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Author: Stephani Hren

Smoke Season

Smoke Season

The day after our trip down to Bridle Trails, the smoke rolled in. The west coast’s air quality has been bouncing back and forth from moderate to unhealthy for the last two weeks, but it seriously tanked on Monday. I haven’t done more than putz around bareback since our last lesson. ๐Ÿ˜ญ

I’m not a mushy person. A lot of people love to spend time just bonding with their horses, but that’s never been me. Sure, I like the quiet moments where Raglan plays outside in the field and I hunker down in the grass to read a good book, but when it comes down to it the reason I own a horse is so that I can ride. Not being able to rideโ€”to be working, training, developing, improvingโ€”is sucky.

Yesterday the rain came and shooed away some of the smoke. After four days of being cooped up, Raglan pretty much had a mental breakdown when I went to put his halter on. I managed to wrangle him into submission, then I threw him into the round pen and he ran and ran and ran.

When he was done being a whackadoodle I hosed him off, put a bareback pad on, and meandered around the arena in big stretchy trot serpentine loops while SundaeO worked on her pony’s jog. When I left work yesterday evening, I got my first look at a blue sky in… well, it’s been awhile.

As I type, we’re sitting pretty at a an AQI of 58โ€”moderate air quality, which means its safe to work horses that don’t have a history of respiratory disorders. I’m about to head the barn and have a real, honest to god, ride. We’ll probably do a couple flying changes and everything.

If the rest of the west coast could stop being on fire, that’d be stellar. ๐Ÿ‘

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (REPOST)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (REPOST)

Last summer I tagged along with InstructorA and my former show buddy (TeakO) to watch them ride in a clinic with Olympic Coach Daniel Stewart. The posts for that clinic got obliterated when I rebranded, but I’ve been thinking back on the clinic lately so I decided to put together this recap repost.

A note: in my original posts I explained the games the riders played in detail. One year later, I’m more interested in the stuff that I still think about than the specifics of every round. I’ve left out a lotโ€”mental chunking, overloading, pushing for failure, carthartic laughter, athletic acronyms, analysis paralysis, etc. There was a fitness bootcamp portion, too. I hated it. Sorry if you were super interested in any of that. ๐Ÿ˜…

A little bit about Daniel Stewart: he’s been a successful international trainer and instructor for over 25 years and has coached riders on several US Equestrian Teams at World Championships, the World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics. On top of teaching thousands of students a year in his annual summer clinic tour, he also runs an online academy, is an expert in equestrian sport psychology for the USEA, USPC, and USHJA, and has written several books on equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness, including Pressure Proof Your Riding, Ride Right with Daniel Stewart, and Focus and Fitness in 52.

InstructorA, who works full time during the week and used to teach lessons for Ready to Ride on the weekends, brought Kody, her nine-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding. TeakO, a teenager rider with dreams of working in the equine industry, brought Teak, her six-year-old Arabian gelding.

The horses spent the weekend in the temporary stalls at Rainbow Meadow Farm.

Meanwhile, us humans found a home away from home with Nora at Marcon Farm.

The clinic itself was held at Belmore Equestrian. Belmore is a small place with a very nice 126′ by 200′ outdoor arena (gorgeous footing ๐Ÿ˜). I liked how intimate the setting for the clinic was. Most of the horses at Belmore were big draft/TB crossesโ€”LOVE THEMโ€”and a lot of the young riders were from the Belmore Equestrian IEA Team. Everyone was friendly and we appreciated their hospitality so much.

Coach Stewart places a big emphasis on getting a rider’s inner greatness out by matching the great physical with the great mental. This clinic was designed to focus on the mental aspect of the rider. On both days the set up in the arena was straightforward, but the exercises required the riders to put together their own courses on the fly while meeting strict requirements. Coach Stewart’s ultimate goal was to cause “stress-induced amnesia” (forcing the rider to be forgetful under pressure).

“Survival is the brain’s #1 job, but the brain isn’t always right. People under stress fight, flight, or freeze. The brain doesn’t know enough to turn off that safety feature.”

The key to succeeding in Coach Stewart’s game was finding the “Goldilocks Zone”โ€”a mindset where “you’re neither too lethargic nor too anxious; too confident nor too worried; too fearful nor not fearful enough”.ย For InstructorA and TeakO, who have high energy horses, finding their Goldilocks Zone required them to focus on “thinking calm” and “landing lazy”. Coach called TeakO out for being too aggressive and suggested that instead of trying so hard, she “try softer” instead.

“It’s our job to make the horse his best. Whatever you want in your horse, you must first create in yourself.”

Finding the Goldilocks Zone starts with getting yourself into a Flow State. My best rides have always happened in the Flow Stateโ€”my mind goes blank and instead of overthinking my sense of feel takes over. Ever count the rhythm of your canter as you ride? Sometimes the Flow State happens naturally, but many successful athletes use a Cadence to help push themselves into the Flow State.

Coach Stewart also lauded the importance of happiness. Our survival mechanisms know that focusing on the negatives (problems and danger) is what keeps us safe, but it also makes it impossible to be happy in our happy place. It’s our job to silence that inner caveman so that we can perform better.

“This is our happy place. You can’t be upset in your happy place. You’re 34% better at what you do when you’re happy.”

On top of that, Coach also asked us to expand our idea of what a teammate looks like. He wanted to address a common misconception that most riders have: that equestrian sports are a solo activity! He talked about the unseen team behind every horse and rider pairโ€”the diligent trainer, the strategic farrier, the supportive parent, the hardworking stall cleaner, the caring veterinarian, etc. Coach Stewart was adamant that even the people that we compete against should be considered part of our team.

“Everybody you learn from is a teammate, even your opponents. Learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t live long enough to make them all.”

The idea of finding a Power Posture really stuck with me, too. When we get nervous, we have a tendency to get small and closed off, which isn’t helpful coming up to a jump! I’ve been putting in the effort to open up through my chest, straighten my spine, and lift my chin when I’m off balanceโ€”I find my Power Posture!

There’s a lot of things that I learned at the Daniel Stewart clinic that I still carry with me today! But as much as I enjoyed being able to audit his clinic, InstructorA felt truly transformed by the experience. She loved it so much that she’s been looking for an opportunity to ride with him againโ€”and since I’ve got a giant horse of my own now, she’s been trying to convince me that I should participate rather than audit.

But, if I’m being honest… as an amateur that’s already prone to anxiety and self-criticism, I just don’t want to put myself through that kind of torture! Of course, I wouldn’t say no to auditing again. ๐Ÿ˜

Return to Bridle Trails

Return to Bridle Trails

It’s been three months since Raglan and I went down to Bridle Trails with part of the R2R team to ride in a flat class during one of their monthly schooling shows. I’ve put showing on hold until my new saddle comes in October, but when InstructorA invited me down to Bridle Trails just to putz around in the warmup ring I was excited for the opportunity to get Raglan out and about again.

Throwback to the last time Raglan and I were at Bridle Trails in May, he’s def bulked up since!

InstructorA and I were planning on leaving the barn by noon or so, but thanks to a Saturday workshift and a parent that was late to pick up their kid after her tutoring session, I was already running behind when I got to the barn. That makes it no surprise that we went to load up Raglan and he did his best impression of the Black Stallionโ€”KEEP YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND YOU COW! It took a very rowdy free lunge and a lot of patience, but InstructorA and I managed to get his butt in the trailer.

He unloaded from the trailer at Bridle Trails like a pro. I tied him up next to InstructorA’s horse, Kody, where he proceeded to be a little too friendly. They played a couple of rounds of bitey face and then Raglan latched onto Kody’s shoulders/neck in a forced grooming session. Kody looked so miffed. ๐Ÿ˜‚

Once he was tacked up, I took him over to the round pen. Just like the last time we were at Bridle Trails, he was super boring on the lunge lineโ€”which always makes me suspicious.

We ditched the lunge line at the trailer and went to hand walk around the showgrounds. The moment we got around the rings Raglan tensed up. We had a few meltdowns (Raglan striking, rearing, leapingโ€”his norm LOL), but eventually we made it into the warmup arena without crushing any dogs or children. We walked the perimeter a few times, then I took him over to the mounting block.

The first time I went to get on I could feel something nasty brewing the moment my butt touched the saddle. I tried to pull his nose to my knee to stop him from exploding, but he went with it and started spinning like a mad man so I bailed. My confidence was shaken, so we went back to hand walking.

A very kind woman offered to hold him for me while I got on, but Raglan didn’t feel ready to try again yet. Instead we parked it down at the end of the arena and took some videos of InstructorA. Raglan finally took a deep breath, stopped bashing his head into me, and stood quietly while I filmed.

We went to the mounting block outside of the arena, where things were quieter. My anxiety tried to talk me out of getting back onโ€”what if you fall in the gravel? what if he takes off and hurts himself? we can do this another day, come back with your trainer, it’s fine to quit nowโ€”but I told those little voices to shut up. I swung my leg over, fished up my irons, and walked him in a few small circles. I dismounted and then got back on again. We stayed in small circles until he got bored and started locking up, then I took him into the warm up arena. We spent most of our time walking around, but we did a couple of laps at the trot, too. ๐Ÿ˜

Afterwards, InstructorA and I went for a short walk on one of the trails! I’ve never taken Raglan on a trail ride before, but he was a very good boy. He followed quietly along behind Kody and didn’t get worried about anything we passed by. I think he’ll end up being a good trail horse.

Last time we were at Bridle Trails we had all day to settle in since our classes were late in the afternoon. Yesterday we had a much shorter time to acclimate to the show environment. Despite some challenges, Raglan met all the goals I set for himโ€”getting on the trailer, riding in the warmup, going on a short trail rideโ€”and I’m super proud of myself for recovering after a bad start.ย ๐Ÿ’—

I’m going to keep an eye out for more opportunities to take Raglan off property!

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