As essentially an adult-amateur eventer, I have recently learned I need to accept the fact that life will often keep me out of the tack for days, and sometimes even weeks, at a time. I am, according to the United States Eventing Association, not an amateur, since I do teach lessons and coach, but I have a young son, a husband who travels extensively, two other part-time jobs, and am the primary caregiver of a 90-year-old mom.
So, unlike the textbook eventing “professional,” I am not swinging my leg over the saddle multiple times a day, five or six days a week. And, I admit, sometimes not riding for a span is a choice I make. For instance, I do not have to go on the work trips my husband has that can sometimes double as family vacations, but I choose to, knowing that for me the life balance is important, and that in my son’s eyes (he’ll turn 10 in August) as time goes by, his parents are not going to be getting any cooler or more fun to hang with. I need to enjoy these precious years that we still are.
As a result, Of course, there are things you can do to make this a bit less detrimental to you and your horse’s progress. You can try your best to take in some out-of-the-saddle training…both for your brain (reading up on method/technique, writing in a riding journal, for example) and your body (core and cardio workouts, etc.). If you’re lucky, maybe someone can work with your horse some when you can’t, or you can at the least arrange for him to have more turnout. But, those are topics for another day. What I mean by “embracing” is that I’ve found there is a major advantage to taking any length of break from riding. It’s what I call the “clean-slate phenomenon.”
Think of time away from each other (at least saddle time) as an inherent part of you and your horse’s training. It’s time to refresh, “let down,” recover (especially if you’ve been doing or are going to be doing intensive work – most serious athletes in other sports understand the value in “tapering,” that is, reducing workload in days leading up to major events). And, it’s also a great time to “forget.” When I was in grad school, I remember an education course where we talked about “self-fulfilling prophecy.” I found a simple definition of the term online…parentheticals are mine: “Any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people (or horses) that may affect a person's (or horse’s) behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled.” So, sometimes you and your horse need time to forget…a bad experience, a bad habit, etc. My horse tends to get heavy in the bridle…he’s 17 hands and 1600 pounds and I’m, well, not. I find that a lot of consistent riding does help shift him more onto his hindquarters, but that oftentimes after several continuous days of work, his (and my) heaviness in the bridle will gradually increase, as will our tolerance for it (or lack of acknowledgement of it). I think we both eventually come to expect it…a negatively (and subconsciously) self-fulfilled prophecy. After a week or so off, I have learned to come back to work with almost a fanatical fixation on just the opposite being the case…believing myself to be Charlotte and him to be Valegro…simply refusing to accept that either one of us ever get heavy. It really has helped us get back on track more quickly.
Additionally, with a long time off from work over fences, I will watch a couple really good stadium jumping videos I have of us where he is in front of my leg and balanced. Those videos were taken at events where we really had our game on, so they are prime examples of us at our best. If I go into my jumping school with those images in my head, instead of the last less-than-stellar over-fences ride I had, I much more tend to ride the horse from the video…which demands I ride more like the rider in the video, and I therefore have set us both up for success.
And last, and certainly no means least, absence does make the heart grow fonder. (I can only speak for myself…but my horse does genuinely seem somewhat happy to see me, and even happy to get tacked up, after a hiatus.) Those first rides realign my perspective. I’ve had a chance to miss what I love…and that brings me back to it with a renewed appreciation and awe of just how blessed I am to be there again.
Contributed by Dancing Horse Farm - Karen Czarick