Champ Training Plan

Decidedly Dressage

I am thrilled to announce that I will be a contributing writer for We3Equines going forward as well as continuing here on Decidedly Equestrian.  Here’s our first blog for We3Equines.  To check it out on the We3Equines site, you can see the blog here as well.  We are so excited to see where this collaboration leads.

Any goal worth having takes planning.  For several years my “plans” have consisted of a loose show schedule (if any) and non-specific goals like “be able to canter this horse without feeling like a rank beginner.”  Those plans and goals tend to lead nowhere and breed frustration.  But goals too specific and too grand can also lead to disappointment.

Dressage was not my plan.  My plan was to get my PhD and teach art history, but life (and economics) got in the way.  Fast-forward almost 8 years later and I am in a totally different field.  Horses have become my daily life and dressage is the game plan.

I am not one of those lucky riders that grew up taking lessons, riding nice horses and having coaches tell them how good they could be.  I came to the game late…and behind.  I didn’t want to ride for pleasure (though those warm summer trail rides with friends are still much loved), I wanted to ride to learn.  I wanted to ride to improve, grow, show and eventually show at as high a level as I could get to.  What I lost in time in the saddle, I plan to make up for in ambition and try.

After a successful start to showing on Champ last summer, I finished the year with lofty goals for 2016.

The plan:

  • Last show at the end of Sept. 2015
  • Spend Oct – December polishing up Champ’s canter and getting him ready to move up to Training level.
  • Jan – March – Do some schooling shows at Training level and dominate (besides the cantering issues, Champ’s well into his skills with leg yielding, stretchy circles, walk pirouettes, reinback, 10m circles, etc.).
  • Start showing 1st Level as soon as he’s more polished at home (April – June).
  • Mop up the 1st level qualifying scores needed by the end of the season.  Easy right?
  • Keep working up the levels to have my Bronze medal on Champ by the end of 2017.  No problem.

What actually happened:

  • Last show at end of Sept. 2015 and Champ was spectacular.
  • Pumped at our progress… I push it.  Champ gets injured a week later working on canter transitions in an arena with poor footing.  I have no one to blame for this other than myself.  Champ slipped badly and we almost go down.  He immediately pulls up feeling off (but he’s not visibly lame).
  • October  – December…vet visits, meds, layup and rehab.  These three precious months that were supposed to be used prepping for our move to Training level are gone…just like that.  I’m just thankful it wasn’t worse.

What I’ve learned from derailing:

  1. When things are feeling good, know when to rest and not push it.
  2. Know your horse’s limitations and know if he’s in the right head-space before you ride.  If he’s not there, ask something easier.
  3. When things don’t go as planned, don’t rush.  It will not work out in your favor.
  4. Base your goals around what is good for your horse, not what is good for you.

Where we are now:

It’s January and we are cantering.  After much anxiety on Champ’s part, cantering is finally becoming less scary to him.  He’s 100% solid on his right lead and 80% on his left and not getting so nervous about it.  Each ride is better than the last and I’m being extra ridiculous in my praise.  Over-exaggerated “good boys,” scratches, hugs, pats and throwing my reins away have become the standard now (much to the amusement of other riders).  Champ wants to do it for me and he’s figuring out that it’s not so scary after all.

I’ve created a schedule for him to give him mental time off and to allow his body to recover to keep him sound.  The schedule allows for turn out at least 3 days a week, relaxing trail rides, lunging, and dressage work 4-5 days a week.  So far it is working beautifully.

Will we reach our goals of qualifying scores at 1st level this year by the end of the season?  Who knows.  Will we canter at a show successfully?  I think so!