What do you do with your event horse in winter?
Once your season has come to a close, it’s a good idea to take some time to reflect on how it went. Whatever your season looked like, putting a winter plan in place helps to keep you feeling motivated through the cold, dark nights while you count down to the new season.
We asked two BE Accredited Coaches: International event rider, BE Master Coach and Fellow of the BHS, Nick Gauntlett, and Irish international event rider and BE Level 3 Coach, James McCullough, for their advice.
How do I review this season and plan for the next?
Even though the aims that you had at the start of this season may have been derailed, you can still, as James suggests, reflect on what went well and what needs further attention, drill into your results to see any patterns and weak phases. Plus, your EquiRatings Simple Metrics are a brilliant indicator of where you sit in relation to other competitors.
James adds: “In terms of planning for next season, start with your end goal in mind and ensure that all your other competitions and training are in line and related to reaching your target.”
Nick agreed that setting goals is a great idea and once you have set an end of season goal, you can work back from there. But warned, “It can’t be “I want to win!” You are not in control of anyone else’s performance, only your own, therefore winning is not in your control.”
What should I focus on over the winter?
As Nick suggests, it’s easy to keep practicing what we enjoy, which is usually what we are good at. You really need to look at the areas that let you down or stop you being more competitive and focus on that.
So, if it’s show jumping, look at what you can do to improve. Is it to work with a coach, get more competition practice or manage your nerves? Or maybe your horse comes out at the start of the season spooky and like he’s never seen a cross country fence in their life before? Could some Arena Eventing help? Or research into places to put in some more cross country schooling in the run up to your first event?
James agrees: “The winter is a fantastic opportunity to work on the key areas of weakness that you highlighted in your season review,” and recommends that we need to “be proactive and seek advice from a coach, train hard and gain important competition experience too. For example, if show jumping has been your pitfall, take the opportunity to sharpen up in this area – take advantage of the BE Jump Training series for example”.
To avoid putting too much pressure on yourself at the start of the season, James suggests generally starting preparation and training earlier, therefore giving yourself the best opportunity to work on any weaknesses and make the most of the entire eventing season rather than getting into the flow as it tails off.
Do I give my horse a holiday at the end of the eventing season?
There is no clear-cut answer to this one. As James advises; “Every horse is different and needs to have an individual plan to take into account key factors, such as age, experience, level, clinical history and natural attributes like fitness and stamina. An experienced horse with more mileage may well benefit from some time out to recuperate, whereas a more inexperienced horse may in fact gain advantage from more training and competition exposure in order to build confidence and establish key foundations ahead of the eventing season.
Nick agrees that as riders, “we need to listen to what our horses need and then probably give them several shorter breaks of somewhere in the region of 10 days to a few weeks. The shorter breaks also negate the need of endless trudging round the roads (obviously still important, but not the only thing you need to do).”
Does BE do any competitions over the winter?
Yes! For the 2020/2021 winter season members and non-members can take part in the Baileys Winter Series – which comprises of Jump Training and Arena Eventing.
Each with their own championship to aim for, they are ideal to keep you motivated over the winter, get in that much needed ‘match-practice’ and help iron out some of those areas of weakness you probably identified in your end-of-season review.
Jump Training has the unique added benefit of having a BE Accredited Coach on-event to give advice in the course walk, help warm you up, and provide real-time feedback on your round. Plus, once you have received your feedback, you get to put that into action and jump your round again! If show jumping is your Achilles heel, Jump Training is not to be missed.
James, who has been the BE Coach on hand at many Jump Training competitions, adds; “How many times have you competed and wished you could have ridden a certain line differently or kicked yourself for making a silly mistake? With Jump Training, you have the chance to make those changes in a supportive, competitive environment.”
Arena Eventing is perfect for blowing away the cobwebs and keeping your cross country eye in. If you are not a member (you don’t need to be a member to take part in the winter series) and want a taste of BE competition, or have a new or young horse to get to know better this winter, Arena Eventing is a great way of building that partnership and gaining experience. As both jumping phases take place in an arena, it’s a great way to jump on a surface in a confined space and to face many of the technical questions that you may meet on a cross country course.
When do I start thinking about getting my horse fit for next season?
This will obviously depend on your aims for next season, when you plan to start eventing, if/how much holiday your horse had and their age/experience/level etc. But James recommends in his experience approximately eight weeks out from your first event is a good time to start working on fitness. However, if your horse has had a break, for example, you are likely to need longer than eight weeks.
Top tips for exercising this winter
Many of us will be guilty of ensuring our horses are fit enough to compete but, as James noted, rider fitness is something that is so often overlooked. Going on to say that if you and your horse are both fit this will inevitably reap rewards.
Core strength and stamina are both so important when it comes to the three phases of eventing; in dressage, being able to engage your core when making transitions, stability and balance in show jumping, and an effective position that supports your horse to achieve its optimum performance in the cross country phase.
Cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling or swimming help improve your lung capacity and high intensity interval training (HIIT) is another great way to improve your oxygen consumption as well as burn fat.
Pilates, yoga and weight training are excellent for building core strength. The fitter you (and your horse) are overall, the more likely you are to avoid injury.
Nick credits riding out for local racehorse as a great way of helping your rider fitness over the winter.
First published in the November/December 2020 issue of British Eventing Life magazine, original words by Katie Roebuck