Preparing for summer...
After a long and harsh winter I think that everyone is ready for warm weather. But the warm weather can pose challenges as well so I'll help you prepare with a few of my summer essentials. Delta and Quincy both love their new Shires Sweet-Itch Combo Sheets. With an spf 30 rating they help to keep the light skinned horses protected and darker horses from bleaching out. The great elastic ear piece keeps the neck fully covered so that along with the belly guard there is barely a place for bugs to get to them. And those with sensitive skin can rest a little easier as well.
This time of year is also a time when I pay close attention to the constantly changing footing. At least in Virginia I know the ground can go from deep mud to feeling like concrete in a matter of days. Many horses end up suffering from abcesses and bruising in their feet due to the inconsistency in the footing. When it's wet and sloppy my horses get iodine sprayed over the bottom of the foot as well as over the nail holes to keep bacteria from building up in any cracks and to help prevent soft feet. You do have to be careful to keep the iodine away from the hair line... For the other extreme we use a small amount of hoof packing on the sole to help keep the natural pliability in the hoof. But most important is that the rider stays very aware to limit how much the horse works in the extreme footing. I can't tell you how often I've already had to alter my daily riding/ conditioning plans due to extreme footing...
I tend to keep how the horses are feeling on changing footing and terrain at the forefront of my mind because I try to keep running as part of my own personal fitness routine. Meaning that I am not always consistent so know the effects of trying to do more than the limbs are ready for... During my prep for Rolex I got back in to running as well as other cross-training exercises and used those as my initial testing of the new Kerrits IceFil tights. These tights are the ultimate in crossover apparel. Whether you're into yoga, pilates, running, cross-fit, or just riding you will be so cool and comfortable! And the cute little kerrits on the seat make sure you have just enough traction in the saddle :). Personally I love being able to go straight from a morning work-out to the barn to ride. I've not yet had to endure the scorching temperatures that summer is sure to bring but the breeches have IceFil technology that helps to cool you as they wick away perspiration... and yes there are plenty of shirt styles to keep your whole body happy!
Reflections on Rolex...
Before delving into my Rolex recap I need to let you know that by the end of this week I will catch back up on the last 6 weeks of blog posts... I've had so many ideas to share but somehow I never happened to have my computer nearby and there was this little event that kept me a bit preoccupied. Check back soon!
Rather than sharing any specific training insights following our Rolex performance I thought this would be an ideal time to give a look into how I deal with a difficult cross-country run. First and foremost I look at the positives, then I replay the round over and over looking for any areas that I could have improved, then I come up with a plan to make those improvements. I'll start by giving some insight into the lead up to Rolex 2014 and what my main focus has been..
In front of the leg... II
My initial look at producing a horse that is "in front of the leg" began with questions to ask while on the ground. While there are many ways to continue along that route, my favorite being long-lining, I'll give a few tips that I use to get headed in the right direction once I'm in the saddle. As in everything I do I try not to skip any steps... By that I mean that the simple process of getting in the saddle should not be overlooked and a little time spent making sure that the horse will stand relaxed until you ask it to move forward will make a difference.
I focus a lot on the walk... whether it is in the ring or out on a hack. It's not to say that I believe in constantly nagging as I am very happy for the horses to be able to walk on a long rein in a nice relaxed manner. Just like my work on the ground I believe in asking questions and working to achieve consistent correct responses. To me, the walk is the best gait at assessing how correct the response to your aids really is
Creating XC questions in the ring
Just a little slideshow to show how I create cross-country questions in the ring. I like to present technical challenges in an environment where there are not many variables to begin with (ie footing, terrain, etc) and in a way that I can break them down to a size where a horse can literally walk up and pop over them so they don't lose confidence or develop bad habits. I'll add photos on occasion so check back from time to time. Feel free to comment if you have any specific questions on the set up of the different lines.
A great way to continue legging up a horse coming back from winter break while continuing to improve the technical skills is to use cavaletti exercises. Once my horses are comfortable with the basic version of this exercise as I described in March I like to add small jumps in to work on what I refer to as "flatwork over fences". The exercise in this photo is fairly straightforward and works a lot on maintaining a balanced medium canter while coming through short approaches and changes of direction. Something we can never practice enough!
There are so many things that go on day to day in many barns that can create annoying challenges. I thought I'd share our easy and fairly fool-proof way of dealing with one challenge... making sure medications are eaten. Every now and then we have a horse that doesn't care what we add to their feed but most are much to finicky. I turn to applesauce to make life a little easier. Applesauce has the perfect consistency to mix with any powdered medication and then given directly to the horse via a dose syringe. Plus the horses don't seem to be as offended since they like the taste. A win win in my book.
One of the biggest challenges in eventing is simply time... we essentially train a horse in 3 disciplines and wonder why it's difficult to make progress. My way to combat this challenge is to make the most of my training rides by incorporating multiple elements. It keeps things interesting for the horse and sharpens the rider without having to subject the horse to any excess pounding. Whether it's working on my dressage out on hilly terrain or frequently incorporating cavaletti into my daily work I am able to address many issues that I face in the jumping phases while continuing to develop the physical and mental aspects needed in the dressage ring. The photo above is a view of my ring with a variety of exercises set up, one in particular that I will describe as I have used it for horses at all levels of training and fitness.
In front of the leg...
Since arriving home for a short duration between travelling to events we've begun the process of getting the younger horses back into a program after their winter break. This process is always a good time to reassess basic areas of training for each horse and to pinpoint where we need to focus. A common theme whenever you run into difficulty in training a horse for any discipline tends to revolve around the lack of a horse being "in front of the leg". So what does that mean... To me, success with a horse comes when they have a desire to take you somewhere. It is as much, if not more, a mental state of being than a physical description as there are plenty of horses that are in a hurry but not really "in front of the leg".
Training: Narrowing your focus
As usual after an event I come home with a few key areas that I want to focus on for each horse. After Pine Top my major take away for Quincy was that I needed to jump into water to be sure he wasn't put off after our dunking. So I'll have to wait until the ground has dried out enough from our most recent snowfall to do that... For Delta the focus is going to be on narrowing her focus. She is very genuine to the jumps but doesn't really focus on "looking for" what is next on cross-country...particularly the narrow jumps. And when she does jump the narrow fences she doesn't hold herself completely straight and square which I know could end up leading to a silly glance off when she's tired at the end of a long, demanding course. I'm going to start working now to try and prevent such future mishaps and to prepare her for her move up to the 3* level later in the year when she will have less time to assess the technical questions. Here is one of my new favorite exercises...
When it comes to supplements I love working with Melyni Worth of Foxden Equine. A few years ago I told Melyni that I had a young horse that seemed to have a hard time gaining strength no matter what type of work I included. She suggested adding Muscle Mix to his diet and I've been a huge believer ever since. Now that we are starting to be able to get on the hills to do our conditioning work I want to make the most of that work so my horses receive an additional scoop of their Muscle Mix on those days. Quincy and Delta receive a maintenance dose each day but I've seen how the additional scoop on their harder days helps their muscles recover. They come out the next day without that flat, lethargic feeling which says it all to me.