There is no more glorious feeling (apart from rolling in the mud) than galloping through the finish flags at the end of a clear cross country round.
Your coat is shining with sweat, your ears are pricked, and the crowd gathers round to admire you—and then you realize that your rider isn’t hugging you in glee at finishing the course, she’s draped on your neck, gasping from pure exhaustion.
How embarrassing! I mean, clearly, the horse has done most of the work, anyway, so it’s sort of inexplicable to have such a tired rider, but it happens all the time!
I myself have grown tired of Helen’s desperate pleas for water at the end of a cross country course. And half the time, she can barely speak because she can’t catch her breath. I don’t know about you, but I think this is pretty weak. I’m trying to move Helen up to Intermediate level this season, too, if she can figure out how to stay attached to the saddle for all three phases, and I thought a good place to start would be with working on her fitness.
To this end, my friend Sebastian and I came up with a brilliant fitness plan, which I demonstrate in this video.
You may think that trotting around for 20 or 30 minutes isn’t a big deal, but for the average human, this is thought of as a serious athletic endeavor. It’s hard to motivate your rider to do this by him or herself, so it’s best to accompany him or her in order to make sure there are no walking breaks.
There are added benefits, too–it’s useful to teach one’s rider to be led correctly and stay back, by the horse’s shoulder, allowing the horse to lead. Occasionally, it’s OK to drop back and let the rider attempt to drag you along (as is demonstrated by Fabian, the chestnut in this video) as this increases the effectiveness of the workout by making the rider use arm strength as well as leg power.
Don’t be alarmed if your rider seems weaker than usual during the early stages of the fitness plan. Legs that previously kicked and prodded your sides, trying to make you perform silly dressage movements, may hang limply like noodles for a couple of weeks. Take advantage of this and enjoy the freedom from niggling aids.
If you are handy with your teeth, I encourage you to remove the stirrups from your rider’s saddle, too, which will aid in developing your rider’s core strength—a necessity if you want your rider to stay on for the whole event.
Some of you more rebellious readers might be thinking “What’s wrong with you, Pangare? Why do you want your rider to stay on?” Well, it’s a little-known fact in the horse world, but there’s a very silly rule in eventing: the horse is eliminated from the competition (no shiny ribbon, no carrots, no fan letters from fillies) if the rider does not remain attached to the horse for all three phases.
I know, I know, I hear you all snorting in frustration.
First, let me ease the pain by explaining that they are not required to keep their hands on the reins or their feet in the stirrups but merely have to stay on board, so a well-timed but careful buck or head-flip will gain you the freedom you need to perform well. But you’ll have to jump cautiously so as not to dislodge your stirrup-less and rein-less rider. This brings me back to me earlier point—it’s best that you develop your rider’s fitness and core strength!
I hope that this video helps other event horses. Let me know if you need any more advice. Meanwhile, canter on!
About the Author
Helen Brew has just turned in the first draft of her dissertation, and hopes to complete her PhD in Creative Writing in the spring of 2017. She teaches English at the University of Louisiana, is tolerated by the eight horses on her little farm in Louisiana, and imparts nonsense to those unfortunate enough to be her riding lesson students. Pangare and the rest of the herd put up with her because she is often a source of funny stories that they can tell to their stablemates at shows.