The season of winter dreaming is upon us, those who show heavily. Where we bundle up in ten layers to go feed, then sit inside and look up horse shows and make big dreams for 2016. I’m here to tell you… GET OFF THE COUCH!

My show calendar for 2016 is already full of dreams. Between shows in two disciplines, clients, 4-H and judging I have maybe 4 weekends free from now until October. These shows creep up on us in the dark winter and as a judge, I cringe in March in Virginia when the ice has just started to melt and horses who have clearly sat in a field since finals in November are being asked to do 3′. They are beautiful, but lack the muscles to support the task, and owners are putting their horses at risk (often unknowingly) to performance injuries. Protective equipment can protect from an outside injury but if there is no muscle or tendon to support it underneath, the bowed tendons, pulled muscles, soreness and other issues can show up in the spring mud in the show ring!

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Indy signing himself up for a show

If you show- even in just walk-trot pleasure- our horses are athletes, and they deserve to be treated like it. While we walk around the house in our Nike socks and Under Armour hoodies rocking “athletic wear”, we often don’t feed and train our body like the athlete we see in our mind (Guilty here!). The same goes for our horses. We put them in the therapeutic sheet or faithfully strap on XC boots but are we giving them their best shot?

We need to train ourselves and our horses as best we can through the winter. Yes, winter kills our plans but doing right by our horses is our best management practice. Here are some tips to prepare for the upcoming show season that you can start doing right now:

1. Make a Plan – Use a calendar to break down your goals. Samuel needs to be 6K XC fit by  June. So he has a calendar based on his progression markers from previous conditioning sessions. We don’t always work out 4 times a week (we are about to get a ton of snow!) but we can move these goals to get ourselves prepared and not cause injury.

2. Tone Not Bulk – When I started working out more after my surgery, my physical therapist taught me the difference between tone and bulk. Doing 50 reps with the 3 pound weight doesn’t look like much but it develops the lean muscle. Doing my normal 15 lbs and just doing 10-20 builds big muscle. The lean muscles that made me toned helped to establish my core. Same with horses. It’s cold, frozen, muddy or otherwise not summer, then maybe don’t put the jumps up so high. Jump lower but fix your accuracy, timing, distance. There are so many things to be said about taking things back to the basics if that’s all the weather will permit you to do! Samuel will often do his 3-4k a the walk, because it’s too slick to trot and move him out. But he’s still moving, and we are still fixing problems.

3. Stick to the Plan – Ok, guilty here… It’s cold out, and my student is out here grooming in her coveralls and then jumps out of them and into the saddle. Meanwhile I was inhaling hot tea trying to convince myself to buck up! It wasn’t THAT cold, but I was not being focused on horses. Why should I have ridden? Because less than 3 days later, we are going from 60 degree January to 2′ snow and sleet. I’ve not just lost a week to snow but now one and a half weeks because I was lazy. Mother Nature is a tricky lady!

4. Be Realistic – When winter ends and those first shows pop up, be realistic with yourself and your horse, for their safety. Can you jump that height? Yep! Have you been doing it consistently all winter? Nope… Then maybe let’s enter the season a little lower in height, or if due to competition rules you must show no lower than a certain height, then maybe skip show #1 and get fit to make a statement at show #2. Your horse is your baby, your best friend and your love. There is nothing more soul crushing than being sidelined for a whole season and nothing worse than knowing it was because you blew into show season too high, too early, too big, too soon.

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