Whether you’re an adult amateur or junior rider with one horse or a professional with a barn full of horses, you’re looking for ways to keep your expenses in check. For some, that probably means not competing at all; for others it might mean only contesting a few carefully selected shows.
No matter what your situation, you can continue your training and practice putting yourself and your horse on the competitive line, without paying entry fees, stabling fees and transportation costs.
1) Establish Training Goals. The training goals you set can be almost endless, from basic to advanced. How about becoming fit enough and balanced enough to ride without stirrups, at the sitting trot and canter for 10, 15 or 20 minutes' Learn to use your lower leg effectively without raising your heel. Learn to sit up straight. Practice the sitting trot. Learn and then teach your horse leg-yield or shoulder-in. Then learn and teach your horse travers and renvers (haunches-in and haunches-out).
Improve your jumping position, concentrating on developing a solid base in your lower leg, a flat but supple back, and following hands. Become proficient at adjusting your horse’s stride length to meet the jumps correctly. Become proficient at turning to the next jump by using your eyes and your outside aids, instead of pulling your horse around the turn. Become fit enough and balanced enough to jump through a gymnastic grid with no stirrups or no reins.
2) Revolving Schooling Shows. To have the showing experience without actually going to a show, arrange for schooling-show-type opportunities among your friends at your barn or at nearby stables. Model these shows after the revolving dinner parties that were popular in the ’80s, where everyone went to the first house to have appetizers, then went to a second house for the main course, and finally headed to a third house for dessert.
Instead of eating meals, everyone makes a short trip to barn A because it has a dressage ring, where you can ride tests at whatever level you wish. Obviously, you need a judge, so either one person can be the judge or you can take turns judging each other. (Just remember that this is supposed to be fun, so be kind and encouraging. It’s not the Olympics!) Finish with a potluck lunch.
The next week, go to barn B because they have a cross-country schooling course. Do two or three short rounds each, with the winners determined by being closest to the optimum time or by style. Again, have a potluck lunch.
Then the next week, go to barn C for a show jumping or equitation competition. Again, take turns being the (kind) judge and have a potluck lunch.
If your sport is show hunters or equitation, you could simply have ”schooling” shows at different barns. Or, if your barn is big enough and has the facilities (ring, jumps or course), just have your shows there.
These revolving shows could have no entry fee, or you could each pay a small amount ($5, $10, $15 for the day) to have ribbons or drinks or to contribute toward some project at the barn.
What’s the training benefit of these shows' All horses and riders benefit from going to a new environment, being with groups of horses and peers, and still having to concentrate well enough to perform. Simulating a show environment, but in a more relaxed way, is great experience for green horses and green riders. Basically, any time you can get off the home property, it will help you be ready when you can afford to really compete.
3) Spruce Up The Place. Can’t get anyone excited about your revolving-show idea, or do you keep your horse at your own farm and don’t know enough people who ride to pull it off' Try sprucing things up around the barn and around the ring to help you (and your horse) work through the anxiety of dealing with new situations.
Paint the jumps bright new colors, with flowers or other designs on brush boxes, panels or boxes. Move the dressage ring or the jumps to some place new on the farm. That will surprise many horses.
If you keep your horse at a boarding barn and want to spruce things up or move things around, entice your fellow boarders and the barn manager. But make it a requirement that in order to play you have to ”pay” by helping paint or move the jumps or the dressage ring.
4) Get The Right Speed. If your sport is eventing, and you’re depressed because you aren’t going to be able to ride in as many horse trials as you’d like this year, here’s something you can do all by yourself to master an important part of it. All you need is a field or a ring, a measuring wheel and a stopwatch.
Practice your galloping technique and your sense of pace or speed by measuring a distance (100 meters, 400 meters or even 800 meters or more, if you have that much space) and then covering the distance in precise times. Ride the distance as many times as you need to while checking your watch as you gallop along. (If the speed you want is 400 meters per minute, you should gallop 100 meters in 15 seconds.)
Then do it without your watch (and have a friend time you), or just don’t look at your watch until you’ve punched the stop button.
After you’ve done this numerous times and developed your sense of pace, you’ll be better prepared for cross-country when you can afford the entry fee again. This is also a good exercise to do regularly, to keep practicing your sense of pace.
5) Make A Deal. Trade lessons with a knowledgeable friend or swap services with your trainer, especially if you can do work around the barn.
Article by John Strassburger, our Performance Editor.