With the New Year comes the opportunity to set goals for Charlie and me for the coming year.  I appreciate the fact that a calendar year gives us some off-season time to prepare, a competition season, and a wind-down afterward.  So with that in mind, I’ve already begun putting together our calendar for 2016.

The Off Season

The off season in my mind runs until about through March, when shows start happening more reliably, and we go back on Daylight Savings Time, thus extending our useful daylight hours in the evening.

During the off season, our work comes in two parts:  my riding and Charlie’s training.  Most often, the two happen together.  But sometimes, I take a lesson on a different horse in order for me to learn a new skill without confusing or frustrating Charlie.  For Charlie, he gets schooling rides with trainers to teach him new skills, and refresh things he knows that are new to me.

For me, I’m taking three lessons per week:  a group dressage lesson, a group less that alternates between flat work and jumping, and a private lesson that focuses on poles/cavalettis/jumping.  All of those are happening with Charlie.  I’m hoping to add some lessons on a lunge line so I can work on getting my seat down pat.  This will probably be on a school horse to start, and I’ll eventually come back to doing them with Charlie.

On days when I don’t have a lesson, I go to the barn to school alone.  Sometimes that’s a real schooling ride.  Other times, it’s a trail ride to allow both of us to clear our heads, and enjoy a change of scenery from the arena.  But even a trail offers us the chance to solidify our relationship, and that is highly valuable to both of us in this re-building process.

The biggest challenges in making these rides happen are daylight, and the availability of an arena in which to ride.  Since we’re on Standard Time until mid-March, it gets dark around 5pm, and the sun doesn’t come up until about 7:30am.  At my barn, regular group lessons start at 4pm.

So the options become either very early mornings, days before the lesson program starts, and late evenings after lessons have finished for the evening.  With my work schedule, that most often leaves me with very early or very late.  Either way, the goal is for Charlie to get out every day in a meaningful way.

Off Season Clinics

It is my intention to take Charlie to an off-site clinic once a month during the off season.  That’s just three clinics, and I think that’s reasonable.  I’m seeing more and more clinics offered within about two hours of our home with some exceptional instructors.

I’ve even found a handful of instructors who are doing a series of monthly clinics, so I could choose one and learn from them over the full course of the winter.  Plus, it would be nice to go to a known facility several times.  That would allow both Charlie and me to focus more on the riding and training, rather than sweating all the details of being at a new place.

The USEA website, the USEA Area II Facebook group, PVDA (Potomac Valley Dressage Association), and postings by barns in my area all have great options.

The Competition Season — Lessons

Group lessons come to an end in mid-June.  I will work to get private lessons set up to maintain our training schedule from then until late August.  That, plus schooling rides, and training rides will form the basis for our competition efforts.

The Competition Season — Clinics and Off-Site Training

I had the fortunate experience of attending some excellent clinics last year.  Being an Olympic year, some of those clinicians may be focused on their own Olympic efforts.  But should any of them offer clinics during the summer, I would eagerly participate in them again.  For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Competition Season — Shows

We are fortunate to have a well-appointed equestrian facility about an hour from home that hosts a monthly series of hunter and jumper classes from March through August.  The plan is to participate in the baby jumper classes throughout the series.  This will provide both of us with the opportunity to get back in the rhythm of preparation, packing, trailering, and competing.

I’m also hoping to add a schooling horse trial or combined trial each month.  Again, there are several good options available to us within about an hour’s drive of home.

It is my intention to do two “events” per month.  That may be a show, a horse trial, a combined trial, or a clinic at an off-site location.  It is my goal to participate in both a USEA and a USDF recognized show before the end of the season.  If our trainers feel we are prepared, we may get to that more in the middle of the season, rather than at the end.

Long Term Goals

As far as “hard” goals go, we have discussed the possibility of going for our USDF bronze medal with our dressage instructor, and she is supportive.  Silver and Gold sound lovely, but they require competing at Prix St. Georges and Grand Prix, which are out of our range for a variety of reasons.  But the realism of a bronze medal effort will become clearer when we have a USDF show experience to work from.  If you’re interested, check out the requirements here:  http://www.usdf.org/awards/performance/rider-awards.asp

We are also looking at working toward USEA medals at the beginner novice level.  Again, these efforts will become better understood when we have a recognized show experience from which to judge.  If you want to lean more, look here:  http://useventing.com/resource/eventing-medal-program-requirements

I understand that both of these are much longer term goals.  They will likely take us multiple show seasons to accomplish.  But to achieve them, we must begin somewhere.

Wrap-Up

Once we have a full season of competition under our belts, we will sit down with our coaches and see where we are — what went well, what we want to improve on, what we have accomplished toward our long-term goals, and what our goals are for the next season…