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Caroline's Blog Post # 1
How to Deal with a Broken Horse
So I might not have all the expertise in the world, as realistically I’ve been quite lucky in that this is my first major injury and rehab process. However, with Jack out of work and my goals of running the CCI1* at Virginia a few month past, I’ve found some interesting ways to compensate for my year of setbacks.
- Don’t lose sight of your goals.
Having a broken horse generally means that any short-term goals you had will be put on the back burner. This doesn’t mean that your long-term goals can’t still happen! Since Jack’s first melanoma removal surgery back at the beginning of January, I’ve had about one setback a month that has pushed our show plans back with it. So I didn’t have a spring season; fine, I can have a summer one. With a tendon tear in April, there went the summer season. At this point, I’m looking at a winter season. And if all goes well, a 1* in the spring. Bam. This is and will be my long-term goal as long as Jack is sound, happy, and willing to do it. But I still also have my short-term goals; to keep myself in shape, improve our connection on the flat, learn more about conditioning, etc. Maybe not the same short-term goals as before, but still goals that will help us achieve our biggest long-term goal.
- Ride something else.
Ok, so obviously this can be tricky for a lot of people. But I’m willing to bet, being eventers, that you have a good group of horsey friends. And I’m willing to bet that same group of friends might need someone to hack their horse during a busy week, or maybe even cover the rides while they themselves recover from an injury/illness etc. If you’re not lucky enough to have one of those friends, maybe you board at a barn and there’s somebody there who needs help getting rides done. I’m pretty lucky to live in Athens, GA which is fairly well saturated with horses and great horse people. I’ve been able to catch ride for a friend, have a pony sent to me for training, and to help a friend keep her older guy in shape when she can’t be there. All of this saddle time MATTERS. It matters for your sanity, it matters for your riding muscles, and it matters because it will most definitely keep you motivated to continue striving for your own goals on your own horse when he or she is no longer broken.
- Get in shape.
What better way to keep your sanity, stay motivated, stay in riding shape and help you reach your goals than getting yourself in shape while your horse recovers? I took a weight training class for my last semester of college this past spring. Goal? Get in shape for the 1*. I sat down with the instructor and told her exactly what I wanted out of the class; had her watch old videos, told her about judge’s comments and my trainer’s comments and showed her pictures of me riding. Despite Jack’s many setbacks, I have maintained a fitness routine even though the 1* couldn’t happen. I was lucky enough to meet a FABULOUS instructor who has since become my personal trainer, and who understands my need to stay fit for Jack’s return to real work. I’ve found that staying in shape while also riding other horses has helped me keep my focus better than just doing one or the other. My long-term goal still feels within reach because I’m still setting myself up for it. Maybe it’s a year away, maybe it will never happen, but regardless, my body & mind will be ready for whatever life throws my way.
This is something that everyone should do anyway, but being out of the game and not getting to horse show with your friends can be a real downer. So be a volunteer! Since Jack’s injury I have volunteered as a XC jump judge at Pine Top & Chattahoochee Hills International. Not only did I feel part of something cool, I got to watch some great rides at all levels, see some NICE horses, hang out with horse people, and be a part of the sport that I love. And free cross-country schooling vouchers without expiration dates are pretty awesome too (because at this point, we’re going to need them before we get back out on course). This one is like killing two birds with one stone; enjoy the moment now and reap the reward later when your horse is no longer broken!
- Get creative.
I took a big step this year, my first as a professional, and moved my horses away from the hunter barn that I manage to my house, which has a quaint little setup. The move meant I lost access to jumps. So with the help of my family and boyfriend, we built and painted our own! Maybe you keep your horse at home and your jumps could use a makeover, or maybe you board somewhere that has jumps chipped and falling apart. Throw a jump building/painting party and invite all your friends! Imagine how cool it will feel to get your horse back going again AND having new jumps to play with! Get creative with your fillers, too. Just because your horse is broken now doesn’t mean you can’t plan for an exciting comeback.
- Be a good friend.
This one is important because while it may feel like your world has crashed down around you, it hasn’t. There is still a world out there with other people in it, and they have things happening to them too. So be a good friend and rejoice in your friend’s happy moments and commiserate in their sad. Cheer them on at shows, like their Facebook posts, and be a shoulder to lean on when they encounter their own pony problems. We are horse people, and more specifically eventers, and we seriously know how hard life with horses can be. Never forget to be a good friend to those who have been there for you and your broken horse.
- Love your pony.
Love your broken pony and make him feel like he’s still the center of your world. Just because you can’t ride him doesn’t mean he has to look unloved or feral. Good grooming will keep their skin and coat in good shape and all the attention will definitely help them feel like they still have a job. Jack is used to being the center of attention in my small herd. Since he’s been off, he’s had to watch my older horse work and leave for shows. I make sure he gets just as much attention and that he still gets clipped, mane pulled, and bathed as though he were getting ready for something. I know he feels better with a regular routine, even if we can’t do much.
So these are just a few of the ways I’ve learned to deal with a broken horse this year. Maybe you have some more to add? Jack and I have recently been cleared to do “normal” horse things, minus the jumping. It’s been a long 6 months, but I feel like deep down we are both better for having slowed down, worked through the most basic stuff (at the walk) and just enjoyed being together without the pressure of showing. While we have no fall plans, we are looking at making a 2015 reappearance here in Area 3; Jack will tell me what he’s ready for!