When I talk about paddock to performance, I’m referring to the notion that you can go from nothing to some level of physical achievement.
I have been sharing my journey as Equestricares sponsored rider because everything I have learnt has changed my riding and relationship with Den. I want others to recognise the importance of bodywork for their horse, but also the broader picture that is functional conditioning.
Performance means something different to everyone. For a beginner rider, it could be a blue ribbon in a walk trot ring, for someone who is new to dressage it could be remembering their test, it could be a clear 140cm show jump ride or shaving 0.8 of a second of their barrel race. Get what i’m saying? No matter what level of performance you are striving towards both you and your horse need a suitable level of functional conditioning.
Den and I on the weekend didn’t even finish Wooroloo, I fell and we were eliminated. For the first time ever he was an absolute machine on cross country. He was fast, he was locking on to the jumps and taking off in his stride without any hesitation. We got caught off guard with a horse coming right towards us as the course in this one place loops back on itself and Den literally stopped dead, I kept going with the momentum. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt. I’m going to admit, it was hard to not feel disappointed. It wasn’t about placing, I was looking forward to riding the whole 2.5km course because I had been working on our fitness and strength for this event.
Despite wanting to drown my sorrows in a pizza and a block of chocolate. I took the time to reflect on how far we had come and that all the training had still paid off, we had a 65% dressage test which is continually improving and a clear show jump round, placing 12th out of 35 riders before cross country. To me, this is performance. I had taken my canter dressage score from a 5 to a 7 in 6 weeks. The conformation training Equestricare teaches opened my eyes to the potential performance and changes possible when you focus on the right exercises for your horse.
I have written about our canter before, its a work in progress, especially in a confined dressage arena. I had put a lot of time building his strength slowly and have gone from lunge work only, to short straight lines, to arcs, to poles and grids and now slowly working towards the 20 meter circle. We tend to live and breathe canter. He even does halt to canter, and canter to halt. Can we do a nice 20 meter circle yet, not quiet! The point I’m trying to make here is that Denny’s conformation means canter is hard, I have had to change my training and routine to suit what he needs.
If you are increasing your weights, or pushing yourself to run that bit further, you feel it afterwards and even for days after. Who has felt that jelly feeling where your arms are trembling? or your legs so sore you can’t sit on the toilet? Its the same for our horses and Denny has needed a regular massage and stretching in between building up our rides. The work your horse needs is relative to what you want to achieve and how your horse is built and their suitability. Denny is solid, short backed and chunky, eventing even low level is harder and requires a greater level of conditioning than an athletic thoroughbred. Acknowledging this means I keep his body comfortable and supple with bodywork and massage, ensuring he feels physically able to push that bit harder for us.
I challenge you to think about what you are asking your horse. Are you struggling because they might be sore? does their conformation mean they are finding something physically challenging? Do you have a level of performance you are striving towards and not getting there? What I ask of Denny is like me attempting the 12km HBF run for a reason, it’s not impossible but yeh I’m not going to lie ill find it challenging because I am not built to run!