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Madison Givens


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Beating the Winter Blues: Making the Most of It, Part 5

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring! Read previous editions here

Photo by Madison Givens.

Hi everyone and welcome back!

I am going to stop counting weeks, because honestly at this point, I would start looking like a prisoner in a jail cell scrawling tally marks in the wall with a pebble I found behind my bunk-mates bed. And what I mean by that is, as with all horses, the delicately formed plan that I had created for myself this winter has gone painfully awry. I almost have to laugh at the fact that only a few weeks ago, I jokingly wrote an article about how horrible the weather was. Oh how naive I was. If only I would have known what was to come.

Those are my knees, and this image was taken BEFORE two more snow storms that graced us later in the week. Photo by Madison Givens.

As we approach the end of February, I find myself scrambling to piece back together a bit of my sanity. I also feel the need to make a formal apology for all of my optimism at the beginning of January, when I called myself out for trying to stay fit and keep Finn fit. Here’s the deal. I ain’t fit. Finn ain’t fit and my budget sure as hell ain’t fit. Frankly, I am barely coherent. I didn’t really have the opportunity to get to the barn for a combination of reasons, and as a result it has become the hardest two weeks to date.

I also do NOT recommend starting a new diet when the weather is at its worst, and you aren’t getting regular sunlight. Talk about an instantaneous drop into a pit of sadness. You guys. Bread it good. Bread makes you happy. Why would I choose to punish myself by not allowing myself to eat it for just over three weeks. It was the worst 25 days of my life.

So on that note, I decided to try and take some control over my life. I had plenty of time to reflect while I shoveled, over and over and over again. (Think of the Buddhists and their sand art, finishing the task, before destroying it and starting over. You know, patience is a virtue and all that junk.) To follow the note of my last article, I have spent the last two weeks over-evaluating my life and trying to plan as far ahead as I can, in things that I KNOW I can control. (Well, to an extent.)

Iowans are literally running out of places to push snow. I have even seen people loading the snow into dump trucks and hauling it away. Photo by Madison Givens.

Budgeting. (Oh my god, no, please, anything but a budget.)

Guess what people, I know it might not feel like it but show season is only two months away. And with show seasons comes: bills, bills, bills, bills, unnecessary horse-related purchases and MORE BILLS. Our sport is not cheap. It may be cheaper than the hunter/jumpers or even the dressage queens, but it’s not cheap. Especially when I now have the looming weight of trying to qualify for the American Eventing Championships. While I would love to get this done in the first two shows in May and be done, this is not a realistic goal nor should I plan on it.

So I have assessed the opportunities and have eight shows that I can use to qualify myself for the championships.

Please understand that the idea of trying to pay for eight shows this year PLUS the championships makes me want to puke. So if you can’t seem to find any outside motivation to try and qualify for the championships as soon as possible: do it for your wallet. Your poor wallet, whom you are about to squeeze the ever living daylights out of, draining it of all life in the process.

Please understand that I am not trying to go and pay for all these shows, but that they are just the many options and desperate last attempts to get qualified, so I may need to go to quite a few to fall into the running for the AECs.

So here are the things you need to think about when accessing the costs for each show.

  1. Entry & Office Fees: Area IV’s generally average around $270-$370.
  2. Stabling Fees: Sometimes included in your entry fee. Sometimes an extra $130
  3. Heath Certificates: Most shows require you to have one on hand. My vet charges $20.
  4. Extra Bedding: Bring your own, or buy directly from the show, either way add $20
  5. Stall Deposit: $25 — You can get this back at the end of the show if you clean your own stall.
  6. Hotel or Camping Fees and/or Parking Fees: Depending on where you end up and how long you stay, this could be $100-300.
  7. Food & Alcho-….I mean Water: I always give myself a wide range here $75-200. This will depend on what the event provides versus how you choose to fend for yourself.

And lastly, gas…

8. Gas: $70-250. This is a little harder to plan for. But I am going to average out the farthest show and go from there. It is 245 miles from my   house to Wheeler, WI. Home to the Otter Creek Spring, Summer and Fall Horse Trial. Also the one that is the farthest away.

Most truck’s gas/diesel tanks can hold an average of 26 gallons of fuel and get an average of 12 miles per gallon when hauling. Thus from full to empty, average 312 miles per tank. If gas costs an average of $2.70, each time you fill up, it can cost you close to $70 per tank. Yikes. That bites. Now assume that you are driving back and forth across the grounds, to get to dinner, to get to your hotel room. It is your main transportation vehicle. You will soak up the miles faster than you think, especially when you’re hauling several horses in a large steel trailer. Best to plan ahead and assume it will take you one extra tank of gas to get there and back than it might say on paper. DON’T FORGET that you have to come HOME. You don’t want to get yourself all the way there and then have forgotten to budget to get yourself home.

Phew. And this doesn’t even cover all the miscellaneous expenses and equipment that you have hopefully picked up along the way. This just covers the basics, and doesn’t include your costs for having a coach or groom with you, or is you have to pay someone to haul you there. Additionally, you always need to keep miscellaneous expenses in the back of your head, including emergencies like flat tires.

(Quick plug here, is you don’t have US Rider and you are trailering in the United States, seriously look into that. They don’t sponsor me or these articles, but could seriously save your hide if  you are trailering long distances and don’t have anyone else to call. Like AAA, but they will help you find overnight stabling if you should need it. There is a yearly fee, but it’s worth it knowing that you are covered under emergencies.

Which brings me to my next game of choice.

Packing, Planning and Organizing.

Let me first start by asking you: When was the last time you opened your show trunk? Or storage bin, or wherever you keep all your precious equipment that is only to be brought out during the show seasons, and then stored once again during the six months of winter. If you have not opened it recently, and it is stored in a place where critters might get to it, then I suggest you do some checking.

My grand adventure for the week was opening my (what I thought to be an airtight, sealed and waterproof) storage trunk only to be met with the smell of mouse poop and urine. THE ENTIRE TRUNK and all its contents smelled god awful. As I began to pull things out of it to look for any damage, I found remnants of my dressage tests from last year’s shows chewed and shredded. Barely salvageable. Evidence that these creatures can literally survive on anything, including mediocre dressage scores.

I continued to dig, and found myself face to face with two mice sitting on top of one of my extra coolers that I had stored away. They were very much alive and panicked at the fact that they had been unearthed by a giant monster who was screaming and flailing.

The deeper I went into the trunk, trying to pull all of my precious items out, the worse it got. Two became three, then four. Then as I was finally able to empty it of all its contents, I found myself faced with six mice. All having transformed into little jumping beans as they tried to desperately to escape the trunk in which they had been living.

Photo by Madison Givens.

I am not proud to admit that I screamed and cried during this entire process, and eventually had to get help from my barn mates to help remove the creatures. I also tried enlisting the help of our local barn cat, but apparently he was too full that day, and watched the mice as they hurried to safety outside my trunk. Needless to say, no mice were harmed in the process of cleaning out my trunk. However, one very fat barn cat is being put on a diet and administrative leave.

So as I collected myself and moved on to the task at hand, I began putting together a list of what I currently owned, what may need to be replaced before the end of the year, and what I needed to have with me at each show.

There is zero reason for me to reinvent the wheel here, so below I am providing a few resources on lists you can use to help you get started on planning for the first show, and every show after that.

USEA is the first place to start and they have provided a great start-up list. I do not own or use everything on this, but it has some great suggestions on things you may normally not think about. Like chairs, extension cords and other low maintenance things that aren’t directly correlated to your horse and thus easily forgotten.

Next link comes from Sophia Montana with The Horse Network, and has provided some quirkier options and things you wouldn’t grab, but might want to start taking to your next show.

And finally, a versatile checklist that can be used across the board in all disciplines, by Alana Harrison from Horse and Rider.

I know planning ahead is taboo amongst the eventing community, and frankly, if your horse is a psychic I suggest trying to be stealthy about it. However, because I am an over-thinker, over-worrier, AND over-planner and the weather is keeping me cooped up inside, this became the only way to keep me sane. That and I have been watching oh-so-many cross country helmet cams. (Don’t tell my boss or my professors.)

See you guys next week!

Beating the Winter Blues: Moving Forward, Week 4

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring!

Photo by Derith Vogt.

Hello Everyone! Welcome back to Week 4!

As you can see, Finn and I survived the record-setting low temperatures, and while the weather is still not perfect, the temperatures in Iowa are bearable enough to take away any excuse not to ride. So with this week, I am going to try and catch you guys up on all that Finn and I have been (slowly and sporadically) working on these last few weeks and hopefully offer some ideas to help you jump into February! (Not literally though, it’s like all flatwork.)

Weather was a little more cooperative this week. Screenshot via Accuweather.

First and foremost, is you are not following Eventing Nation’s posts on #FlatworkFebruary, fix your life and go catch up on them.

Next, I want to offer you guys an exercise that I love Love LOVE to practice with Finn. This exercise is a great way to test the correction and balance of your horse. As a plus, I have also found that it helps Finn and I work on our rhythm and tempo. And, it’s a great way to start transitioning into lateral work if you have not yet started. Over all, this is something I do in every ride. I don’t school the crap out of it, but it’s definitely a part of my warm up to see if Finn is paying attention to my aids.

The “Spiral In – Spiral Out”.

Here is a great article by Kristin Schmolze from Practical Horseman detailing the few key things to look for and work towards in the exercise. Check it out at this link. 

And if you are more of a visual learner here is a video by Randi Thompson:

For the rider, I wanted to find something that I could do at home. While I am happy to admit that I broke down and got myself I gym membership, I definitely have not made it to the physical location of said gym. Not. Even. Once. My hectic schedule needs to become less of an excuse, because come spring, my muffin top is going to swiftly turn into a ball and chain. It’s going to be less and less inviting to go and work out when the weather becomes nicer and I would rather find myself outside. Letting myself be slowly consumed by the infamous “barn time”.

With that in mind I have been trying to use and watch videos geared towards equestrians. It offers a little more motivation, at least. So here is something quick and easy to add to your list of exercises to help you build the ultimate rider body!

Lastly, I want to address the fact that we are one month into the articles, and if your winter experience has been anything like mine, you are becoming increasingly drained by the weather and lack of sunlight. And as I sit here, over-analyzing my life, I did something that no one should ever do: I WebMDed myself. Thus I came myself face to face with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Yes, that’s right, S.A.D. straight out of ‘The Office’.

But it’s hard not to have SAD when this is where you live. Photo by Sarah Arnold.

I tend to be a bit of an emotional character, anyway. I know I have mentioned this before. That my emotions affect my riding and I don’t think that this is a new discovery for both myself and the people around me. But lately, with the weather and the lack of progression in my riding, every lesson I have taken in the last month has ended with my trainers yanking me off the ledge I seem so desperate to throw myself off.

I have found myself constantly looking for things to be wrong. Is Finn uncomfortable? Are her hocks bothering her? Is her back sore? Is she warm enough? Does she have sinus problems? What can I throw money at to make myself feel better? And then I obsess over research. Reading everything I can get my hands on to try and justify my behavior. You all can understand that, right? Horses are some of the most suicidal creatures on the planet!

And here I sit, writing up this article about self improvement and not accessing a core problem.

So now that we equestrians have conquered January, it’s time for a mental health check!

I think a lot of anxiety and stress around Finn and my riding comes from a delicate sense of self-esteem. It’s not that I struggle with self-worth, it’s just that I find myself constantly striving to be better. And because of this, I have these crushing expectations and goals of where Finn and I should be. I find myself in a constant comparison trap of last year versus this year, versus where we should be in six months. I have exhausted myself before I even got to the starting line of the race.

Photo by Derith Vogt.

The reality is that I don’t need to rush into show season. I don’t need to rush to the first competition of the year. I don’t even need to rush into next week. What I need to do is re-learn to enjoy every ride. Not just the good ones, but every single one in-between. Each ride needs to be new and fresh, with no baggage from the day or from the previous ride. I need to avoid finding myself frustrated by all of the ups and downs as Finn and I learn together. Otherwise, this season will be absolutely no fun. And what is the point of doing this is I can’t enjoy it.

Below is a small list of articles that I have enjoyed over the last few weeks. They, along with great friends and great trainers, have helped me remember that all that matters is that I keep moving forward. That’s our motto for this week: “Move Forward.”

Emotions: An Article from Equine Wellness Magazine

Mantra From an Emotional Rider: by Lindsay Paulson – Dressage Today

2019 Resolutions: Chronicle of the Horse Blog Writer Alice Peirce. (A little late, but still relevant)

Self-Esteem and Insecurity in the Saddle: by Nenah Mikuska – Dressage Today

Thank you to everyone for reading along. See you next week.

Beating the Winter Blues: Postcard from the Frozen Tundra, Week 3

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring!

Photo courtesy of Derith Vogt.

Hello everyone and welcome back to week 3 of my winter weather journey! This week is sponsored by ‘Armageddon.’

Armageddon: Do you enjoy owning horses in the winter? Have you ever found yourself just dying to thaw out pipes and water buckets? Do you downright need to risk the elements just because you enjoy the thrill of ‘will I get frostbite or won’t I?’ Well then Armageddon might be for you!!

Photo by Sarah Arnold.

This week came with quite a few road bumps. One being the weatherman’s promise of -55 wind chills. I know many of you have either been watching the news or are feeling this raw experience yourself. The words ‘Polar Vortex’ casting a shadow of doom over our lives. So for this week’s article, I reached out to a few friends and together, we give you “A day in the life of an Iowa Equestrian.”

Screenshot from (Don’t ask me what the heck is going on with Saturday. It’s Iowa, nobody knows.)

So you have decided to go to the barn. After dancing, pulling, jiggling, yanking and hopping your way into as many layers as possible, you manage to pull your coveralls over top. The only thing left exposed to the elements are your eyeballs. At which point, you consider doing the Birdbox challenge while at the barn. After all, frostbite sets in after 10 minutes in -55 windchill.

Photo by Sarah Arnold.

Photo by Carol Morgan .(Note the stop sign!)

You have arrived to the driveway of your barn, and find it impossible to drive through. So you call and beg your barn manager to come plow a path. After some reluctance and the word ‘crazy’ being tossed around, they do it. If you are your own barn manager, then you understand the struggle of fighting with the tractor until it FINALLY starts on the 10th attempt.

Photo by Hannah Owens.

You make it to the barn, and find yourself wondering why you put yourself through this. “Be a horse person” they said. “You’ll love it” they said. “It will bring you new meaning to your life” they said.

Photo by Sarah Arnold.

You grab your horse from the paddock and note that they seem much less fazed by the weather than you are. Despite the fact that their whiskers are covered in icicles and they are standing knee deep in snow. It is at this point that your pinky toes begin to get cold.  

Photo by Derith Vogt.

Photo by Hannah Jungling.

Photo by Emily Nash.

Photo by Hannah Jungling.

After dealing with all the hassle that it has taken to get yourself INSIDE your barn, you find yourself soaked with snow, a little sweat, and realize you have to pee. Well guess what. It will take you 25 minutes to peel off all those layers and you now have to make the crucial decision to whether or not you can hold it.

Photo By Emily Nash.

Once you make that crucial decision, you now begin the task of tucking your horse in against the elements. This means making sure they have plenty of hay to eat, and an unfrozen water source.

Photo by Ali Glenn.

Photo by Madison Givens. (Thanks Ashley!)

Once you have your pony settled in with hay and water, you check their blankets. Over and over and over again, you find yourself checking their blankets. Making sure they are warm, but not too warm. You find yourself so worked up about it, that you are guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you made the right decision. Should you have thrown that extra one on? Or taken that extra one off? You don’t know.  

Photo by Emily Nash.

And finally, after you have checked everything over for the thousandth time, you talk yourself into leaving. You have done everything you can to make sure your horse is as safe and comfortable as possible for the weather ahead. The only thing you are doing now is standing around, half frozen and worrying yourself to death. Meanwhile your horse has no idea why you are fussing around them, because honestly they are just trying to eat their hay and go about their own business.

Photo by Madison Givens.

Photo by Sarah Arnold.

And you have done it. You have braved the elements, taken care of your furbaby and now get the reward of traveling home(or heading back inside) to warm up.

Some suggested ways of doing this are:

  • A hot bath
  • A heated blanket
  • Shotgunning a bottle of wine
  • Moving to Florida

Whatever you do, it is an instant relief that you can feel all your appendages again.

And and as a bonus, you get to do this all over tomorrow! (Or in 12 hours, whatever your boarding situation is.)

Sorry to everyone who was looking forward to another more educational post this week. Honestly, with the weather, everything has been a disaster and most of Iowa has entered survival mode. The only thing getting me through it was knowing I wasn’t totally alone out here. Taking care of horses is truly a full-time job. Even when it is Armageddon outside. (Don’t forget to thank your barn managers and all the people who help take care of your horse if you are boarding them.)

Until next week, lets all think green, positive thoughts!

Photo by Fox River Photography.


Beating the Winter Blues: Winter Fitness and Accountability, Week 2

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring!

Photo by Madison Givens.

Hi everyone, and welcome back for week 2!

I want to start off by thanking everyone for all the positive feedback on last week’s edition. I am so humbled by the community’s response to my first article and it warmed my cold little heart knowing I wasn’t totally alone out there. (Not cold in personality, but cold because I am currently freezing my arse off in this weather. Like, seriously guys, I have a pretty big butt, and I am genuinely concerned it’s frozen off.)

Now having said that, let’s jump into this week!

I will say, it was very hard for me not to cry and complain this week about the weather. Apparently I got a little too too excited last week in my expectations of riding this winter, or at least blocked out how bad Iowa winters like to play with your emotions. The temperatures and weather dropped so much that I pretty much had to take it day by day whether I could even go out and see my horse, much less try and figure out how to ride. I am pretty sure the winter gods read last week’s article and were so offended by the idea of trying to be productive that they are now refusing to allow the temps to rise above 10 degrees.

Screenshot via

I almost gave up, filled Finn up with extra cookies and waited for the next week to roll around. But I made a promise to myself that I was going to be more productive. No, this does not mean that I was able to ride everyday. But it does mean that I was able to ride one more day than last week. It means that I tried a few new things to help mix up our routine. And it means that I admittedly suffered defeat at least twice at the hands of winter’s wrath. I chose to let the winter winds whisper sweet nothings into my ears, draining me of all motivation and desire to ride twice this week.

Because of the fluctuation in weather, and my growing frustration with not being able to ride consistently or in the daylight, I reached out to my local equine massage therapist for some ideas on how to keep Finn feeling comfortable on the days when riding just wasn’t going to be an option. I wanted to do something to help Finn stay comfortable without having to worry about her becoming a statue in the cold.

A little background:

Supple Equine Sports Massage is run by Chloe Lansing. Chloe has helped me reassess Finn’s entire workout plan by giving me more insight on where she tends to get sore and tight. Finn specifically struggles mostly through her lower back and into her SI. It’s hard for a little downhill-built Quarter Horse to learn to sit down and place more weight on her hind end. Chloe has been wonderful in providing me with various exercises on the ground and in the saddle to help Finn build strength and help prevent her from getting sore.

I recommend giving Chloe’s Facebook a peek. She is constantly posting all sorts of great articles on the muscling of the horse, various stretches and some downright hilarious photos of some of her client’s horses yawning and stretching after their body work is finished.

Photo by Amber Garthwaite.

I would recommend stretching after your horse has had the opportunity to warm up. Generally, when it is too cold to do any solid riding, I place poles ALL over my arena and so some bareback walk work, sometimes throwing a cooler on Finn while we ride to help her muscles warm up more quickly. For 10-15 minutes, we will spend time moseying around the arena. Sometimes on the bit, sometimes relaxed with my hand on the buckle. We change directions constantly and walk over the poles at all sorts of different angles. I really just wanted to get her moving after she had been standing with her butt to the wind all day. Because Finn will stock up in her hind legs if she really hasn’t moved for a while, I try to keep her moving until they look a little better. After Finn has had a chance to warm her body up a bit, we will begin our stretches.

Photo by Madison Givens.

Chloe’s suggestion on getting started: “I would suggest stretching after every ride, but if that is too intimidating to start with, a great place to start is three times a week. If it is possible, each stretch should try to be held for 5 seconds, and can be repeated 2-3 times per position of the stretch. Remember not to try and force the stretch, the horse should develop elasticity naturally, and the more you practice these stretches, the easier they will become. Doing stretches correctly on a regular basis, paired with a proper warm-up, can be a great way keep your horse comfortable and allow them to develop more correct muscling. Through correct stretching, you will help prevent muscle, ligament or tendon damage caused by tension and stress that may build in the horses body over time.

DISCLAIMER: If you suspect that your horse may have any musculoskeletal issues, please consult a vet before beginning any sort of stretching program.

As a point of reference for our stretches:

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Carrot stretches! We have all heard of some form of them. They are GREAT for your horse and simple to do. Don’t fret if your horse isn’t super bendy or relaxed. It will take time to become more flexible. The more you do these stretches, the easier it will become. Here’s a carrot stretch cheat sheet from the University of Tennessee Equine Hospital to get you started. 
  1. Butt tuck: This is Finn’s least favorite stretch. She is very weird about things touching her butt. But I mean, I get it. I would be super weirded out too if someone came and started randomly trying to make me stretch my butt. (PSA: If your horse is ultra sensitive, sore in any way, or just downright hates having his butt touched, be very careful, you are at risk of being kicked when doing this.)

Benefits of doing butt tucks:

  • Flexion of the thoracolumbar spine
  • Flexion of the lumbosacral junction
  • Abdominal muscles engage to life the back
  • Hard to reach iliopsoas muscles are recruited

Here’s a video courtesy of Supple Equine Sports Massage, Darci Lorensen and her wonderful mare Athena:

Pelvis tucks demonstrated! ⚠️ This can be irritable to some horses and they may kick. Proceed with caution. Additionally, please consult with a vet before starting a stretching program if you suspect any muscular skeletal problems.

Stand behind or slightly to the side of the hindquarters. Position your hands so one is on either side of the spine at the top of the hindquarters, use your fingertips and gently apply pressure on each side and move down toward the hind legs. This should result in the horse arching his back. If your horse doesn’t respond to pressure from your fingertips, you may need to use the backside (flat side) of a hoof-pick. I’ve encountered horses that will not do this exercise.

What are the benefits?
⚡️Flexion of the thoraco-lumbar spine
⚡️Flexion of the lumbo-sacral junction
⚡️Abdominal/core muscles engage to lift the back
⚡️Hard to reach iliopsoas muscles are recruited

Perform this regularly 4-5x/week for 3 months (it takes time to see results!), then you can back off to 3x/week.

Thank you to Darci and Athena for demonstrating!

Posted by Supple Equine Sports Massage on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

To get the most out of this stretch, it should be performed 4-5 times a week over 3 months, after which you can back off to 3 times a week.

  1. Belly-up: Great to do if you have a horse struggling with its topline. Try repeating this stretch a few times, building up to them holding their belly up for a few seconds at a time.  

  1. Hamstring stretch: This is one of my favorites for Finn. Because she is built so downhill, she will place a ton more stress onto her hind end when trying to collect. It’s great to really help your horse stretch and step underneath themselves.

Finn’s topline at the end of week 2:

Photo by Madison Givens.

For the Rider:

To follow in these week’s theme of stretching the horse, I recommend these stretches for riders.

Pigeon stretch: It’s one of my favorites considering I struggle with tight hips and lower back pain.

This next video is a little longer, but I am going to use it in place of some extra exercise this week.

I decided I needed a little zen in my life. I have found myself running circular arguments with myself as I ride, and as a result it gets taken out on Finn. She is so sensitive to my emotions that the more frustrated I become with myself and my own riding, the more anxious she becomes as a result. So after a lesson with a good friend of mine, I realized that I need to breath and take it easy. I hate to make this cheesy comment so early into our winter articles but “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Rather than fighting with my own self-expectations, I need to realize that it’s OK to have ups and downs.

So without further ado … equestrian yoga!

Notes from last week:

I would really love to start featuring ideas and comments from you guys! Please let me know how you are coping with this weather, and I will include it in next week’s article.

Thanks, Liz, for the suggestion on the painter’s mask! I never would have thought of picking something like that up for our dusty arena. Normally I just suffer through it and snot out dirt for the next three days.

For those of you who have been kind enough to read to the end, here is your reward! I threw a lot of different articles and examples at you this week, so I want to end on a fun note:

Once again, I can’t thank everyone for being a part of this with me. See you next time, when I am sure it will be even colder, and I will be considering a new career in indoor sports.

Go Eventing?

Photo by Madison Givens.

Beating the Winter Blues: Winter Fitness and Accountability, Week 1

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring!

Photo by Grace Busse.

Hello everyone, and welcome to the very first part of my winter weather journey. If you are anything like me, or what I would consider the “average” eventer, you are currently debating whether or not your winter break should come to an end. It’s easy to get lost in the funk that is shorter days, colder weather and sometime a downright boring ride. That’s right, I said it, BORING. Even the most obsessed horse riders have their mundane days.

For those of you who are lucky enough to have an indoor arena to work in, you are dreaming of greener grass and a day when you aren’t stuck in an arena doing circles upon circles upon circles upon circles upon circles upon circles …. For those of you who don’t, you really just want one day where the footing isn’t crap, you can still feel your pinky fingers, and you’re not soaked to the bone in some sort of off yellow/brown colored substance. It is becoming easier and easier to head out to the barn, give your horse some love and turn around and head right home, without even opening your locker and saying hi to your tack.

If you are able to relate to this in any way, whether you are from the southern side of Texas to the most northern forests of Minnesota, then I encourage you to keep reading and join along in my journey. If you are one of the lucky ducks who enjoy wintering in Florida or Aiken, well then maybe join along, too? My hope in writing this, along with providing videos, pictures and articles, is to help any and all riders who are looking for an easy central source of developing fitness from “0” to competition, have some fun, and learn new tricks.

The Rider: Let me start by telling a little bit about myself. I am the epitome of your average Adult Amateur from Area IV. Hello, my name is Madison and I’m addicted to horses. It has been exactly 0 days since my last search on Dover for more things I don’t need, and I live in the heart of central Iowa. That is IOWA with the corn, not Idaho with the potatoes. I work full time at a law firm, waitress part time to support my horse addiction and go to school part time. No rest for the wicked, they say.

After my last competition at the end of October, one I had spent much blood, sweat and tears preparing for, I gave my little pony just over two months off. The first month was a breath of fresh air, only riding every now and then. December the holidays took over. And now it’s January of the new year, and I am sitting here kicking myself because my horse has lost a significant amount of topline/fitness and the only tool I seem to have to get it back is an indoor area. Not ideal.

The Victim: Finn the Finntastic wonder pony. Finnamon toast crunch, Finn the mudblooded cowpony I bought off the lot for $750 with less than 30 days on her and an attitude for life that did not match her size of 14.3. She has a heart of gold, and she is my soul horse.

I have been eventing for close to 15 years and I can tell you, she was not the horse I was planning on purchasing. In fact, what I wanted was a 17-hand OTTB(oh the irony). Everything about her, and how she is built works against her when it comes to staying fit and learning the game, but she TRIES, and I’m not really sure I would want it any other way.

We started the year trying not to careen around the arena at Mach 10, leaning harder than a Kawasaki around a race track, and finished our year earning an 8 on our canter work. I am ever so proud of it. We have competed together at many schooling shows, got TEed from our first two recognized events due to rider error (excuse me while I slam my head against the wall for my “learning the hard way” mistakes) and finally landed a finishing score of 33.3 at Windermere Horse Trials, our third recognized event ever, and the first event I ever finished in the 15 years I have been eventing.

Our second time jumping ever. Please note the terror on our onlookers’ faces. Photo by Derith Vogt.

Almost one year later, competing at Catalpa Corners Charity Horse Trial. Photo by Derith Vogt.


The Reality: I have been bitten with the competition bug and set my sights high for the American Eventing Championships in Kentucky. However, as a result of waiting for the weather to improve, the days to become longer and the season to start once again, I have become quite stir-crazy. At work I find myself letting my rump grow as wide as the chair I currently sit, and procrastinating everything so that I may instead spend my time looking and looking and looking for new and better ways to help us prepare for next show season. The countdown starts now, and our first schooling show is April.

So now let’s get to the point of my ramblings: The purpose of these articles first and foremost will be to keep myself accountable for getting both myself and my horse back into shape. Thus avoiding the April shock of “Oh my god I have a show in four weeks and I haven’t ridden in four months.” And allow an open discussion/portal into how I am choosing to get my horse fit, and how you can, too. I am hoping all my fellow eventers out there will find a touch of motivation out of this as I bare my soul to the world, and try and avoid those nasty winter blues.

Update by update I will key in on what Finn and I have been working on, provide videos and articles giving insight into why I chose to exercise the way I did, and what I am doing to help bring Finn back to tip-top riding shape. I would like to share our ups and downs, what works and what doesn’t, and cultivate different ideas. If anything, it will encourage at least one person who reads this to set goals, keep pushing and not lose enthusiasm. No shame in admitting that this time of the year is hard, so let’s all join together and set ourselves up for a productive spring.

Disclaimer: I am in no way a trainer or a vet. None of these training ideas are original to me. Anything and everything typed beyond this point should be taken in stride with your own plans that you may have already coordinated with your vet, physical therapist, trainer, etc. These are simply things that I am trying myself or with the help of my trainers, and wanted to share with the world. Remember: These are ALL suggestions only.

Before I continue any further, I must emphasize the importance of a properly fitting saddle. Having an ill fitting saddle will only inhibit your ability to build proper muscle, allow the horse to relax and keep your horse feeling comfortable and willing.

WEEK 1: Fitness Level “0”

Walk work. UGH – I KNOW

I know it’s not the fun stuff. But it’s EVER so important for giving yourself the base any and all horses need to build strength and character. The key here is remembering that energy does not equal strength/fitness. For all you hot blooded horse lovers out there, this means that just because your horse is constantly spooking and daring you to run him around the area because he just really wants to go, doesn’t mean he is in shape for it. The goal by starting with walk work is equivalent to slow and steady wins the race(and ideally prevents injury. (Quick, I said the “I” word! Everyone go knock on the closest piece of wood you can find. DEAR GOD knock on that WOOD)

Finn and I normally start off with 5-10 minutes of keeping my hand on the buckle of the reins letting her look around the area, taking in the environment, keeping a steady pace and practicing turning of my legs. Simple as that. Not really worrying about her being a the bit, but simply allowing her to let her brain settle a little her surroundings and making her she is aware of your aids. It’s pretty freaking cold in Iowa right now, and this also gives her muscles a chance to warm up and remember that they too, must work for a living.

Next it’s another 10-15 minutes of connected long and low stretchy walk. Constantly changing diagonals, doing 20m and 10m circles, figure eights, you name it. I change the bend constantly, keep her moving off my leg in a nice marching walk and try to allow her to relax and come over the back. The more the horse relaxes, the more you should feel the shoulders swing in the gate.

By now you are 15 to 20 minutes into your ride. Maybe throw in a little counter bend. If your horse is more advanced, lateral work is going to be your best friend. Make sure they are listening to your aids. The key here is not to get frustrated or fight when they don’t want to relax down. You don’t want to find yourself cranking your hands and pulling. Help yourself by thinking more about pouring the horse out in front of you, instead of pulling down and backwards.

The video below gives great insight on feeling out the stretchy walk: 

After which, I do about 10 minutes of trot work and then begin to cool down. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but normally after about 10 minutes of the same long and low routine, all while constantly changing our bend, Finn is a-huffing and a-puffing.

My goal for the first to second week is simply to retune myself with my horse. The bottom line is that I haven’t ridden consistently in the last two months, so I cannot expect to grab Finn out of the pasture and be ready to perform. I am just trying to feel where her strengths and weaknesses are.

My goal is to be able to feel Finn take consistent purposeful steps while maintaining nice and low contact. The entire base of training starts from the walk. If I can’t do something at the walk, how should I expect to do it at the trot or canter? As this becomes easier I will incorporate more, but for now, this is all Finn needs. Riding like this, keeping everything long and low is enough to help build enough strength to keep progressing forward. My biggest fear is rushing her into collection and as a result making her back and hindquarters sore. That would set us back months.

Image via USDF.

For Me:

Guess what, we riders aren’t off the hook yet either. Rider fitness is just as important.  How can we continue to improve if I can’t properly stay with my horse and support her through her movements. The two biggest pieces for me are cardio and core strength. So this week I’ll start there.

Stretching: Hip Flexor Stretch. One of the tightest areas for equestrians tends to be their hip flexors. I am no exception. Take a minute to warm up, and then give this stretch a try. Do NOT push yourself to look like the person in the video. If you can’t do the stretch right away, don’t fret. It’s something to work on.

Walking: I am trying to walk 15 minutes extra a day if I can. Around the block, on a treadmill, anything. I  have to start somewhere. Trust me, walking/running is one of my least favorite things to do. And honestly, if you knew me, you would be concerned for my health if you see me exercising voluntarily. I am trying to find a way to do this five days a week, whether it’s a break at lunch, or taking the stairs more often.

The Plank: We all know this horrible exercise, but it’s the simplest one to start with. I have started doing it in the morning after I get out of bed. Got to get it out of the way early. I am just starting by holding it for 30 seconds at a time. Eventually I will work up to a minute. And then eventually two minutes. This is just one of many core exercises you can start with too. (Don’t worry — the more we go along with this, the more core work I will torture you with.)

Finally, while I sit here trying to type this all up, I found myself reading tons and tons of articles on winter fitness. This one jumped out at me, and I think it’s a great start.  

My suggested article for the week is by Marcia King from “Winter Workouts.”  

I am planning on taking periodic pictures of both Finn and I, and I encourage you to do the same. Slow progress is hard to see, and keeping track of where you started to where you are a month from now can be quite encouraging. Please feel free to suggest other ideas and stories about stretches and exercises that work for you. Thanks for reading. See you next time!

Photo by Madison Givens.