So stressed when you get to the barn that you don’t even want to ride?

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Check out this quick exercise!

If you’re like many women, getting to the barn to ride usually happens after  you’ve spent the day at work, taken care of the family, done a load or 10 of laundry, and tried to find the cupcake pan that you knew you had for the school bake sale last year…

Your list may look different, but however you slice it, you’re usually pretty tired and stressed by the time you head to the barn for a ride. Sound familiar? If it does, I’ve got some great news! You can do a simple exercise that will take less than a minute (on most days, anyway), and will allow you to walk into the barn and greet your horse with a relaxed and positive attitude.

Introducing: (Drumroll, please…) The Magic Box!

OK, I can see the eye rolls, but bear with me a minute. If you’re tired of arriving at the barn stressed, and it’s been forever  since you were relaxed at the beginning of a ride, you owe it to yourself (and your horse) to read on. Here’s the deal.

What it is: The Magic Box is an exercise to help you not bring your baggage into the barn. You can use an imaginary box, or you can get an actual box that you keep in your car, under your saddle rack in the tack room – anywhere you have access to it before you go see your horse.

How it works: When you arrive at the barn, do a quick mental (and physical) inventory of your current state. Tense from an argument with your daughter? Crabby because your co-worker baked double chocolate macadamia nut cookies even when she knows you’re trying to lose weight? Whatever it is that you’re lugging around with you – take a deep breath, exhale, and deposit it in your Magic Box. Whether it’s anger, frustration, or even fatigue – put it in the Magic Box, and leave it there till you’re done with your ride.

Note – sometimes it helps to imagine your negative feelings as a physical presence (assigning them colors like red for anger, yellow for frustration, etc.) Once you can “see” your negative stuff – place it in your Magic Box, and make a pact with yourself that the Box stays closed till you leave the barn.

If you go to the barn directly from work, using a physical box will allow you dump in your brief case and heels right along with the self-abuse you’re giving yourself for eating 2 of those damn cookies.

Why it works: By taking a minute to do an inventory of your situation, you bring awareness to it, which is the first step in affecting a change.

Physically – Once you’re aware of the tightness in your shoulders, clenched jaw, and stiff neck, you can take a deep breath, do a few shoulder shrugs, and prepare for your ride with a more relaxed body.

Mentally – Ditching the negativity puts you in a better frame of mind to actually enjoy your whole ride.

So, you get to dump your baggage and enjoy your ride and your horse gets an owner who is fully present and relaxed.  What could be better? Well, as an added benefit, you may find that when you finish your ride, you don’t feel the need to reopen your box and take back any of that baggage.  Then even your family benefits by having you smile your way through folding a load or 10 of laundry.  Oh, and that cupcake pan? Check with your son – he used it for his art project right after the bake sale…

A Matter of Discipline – Part 2

In my last post, I covered the form of forward-seat riding known as Hunt Seat – which has evolved into a style extremely popular in the show ring. Today, I’ll give you a brief overview of two other types of forward seat riding – Show Jumping (also known as Stadium Jumping) and Eventing.

While neither Show Jumping nor Eventing are an actual “seat” – they are both Olympic Sports, and the riding styles utilized vary somewhat from Hunt Seat. You’ll often hear the term “hunter/jumper” used to define a kind of hybrid interest, but there are some definite differences between the two.

The sport of Show Jumping is pretty much what the name implies – jumping at a show. Despite the amazing feats of Regina Mayer and her cow Luna, you will mainly see horses and ponies in the jumping arena. In jumpers, unlike Hunters – the scoring is completely subjective – points are subtracted for each fault a horse and rider incur while on course.

Knock Down

Faults are given for a jump being knocked down, the horse refusing a jump, going off course and general disobedience which affect the forward motion of the horse.

Typically, riders in the Jumper arena will have their stirrups shorter than when riding hunters. Again – form is following function; fences in the jumper ring in international competitions can be over 5′ in height and in many cases, the round is being timed.

Show Jumping classes are held everywhere from local schooling shows right up to the Olympics. Courses typically consist of brightly painted jumps and may contain water obstacles.

Water Jump

At the larger shows, the courses could pass for a final exam in a landscape design class – abundant use of potted trees and flowers is common, and many big name sponsors have their logos worked into the design of the jumps.

Sponsors are important to the sport

Corporate sponsorship is very important to equestrian sports, and the prize money offered can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a premier event. According to The Equestrian Channel, 5 million people watched the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event on NBC in 2004 – which is a great bit of info to use to segue into the topic of eventing.

Eventing (also called 3 Day Eventing and Combined Training) was originally developed as a test of cavalry horses. It’s composed of three phases: dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. The dressage phase was used to gauge the horse’s obedience and maneuverability (more about Dressage in an upcoming post). The second phase, cross country, is held over the countryside with “natural” obstacles composed of trees, banks, ditches and various types of water obstacles. This phase tests the horse’s fitness, bravery and stamina.

Water obstacle on cross country course

Levels at nationally recognized events (governing bodies are United States Equestrian Federation and United States Eventing Association) run from Beginner Novice (with a maximum height for fixed fences at 2’7″) to Advanced, where the heights of obstacles can be up to 4’1″ for stadium fences and 3’11” for fixed cross country fences. The cross country portion of upper-level competitions will consist of four sections. Section A is Roads and Tracks – which is all on the flat and can be considered a warm up section. Section B is Steeplechase – held over brush steeplechase fences at a faster speed than Section A. Section C is more Roads and Tracks and Section D is the Cross Country Jumping course.

The third phase of a Three Day Event is Stadium Jumping. This is held over painted fences similar to a regular show jumping class. This final day of competition takes a measure of the horse’s true fitness level and asks technical questions of both horse and rider relating to lines and distances.

Badminton Horse Trials

Outside of the Olympics, two of the most famous three day events in the world are the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event held at the Kentucky Horse Park each Spring; the Badminton Horse Trials held at Badminton House in the UK in April of each year. Both are very well attended by the horse loving public – and at Badminton, that often includes members of the Royal Family. Princess Anne, her former husband Captain Mark Phillips and their daughter Zara have all competed at Badminton, and many other Royals have attended as spectators.

Even if your horsey life doesn’t lead you to rubbing shoulders with Royalty while walking the cross country course at Badminton – I hope you enjoy the journey.

Next up – a little about the sport and art of Dressage. Travel well, my friend.