog post about how I’m a big fan of turnout. That’s boring. What I found much more interesting was our discussion of how turnout time actually can have a cascading effect on an entire training program.

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Go play this is crucial to our success

For example: let’s say that Frankie only goes out for 1-2 hours every day. In order to not lose competition-level fitness, this means that he needs to be ridden every day at least once, maybe twice. As a working amateur I certainly don’t have the time to ride twice a day, so Frankie goes into a full training program.

Well, now my horse is being ridden 6 times a week by a professional. So now I have certain expectations for how he will perform. If we struggle with an exercise in my weekly lesson, I’m annoyed that the pro rider didn’t school this enough with him. If we have rails down at a show, that’s my trainer’s fault for not preparing him to go win. I’m paying the trainer big bucks to have Precious Pony in a rigorous program, why pay that money if we’re not going to go win? I have relinquished responsibility for my progress and my results, and put a whole lot of stress on my trainer to be responsible for how I do.

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Someone owes me an apology for having 12 faults on the clock by jump 8.

On the flip side, let’s say that Frankie is turned out every day for 12 hours in a hilly field (which is the real life scenario). He can easily stay fighting fit in a 6 day/week schedule, because he spends most of his day moving up and down hills. That’s a schedule his ammy owner can work with. He may get regular tune-ups from a professional, but the vast majority of his rides come me.

So now the expectations for performance lie within myself, because I’m the one who puts most of the miles on him. If we mess up, I know why- it’s because we need to work harder on XYZ skills. If we do well, I can be really proud of the work that’s gotten us to that point. My trainer is responsible for making sure we’re competing at an appropriate level and giving us the tools we need to succeed, but as the main rider I am responsible for actually following through and giving a good ride. It puts the ownership of the accomplishment (or slip-up) firmly with the rider.

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Holy crap trainer I am an embarrassment to you and your program.

So the attitude and perspectives that we have while exiting the ring can lead back all the way to how much time the horse spends outside.

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See Francis, I told you playing with your friends would help us out

Is this a 100% direct exact correlation? No way! There are plenty of owners and horses that work hard and do well with less turnout, and there are plenty of kooks who turnout 20 hours a day. This is more of a thought exercise on how the pieces of how we care for our horses feed into the way we approach a training program, which feeds into the way we approach competitions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts- how does your approach to care affect how you train or compete?