by Laura Schonberg
March has me thinking about longer days, better weather and conditioning my horses. I am thinking about conditioning the mind, soul and body for dry trails and the competition season and this includes horse, rider and gear. Let’s start with gear.
After the wet winter season, all of my tack needs a once over. Saddles require cleaning and oiling and checking things like the billets on my English saddle—in good shape or stretched out? Does my girth need to be deeply cleaned or replaced? Is my seat, pommel, cantle, horn and skirt intact or did a critter remove flocking on a panel or compromise the leather? How clean are the saddle pads? Are my bits all in working order and clean? Do the headstalls have all of their screws, ties, and buckles? When is the last time I washed or oiled my reins? Most important, does the tack still fit my horse?
The “once over” on my tack relates directly to being mindful of my horses’ condition. Winter can mean significant changes: weight gain, weight loss, growth of a young horse and muscle atrophy. Are their back muscles in condition for the saddle? Have I done enough aerobic riding over the winter to support trail riding in the woods? I also note if their feet are ready for uneven or rocky terrain. Have their hooves been on a variety of terrain? Spring conditioning includes working them on inclines, circle/pattern work at the arena and transitions between gaits to support muscle conditioning, balance and coordination. Ground work is also critical: Can I catch my horse easily? Will they stand for saddling? Are we connected fully and honestly when I get on?
Finally, am I in condition? Is my core strong enough to hold a two point in the saddle or when throwing a rope? How is my coordination with my lead line and reins? Are my legs, back and pelvis in condition to support a balanced seat? Sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, leg raises and stretches only take minutes to do and can make a tremendous difference in riding. I will even make myself do them at the barn before I go back inside for the evening.
Conditioning tack, horses and ourselves takes time. However, the little things we do to stay healthy will pay off as the daylight increases and the weather improves. Remember, something is better than nothing to condition mind and body for the riding season.
Laura Schonberg works for the Oak Harbor School District. Horses were what grounded her as a child and even as an adult she can’t seem to get enough horse. Now in her 40’s, Laura owns three horses she started herself and pursues several disciplines, including dressage and moving cows.