Well, this show season certainly isn’t working out the way you’d planned. Social distancing — a necessary evil in the truest sense — is definitely keeping you out of the show ring and may be keeping you from spending any quality time with your horse. And whether you ride for enjoyment, therapy, fitness, competition, or all of the above, it’s tough to adapt to not riding — especially when you have ample free time to mope about it.
Unfortunately, there’s no good replacement for riding or caring for your horse. That’s a truth known by all horse people. But there are some horse-y activities that can help us get through these challenging times. Here are 10 ways to get your horse fix when you can’t ride.
1. Read horse stories
No excuse is needed to reread classic horse stories like The Eighty-Dollar Champion and Seabiscuit: An American Legend. But there are so many more books to enjoy. Try the horse mystery novels written by former jockey Dick Francis, The Horses Know trilogy by Lynn Mann, Natalie Keller Reinert’s eventing novels, and the Amazon bestseller Unbreakable by Richard Askwith.
2. Binge on horse movies
Watch The Black Stallion today and see if you can pick out which scenes used Arabian stallion Cass Ole and which used the Cass Ole’s stunt double Fae Jur. Or relive The Pie’s journey to the Grand National in National Velvet, Secretariat’s incredible Belmont Stakes win in Secretariat, and Seabiscuit’s comeback performance at Santa Anita in Seabiscuit. Other horse flicks to pass the time include Black Beauty, War Horse, and The Man from Snowy River.
3. Work on your fitness
Horse riding is physically demanding, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Body weight and aerobic exercises that increase your strength and overall fitness will improve your effectiveness as a rider. Better fitness also helps you stay calm in competition — because you make better decisions when you’re not gasping for air.
An internet search will turn up many blog posts and YouTube videos with exercise recommendations and even full workouts. A good starting point is this article by Michigan State University Extension.
4. Foot jump around your house
If lunges and squats and planks sound too boring, get your exercise in by foot jumping around your house or yard. Keep the “jumps” low and work on staying on an even pace. And if you’re really serious about getting in a good workout, carry a crop like the kid at the end of this YouTube video.
5. Re-watch your best performances
No doubt you have many photos and videos of you riding. Spend some time rewatching them and reliving your best performances. You might even catalog them so you can don’t have to scroll through your phone for hours just to find that memorable round from Wellington.
6. Write out your riding goals
With horse shows on hiatus, now is the perfect time to reconnect with your riding goals. Think through where you are today. And before you dive right in to where you want to be, take a minute to celebrate what you’ve already accomplished. You’ve already done great things in your riding career — and that’s true whether you’ve been riding for three weeks or 30 years.
Once you turn your thoughts to the future, be disciplined about the goals you set for yourself. You can stay motivated and on course (in life, and hopefully in the show ring, too) with goals that are SMARTER:
- Specific — Dedicating more time to riding isn’t specific, but you could set a goal to ride four times weekly or attend five shows annually.
- Measurable — Riding with more confidence isn’t measurable, but moving up to the 3′ hunters is.
- Achievable — Choose goals that are just outside your comfort zone, but within the realm of possibility.
- Relevant — Make sure your goal is something you have some control over.
- Time-bound — Open-ended goals aren’t very motivating. Put an end-date on when you’d like to achieve this goal.
- Exciting — If you don’t smile when you think about accomplishing that goal, it’s not exciting enough.
- Recorded — Have a system for keeping track of the actions you’re taking to reach your goal.
7. Study riding
Read Anne Kursinki’s Riding and Jumping Clinic, Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic, or William Steinkraus’ Reflections on Riding and Jumping. All are available on Amazon. Or, if reading isn’t your thing, watch full-length grands prix and hunter derbies on YouTube.
8. Try horse coloring books
Yes, even adults can partake in coloring-book fun. Coloring is good for the brain, too. It forces you to focus on the task at hand, which redirects your attention away from more worrisome things. That’s why some psychologists recommend coloring as a de-stressing, relaxation technique for adults. Plus, you can find horse-themed coloring books on Amazon, along with as many colored pencils as you need.
9. Learn to draw horses
Like coloring, drawing is a very focused activity that can relieve stress. You can find many horse-drawing tutorials online to get you started. Or, you could simply sit down with a pencil, paper, and favorite horse photo and start sketching.
10. Set up jumping courses for your dog
I can’t say I’ve ever met a horse owner who didn’t also own a dog. If Fido is fit enough, set up a few collapsible obstacles around the house and see what he can do. It’s not the same as training a horse, but you might capture some fun, Instagram-worthy moments. And your doggo might love the challenge, too — especially if there are treats involved.