Do what you can do not what you can’t do
Play to your horse’s strengths, it’s better to jump clear and place third than have the fastest time and have one down because you were trying to do the impossible.
What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
I think for any rider to achieve success and find their own way to the top it is important to go and learn from top riders that they respect. However, every yard does things differently and it’s as important to learn ways you do like as it is to learn ways you don’t like. Don’t get blinkered and think that there is always a right way and a wrong way to do things when it comes to riding and horse management. Take what you can from every training session and learn what you can from watching top riders but it’s important to find what works for you.
For me this is probably one of the most important aspects of my yard. Some people can get tunnel vision and get slightly obsessed with going to horse shows without taking a step back to realise horses are just animals at the end of the day. All of my horses jump rustic fences, go hacking at least 3 times per week, trot on the road and do plenty of cantering on tracks and verges. It’s good for their brains and their bodies, I would get bored cantering around in circles day after day so I’m sure they would too! If they are sane enough I like to hunt my young ones too, to get them educated, stronger and looking where they are going. It’s good to get them used to groups of other horses and also get them forward thinking. Happy, fit horses are more likely to perform.
There are no shortcuts
Even when it comes to walking the course. Walk the line you are going to ride. This will help you create a plan before you go in the ring. Of course, things can change when you’re in the ring but it’s much easier to work to a plan and this will help you ride calmly and smoothly.
Getting through winter…
Even during the cold winter months my horses all wear a summer stable sheet under their heavy winter rugs. This is because they are far easier to wash and dry than a thicker rug thus making it easier to clean the layer closest to the skin. I change this layer regularly and the other thicker layers get sent to the rug washers at the end of the winter.
Long damp grass is a great way to clean the worst of the mud off your horse’s feet and lower legs after a particularly muddy hack. I try to find a verge or field to walk my horse through to get the worst off before I get back to the yard. Then I towel dry their legs and brush the rest off when they have dried completely. They get shampooed with warm water before a show but washing and wetting legs too often in the cold weather can cause cracks and scabs so this is only done when necessary. If you do encounter cracks and scabs, then Horseware Hypocare spray and sudocreme are both great for sorting this out.
It’s important to get horses exercised every day to keep their circulation going but if the weather is really too awful sometimes it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get ridden. In this case I try to get them out for a quick hand walk or leg stretch of some sort.
When my horses are clipped and the weather is bad I exercise them with a quarter sheet. When it’s wet I use a waterproof quarter sheet and if I’m hacking I sometimes also put a neck cover from a turnout rug on to shield them from the rain and keep them warm.
A little heater in your tack room will keep the damp off your tack and give you somewhere to warm up. The weather can be as hard on riders as it is on horses. For sore hands, I use “O’Keefes Working Hands” hand cream and “Snowfire” is brilliant for chilblains.