Hey guys! It’s Nicole Mandracchia again. Horse people have been waiting patiently for the return of horse shows, and for many they have finally returned! On June 1st, US Equestrian lifted all point restrictions that were placed on horse shows due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Any state that has approval from their governor and is in the correct opening phase can begin to offer horse shows under new guidelines from US Equestrian, CDC (Center for Disease Control), and the WHO (World Health Organization). In case you haven’t seen the new COVID-19 US Equestrian Guidelines, you can view them here: https://www.usef.org/forms-pubs/5Qx7zDlFvXs/usef-covid-19-rule-modifications
I know many horse show managers have been working tirelessly to accommodate the new guidelines, which require a lot of change to our normal showing routines. Several of these new rules include: all exhibitors, trainers, and grooms must wear masks when on the ground, social distancing must be practiced, spectators are prohibited from attending horse shows, allotted times are listed for divisions, and the number of people who can be at the ring with each horse are limited. There are several hunter/jumper horse shows that have restarted over the past two weeks such as Tryon, NC; ESP in Wellington, FL; HITS Horse Shows at Lamplight in Chicago, IL; and The Classic Company at Bruce’s Field in Aiken, SC. So far, these horse shows have been fairly successful with their reinstatement and have had good turnout. Every horse person is eager to get back to the fun of horse showing!
I’m sure that every show horse has enjoyed their newfound “down time” during the pandemic. Everyone’s downtime has differed state to state, depending on each governor’s pandemic policy. Some horse businesses were shut down completely and relied on staff to exercise and turnout all of the horses. Other barns were able to operate by appointments and the grooms met the owners in the ring with their horses fully tacked and ready to go. Some states had lighter restrictions. Barns may have been required to stay home and not travel, but they could continue with business as usual.
So with the downtime that our horses have had over the past three months, how do you know if your horse is fit enough to compete again? The truth is simple: being realistic with your goals. If your horse isn’t fit enough to participate yet, pushing him too fast could lead to lameness or injury.
If you showed all winter in Florida and your horse has been in an exercise program with your trainer during quarantine, your horse is most likely fit enough to return to showing. Your trainer and/or their assistant has been exercising them to keep their muscles and minds working so they are prepared to walk back in the ring with you. They’ve been reminded of their jobs every day, and they have probably had extra time to enjoy being horses and getting turned out. The bright side to quarantine is you will have a horse who’s ready for a change in scenery too!!
If you do not have the above situation and you haven’t been able to exercise your horse as frequently as you wanted, there are several ways to evaluate your horse’s current fitness level. First, start with looking at your horse from the ground. Does he look well-muscled, or does he have more fat dispersed across his body? When you run your hand across his body from neck to tail, are his muscles flaccid or firm? If they’re loose and bounce beneath your fingers, you have some work to do. Is he eating too much grain with his cut in exercise time? Has he been getting too much grass outside with his extra turnout time? A re-evaluation of his forage/grain intake may be necessary if he looks fatter than usual. Talk with your trainer or veterinarian before changing anything.
Second, when you ride your horse, is he exhausted after 20-30 minutes of continuous walk/trot/canter work (blowing, sweating hard all over his body) or is he mildly sweating and feels quiet, but not completely wiped out? If he still can’t catch his breath after a good cool down, then he’s not fit enough yet. Don’t despair; it just means you need to do a little more conditioning work to get him ready for his return to the ring. Change his scenery up a bit if you can and he’s a willing soul: ride inside if you have an indoor, take him to the outdoor ring, take him out to a field (bring a friend if you can), take a trail ride (again, friend) and do some hill work. If you do not feel comfortable doing any of these things, ask your trainer to help you out or ride your horse for you. Horses become bored and sour if you don’t change things up for them and work different muscle groups.
Third, have you taken several lessons with your trainer (spread out over a couple of weeks, not successive days)? Have you yourself had time to practice? I’m sure you haven’t forgotten to ride but you might be a little rusty after not practicing consistently for a bit, which is totally understandable. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities at home, you won’t feel successful when the pressure is on at a horse show. If you can confidently jump your horse several times a week in lessons and your horse isn’t exhausted after each one, you’re both ready to show!
When you make it back to the show ring, consider starting at a level lower than where you were at your last show. This is beneficial for both you and your horse; you’ll feel more confident jumping smaller jumps and your horse will be able to get focused again on his job. Another option is that you could have your trainer show your horse for you in a warm-up class or ticketed warm-up before you do your division. That gives your horse a chance to have a tune up and get refocused on his job before you take a turn. Then you’ll both be focused and ready to compete! Once you have finished your first or second show back, then you can discuss with your trainer about returning to your normal classes or divisions. If you feel like you do not need to bump down and your trainer is on board with that, then carry on with your normal divisions.
It’s easy to get swept back up in the thought of horse showing again—we’ve been waiting for this for three months! But before you set foot at the horse show, make sure your horse is at his optimal fitness level and can physically handle the job you are asking him to complete. This will help make his first show back a positive one and allows you to have your chance at winning your classes!