The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC. and the USEA.
It’s hard to get motivated when the temperature outside is below 30 degrees, there’s nothing on the competition calendar for months, and you’re more than likely going to be stuck in your indoor if you don’t have a concrete plan. For those riders that can’t escape the winter to go south, Ferguson creates a game plan that allows you and your horse to reach new milestones and stay fit. This way you can hit the ground running come spring, feeling like you’ve really made some major improvements without having to attend an actual horse trial.
The first thing Ferguson notes is, as a rider, to physically write down your goals for next season. Don’t let yourself go in the ring and trot around for 20-minutes before you call it a day. It’s important to go into each ride with a specific skill you want to work on. If you’re not sure where to start, Ferguson suggests dissecting the dressage tests you’re going to be performing next season, especially now that all of the tests for each level have changed! On your next dressage day, go through one of the tests entirely and pin-point the movements that need to be worked on. You may find that your trot-to-canter transitions need a lot of work and smoothing out. Pick a day and really hone-in on that one specific skill. This allows you to go to the barn with a plan, while not trying to solve too many problems at once. Then the next day, work on the next movement that needed some polish, and so on.
With all of this dressage practice, check your local calendar to see if you can head out to a dressage schooling show or two to gauge your progress. The more practice in the ring, the better, especially with a judge’s feedback!
Ferguson also suggests that on your other flat days, take your horse off the rail and practice lateral movements on a straight line without your horse using the rail as a crutch. This is much harder than you think!
“It’s really fun to take your horse off the rail and only ride on the quarter line. First, just ride your horse straight and ask for transitions on the straight line without the rail to hold you. And then you can start introducing lateral work. Just riding straight on the quarter line can actually prove to be the hardest exercise, and if you lose the connection you can always turn onto a small circle and then work back to riding straight on the quarter line,” Ferguson explains.
This exercise will be beneficial for your young event horse because it keeps them alert to your aides and is helpful to work on connection. Your horse may hollow out, brace against your hand, or even run through you as you practice these transitions. But the more you can use your leg and seat into these transitions, the truer your connection will become. And if you need to, put your horse on a 15-meter or 10-meter circle if they start to resist the connection, and then try again.
Keeping yourself fit as a rider through the winter is also very important. Now is the time to work on strength exercises and take some days to just work on you and not be particularly worried about what your horse is doing.
Ferguson remarks, “Remember, it doesn’t need to be November to take the time to ride without stirrups! A great exercise I encourage my students to do is to put your horse on a circle at the trot, drop your stirrups and a few strides later, pick them back up and repeat. This really allows you to focus on your center of balance and strengthening your legs. You will feel an unpleasant shift in balance if you tend to lean to one side or the other!”
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 where Ferguson discusses even more beneficial and fun exercises you can do with your horse through the winter to develop into an even better pair!
Lauren Ferguson is an experienced three-star level eventer that enjoys bringing young and talented horses up through the levels, while still maintaining the goal of riding at the four-star level. Based out of Goshen, Kentucky, Lauren’s wide range of students thrive in her training program where her ultimate goal is to develop a confident, happy, and successful relationship between horse and rider. Lauren’s patient and systematic approach to teaching her students and bringing her young talent along allow her to be successful in the Future and Young Event Horse programs. To learn more about Ferguson and her program, please visit her website.