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.

jtc_fri_ringside
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.

frankie_playtime
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.

LB_sat_yellow oxer
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.

LB_sat_yellow oxer
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.

clearround
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?

Addressing the Fear

I consider myself a fairly brave rider. I have my weenie moments like anyone else, but I’ve never told my trainer “I can’t” when she gives me a task. A big part of that is trust- trust that my trainer won’t put me in an unsafe situation, trust in my horse to do his job, trust in my own abilities. I don’t mind getting nervous because I know I have the tools to work through it.

But there is one thing that does freak me out a little bit, and I acknowledge that it’s kinda ridiculous: bringing horses in from the field.

A lot of this fear stems from an incident when I was young, where my dad went to help me catch my pony and ended up getting kicked by another horse in the field. He has a dent in his leg from that kick even now. And then my horse in high school was just an absolute juvenile delinquent and dragged me around when it came to turnout (it got better over time, but I was teeny tiny). Over time, I started to view turning horses in/out with a sense of dread. And that dread still rears its ugly head to this day.

 

I really REALLY don’t like bringing horses in. Which is why I’ve been forcing myself to do it as often as I can lately.

And I’m in a great spot to get to work on this- I am at a barn full of happy, well-behaved horses who all have good ground manners. I can lead a horse in each hand without worrying if they’ll spook/bite each other/try to drag me. From the 32yo pony to the 3yo baby warmblood, they all know how to walk politely (even when they know that dinner is waiting for them).

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HE’S TERRIFYING

But when I go to bring Frankie in from the field, I get a pit in my stomach. None of this is due to him, God bless him. He can be playing Wild Island Stallion with his buddies and acting like an idiot, but he keeps all four feet on the ground as soon as I come close. And other horses can be romping and playing and running, but he will stay by my side and follow where I lead. I have absolute trust that my horse will be a solid citizen.

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He really just wants scritches

It’s the other horses that worry me- without cause. When I see other horses running up to see where Frankie is going, I brace myself for Frankie to bolt- despite Frankie never showing any inclination for this. When another horse follows us closely to the gate, I wait for them to start kicking at each other- again, despite Frankie literally NEVER even flicking an ear at his herd-mates. I put his halter on quickly because I am so sure he will try to rip it out of my hands to go play with his friends- even though he always puts his face down to make it easier for me.

Slowly but surely, I am working through this fear. I trust Frankie’s ground manners, and I’m coming to trust his herd-mates’ manners too. And when they are playing like fools, I’m learning to trust my own ability to tell them to cut the crap and get out of my way. I’m not completely relaxed yet, but I’m happy to be making progress.

What fears are you working through?