The Happy Athlete

In 2015, Joy and I missed regionals due to an minor soft tissue injury. Her moody, stall bound ineptitude was immortalized in a series of posts called #TheStallRestChronicles that helped followers understand just what a finicky creature she is. Whether that has anything to do with the whole chestnut mare situation or not, I’m unsure. Granted, it could be the Trakehner. Maybe it’s all three things. No matter what, she doesn’t hide her feelings. On the ground, under saddle, you name it and she’s got an opinion.

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#TheStallRestChronicles summed up in a nutshell. 

Now, I love that about Joy. She’s honest and sometimes overly emotional, but she gets her point across. The best part about riding in any discipline is learning to work with your partner who happens to be half a ton and have a mind of her own. They have bad days and good days, just like us, and as athletes, their work is hard. No one doubts that. So it’s our responsibilities as riders to make sure we do our part to keep them happy! A happy, healthy athlete is a necessity. With a princess like Joy, it’s difficult, but here’s how I manage it.

  • We never warm up in the arenas! Either we take a solid 10-15 minute trail ride or walk around the fields that surround the arenas. This keeps Joy more engaged and excited about what comes next. If we’re lucky enough to travel down to the Rose Palace for a school, I count the mile trek as part of our warm up.
  • We also never train in the same arena two days in a row! I’m lucky enough to have three arenas to choose from with very different conditions. With the changes in scenery comes no anticipation of what we’re plan on schooling.
  • I’m always trying to find unique ways of doing movements in a different order or different direction so we aren’t doing the same thing more than a handful of times. Boredom breeds irritation. An extra shoulder-in isn’t worth risking my life.
  • Cross training. I’m not talking about pole work. I’m talking about letting her channel her show jumper sire!
  • Fitness days filled with trot sets, canter sets, breezing, hill work, swimming (when it’s warm!), and long trail rides, sometimes 6-10 miles!
  • Schooling or playing around bareback or even completely tackless. Obviously, this should always be done in a controlled setting, but sometimes we even use it as a cool off from a lunge session.
  • Lunge days in different arenas, targeting different things (stretch, transitions, engagement, etc) but always working towards consistency, tempo, and rhythm. I’m not a huge fan of side reigns unless lightly used during pole work, so most of it is done in a simple surcingle.
  • Trot and canter poles! Never more than twice a week because that is a great deal of stress on joints, but they are a great addition to lunging days. (This is per the great Reiner Klimke recommendation)
  • Never underestimating the amount of warm up or cool down needed. Can’t have enough of either of those!

That list is pretty comprehensive and high-maintenance but I’m willing to do ridiculous things to keep Joy happy. Keeping her body strong and fit is a task, but nothing compared to the task that is keeping her brain busy and equally as fit. We spend plenty of time bonding on the ground and doing in hand work to increase lateral suppleness and loosen up tight muscles. Additionally, there’s lots of baths and grooming, because nothing beats that!

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Werk werk werk. Joy really utilizing her hind end and engagement to make it through a long line of trot poles – my favorite exercise. 

There’s no “secret recipe” for keeping your horse a happy athlete. Each one is just as uniquely complex and the next and you, as a rider, have to gauge what and when your partner needs a change of pace. In addition, you have to have a deep enough understanding of what they are physically and mentally capable of. It’s a balancing act of trying to accommodate working towards your training goals with the hope of helping create a better athlete. A happy, healthy, mentally active horse that is excited about the days work is going to be more willing to learn and engage themselves in new concepts. Bland routines are the enemies of ever getting 110% out of the bond you’ve created with your partner, so do yourself and your horse a favor. Step out of the arena, try something new, and don’t be afraid to take a little adventure with your four-legged best friend. You never know how it could benefit you!

Happy riding, preps!

Much love,

Bailey

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