Now that the season is coming to a close, what are your best practices for preparing for the coming year?
My friends will be the first to tell you that I am not the one for long term planning most of the time. The old adage that “Men make plans; God laughs” is even more true in the horse world. I tend to plan for the next week, the next ride, the next exercise, and the next stride or footfall. But this is the time of year when I do plan ahead for the things I might want to do next year that do need long term planning.
1. Tackle next year’s calendar
My plan includes tackling next year’s calendar. This does not make me feel under control the way it does for some people! But tackling the calendar ahead can prevent me from being blind-sided later. My calendar includes family plans, dressage conferences, conventions, clinics, and shows, deadlines for declaring and nominating for competitions, and mapping out down time for me and my horses. If I don’t plan for some empty weekends my horses and I will not thrive! This is not the set in stone plan, but the set of possibilities calendar.
2. Polish up your test
My long term planning for next year’s competition is based on one basic rule: If I can do the test pieces roughly right now, then I should be able to do them well enough next year to present them in a test. I may not have things polished enough to show early in the season, but I will not plan to show next season anything that I can’t do with some reliability now. The off-season is for polishing what we can do this season so that we can show it off well next season.
3. Off-season means “no pressure”
Next comes the really fun part! The pressure to keep the horses show ready is off! The off-show season is the ON training season. Now we can introduce things that may set the boat rocking! This may mean introducing flying changes or half steps, it may mean introducing the double bridle or a new snaffle or saddle arrangement. All of these changes can be risky when we only have a few weeks between shows. The off-season is the time to experiment with changes that might take a little getting used to. It is the time to introduce the things you probably will not show next year, but may be able to show off the year after!
4. Intensify your training
This is also the season to get more intensive training with your instructor, because good teachers will seldom open up the very tricky subjects between shows. We need to be able to break a few eggs in order to make the next omelet. This is the season when we can work with our students on the big quality-altering themes that do rock the boat but make it sail so well next season. These lessons often require immediate follow-up lessons to develop the themes more fully before the student practices them on their own.
5. Clinics, videos, and education
For those of us who don’t get enough help, I count myself among them, auditing clinics or watching online rides and clinics can spark a new sense of purpose and discovery that we can indulge in during the fall and winter months. This is also the time when I take stock of myself and really tackle the little things that have been nagging at me. This is habit changing season! We don’t have to keep all of the movements from the test ready to go. We can slow it down to walk for days if that helps. We can take lunge lessons, or just work hard, hard, hard to eliminate that pesky habit of piano hands or head bobbing or… Most of us know darn well what those pesky habits are and NOW is the time to not just work on them, but FIX them. We have the time to do the repetitions it takes to form new habits. This is also the season when we can assess our own health and fitness and choose a path for self-care or cross-training. We have to keep trying to take the best care of our horses AND our own bodies so that we can jointly perform at our best this training season and next show season.
Finally, fall is a time for needed rest. It is a beautiful time of year to go trail riding, turn your horse out for a few days, or read a good book about, or completely without, dressage! This is my favorite time of year because there is a sense of freedom, of time to make changes, and of almost infinite possibilities.
Rachel Saavedra is a high performance Grand Prix competitor, trainer, and instructor. She is a USDF Senior Faculty Member for the Instructor/Trainer Certification Program, and has been giving USDF workshops around the US for over 15 years. She has mentored many of the Bay Area’s top dressage trainers, as well as successful amateurs, from training level to Grand Prix. At home at North Peak Equestrian Center in Walnut Creek, Rachel teaches FEI competitors as well as riders who just want to ride athletically and harmoniously for their own, and their horses’ pleasure. She always welcomes riders to come watch lessons and to join her community of enthusiastic riders at North Peak Equestrian Center. She works closely with owners and horses to develop the horse’s full potential and to ensure full engagement and pleasure in the process for all involved.