“This horse was too fresh. What were you doing back there? You didn’t lope him enough.”
It’s a mentality that stretches across all disciplines, and at all levels. A great personal example happened to me over the summer. I was showing a green horse at his first team penning. He got spooked and bucked around the arena like a rodeo bronc. As congratulatory as my audience was for my bronc riding skills, as I got back on and began to walk circles and do slow giving exercises to regain his attention, at least 5 different riders “reminded me” that the training track was available for me to go “lope some fresh out of him.” They said to go take 20 minutes or so to get him in the right head space. I walked him for 10 minutes in those small 10ft circles, asked him to back a figure eight, and told the clocker I was ready to go. He was perfect his next 5 runs.
My question is this; Where did the notion come from in horses, that being tired leads to better performance? Do you see olympic athletes sprinting and wasting all of their energy before the big race? Before taking the SATs, should we have students go to spin class so they are mentally focused? I don’t know about you, but if I have already exerted a fair bit of energy, I’m more likely to be off my game than on it.
Two weekends ago, Cooper and I showed in the Trail Champion’s Challenge at the PA World Horse Expo. The warm up arena (the main arena at the expo center) was the warm up pen for every event that day, and only available until 9am, which is also when our class started. So not only did we have to deal with every distraction possible in the warm up pen (flag bearers, cleaning in the stands, cart horses, you name it), but if you were looking to get your horse tired, and were not going in the first 20 minutes, your warm up was probably going to be moot. For many riders, their warm ups were useless.
It is shows like this, that I am glad for the “warm up” techniques I have come to use, and for my strategy of “practicing fresh” when I am at home.
It is pretty simple really, when I am at home I like to ride my horses through show like situations at their “freshest” on a regular basis. This means before they have been turned out for a few hours, and with minimal to no warm up (just enough to prevent physical injury), which for trail obstacles can many times mean get on and go. If I can’t get through a mock trail course at home with that small amount of pressure on my horse, then I have more work to do in order to compete competantly. Then, when I am at the show, my warm up consists of slow technical maneuvers that make my horse feel confident. I focus on slow work that they know, so that they easily pick it up and focus on what I am asking. I never school new things at a show. If I look at the pattern and see something I have never practiced at home, the warm up pen is not where my horse is going to learn it. I show the horse I have that day, no more, no less.
So what did happen at the Expo you may ask? Cooper may not have won any ribbons at the Expo, but he gave every obstacle a good effort, and received strong compliments from the judges for his softness and demeanor. And we were fourth to last in the class, with over an hour and a half of wait time from our warm up to when we performed. Boy was I glad my horse can perform fresh!