The 2022 New England Spring Symposium has come and gone, but the learning and lessons that took place are still at the forefront of our minds.
We were thrilled to have Tik Maynard and Sinead Maynard (née Halpin) join us, along with brand new baby Violet, here at Unexpected Farm in Maine for the second year in a row. This year, our theme was “Creating a Partnership That You Can Rely on Away From Home.” Isn’t this something that we’ve all faced challenges with?
This is a universal struggle. As trainers, we often hear from riders, “Everything goes well at home, but then I get to the show and it’s like I have a different horse.” This is a multifaceted issue that comes down to preparation; not just general preparation for the things you’ll see in your test at the show, but specifically preparing yourself and your horse for the environment of the show, which may blow both of your minds a bit.
“The show is not where you want to do the training,” explained Tik and Sinead. “When we teach clinics, we often hear riders say something along the lines of, ‘My horse did xyz at his last show, and this is how I handled it.’ A lot of the time, we can’t say that either of us would have handled it any differently in that moment, but the difference is the preparation that we do the days, weeks, and months before that show happened.
If we can be 30-40% more prepared than what might seem necessary for that show, then we’re probably going to have more success on the day.”
As Tik and Sinead explained during the clinic, we can’t just jump our horses a lot at home to prepare for our stadium rounds. We can’t just do a lot of flatwork and expect that our horses will be attentive in a totally new environment. We have to, as riders, have strategies in place that we can use easily and confidently to keep our horses with us, and recapture their minds when they face distraction.
This is the one that most riders don’t automatically think of when they get to a show, but it can be one of the best ways to get your horse on the same page as you and focused on his connection with you instead of the thousands of things that are going on around him. However, it must be established strongly at home. Here are two basic strategies/exercises that are useful to train at home and then employ in a new environment that Tik and Sinead frequently use.
Staying behind the handler. Sometimes in a show environment where the energy is high, our horses will want to steamroll in front of us, even if we wouldn’t normally allow that at home. (Tik discusses how to do this in his Equestrian Masterclass courses if you’d like a visual).
Quiet work on a small circle. Not your traditional “lunging” to tire the horse out, but real, connected listening, even if just at a walk. In fact, many times, the slower the better.
Adapting Your Warmup
Usually when we arrive at a show, we plan to hop on and head into the warmup arena with all of the other horses, knowing we’ll be dodging horses and have to navigate the flow around the outside of the arena, popping off the rail a time or two to grab one of the three warmup fences in the middle. This works for some horses, but it might not work for yours.
Sinead reflected on a time when she was riding a horse that she knew would have a difficult time in the warmup arena. So, even though it was a bit unconventional, she went off on her own and found a quiet spot on the show grounds large enough for a 20m circle. This worked very well for her horse, even though it wasn’t quite the traditional warmup that we typically envision before we head into the ring. As Tik and Sinead explained, experimenting with a warmup that best suits your horse, not just what we commonly see, can entirely set the tone for how your round will go.
Maintaining Your Boundaries
Whether you’re leading your horse, tacking him up, warming him up, or actively competing, remember that it’s actually kinder to your horse to maintain the same boundaries that you set at home.
“Horses thrive on certainty and consistency,” says Tik. A lot of people feel that it’s mean to firmly set boundaries (for instance, taking time to reinforce the idea on the ground that your horse can’t drag you around, even though he’s at a show and a bit nervous), but it’s actually less kind to change your boundaries and expectations on your horse – it’s confusing for him, which can feed into his nerves and uncertainty in a new environment. He needs to know that he can count on you, and that stems from consistency.”
The 2022 New England Spring Symposium was an amazing success, and we’re so grateful for our sponsors, exhibitors, auditors, staff, and of course Tik and Sinead for making it possible.
“It’s really admirable that Chelsea is prioritizing education and learning with her business and bringing in great resources to Maine,” Tik added. “Sinead and I both felt that this was one of our favorite clinic teaching experiences that we had. Sometimes when you’re running your own business, chasing your own competition goals and helping your student do the same, it’s easy to forget to embrace everything you can learn from other people, but Chelsea really puts this at the forefront. We can’t wait to be back!”