Although it’s still dark out when I get up in the morning, and there’s ice everywhere, and the wind-chill factor is low enough that even my Corgi won’t stick her nose outside, I’m feeling the pull of the show season dragging us out of winter hibernation.
Seed catalogs and show catalogs are arriving at the same time. My horse is starting to shed out. The phone message light is blinking when I get home with requests to teach lessons and clinics as show preps. I’m getting more e-mails about horses for sale.
While the flight south in late fall has skewed the rhythm of the seasons for many, there’s still a sense that during certain times of the year you train, in certain times you show, and in certain times you lay low for a while and recharge.
For northern riders with access to an indoor arena, the seasonal rhythm is simpler. Winter is when you train, and summer is when you show. It’s really not fair to your horse to be learning new things, trying higher jumps or trickier combinations or tougher dressage movements, while facing the added rigors of competition. Snow birds who haul south for the winter follow a similar plan, but maybe with the seasons reversed.
You learn a lot when you show, but it’s a different kind a learning that’s borne out of the eagerness of the moment. Winter is a calmer time for reflection, assessment, and making plans. It’s a different sense of satisfaction than collecting ribbons.
While we shed layers of winter clothes, besides training there are two other elements of show success that need attention: equitation and conditioning. After the spring mud dries up, you can’t just pop your horse in the trailer, show all weekend, and expect your horse to be sound and eager to compete again a week or two later. Even if it’s just a matter of longeing in the snow, your horse needs steady work at least five days a week to be strong enough for the competition season.
The quality of your own riding also needs to be evaluated. Winter is the best time for riders, as well as horses, to be learning new things. You want to go into the show ring with consistent aids and balance, not experimenting with a different way to turn your shoulders.
You can really get down and dirty with your equitation while your show boots and ”good gloves” are still stowed away and you’re just slapping on the half chaps and digging out anything that will keep your hands warm. Take an extra 10 minutes each day to do sit-ups or Pilates or trot without stirrups to stabilize your seat. If you wait until April to start this work, then you won’t be ready to show in May.