2020 is not over yet, but it’s getting cold here in the Mid-Atlantic region and we’ve moved most of our riding inside. I’ve pulled out Steve’s woolback boots and his sheepskin pads, and I have my riding scarves and my silk long underwear all ready to go. With the days getting shorter, it’s time to think about my goals for the winter, and for the coming year. 

I have two basic objectives, and lots of little ones wrapped up within both. My first goal has to do with Steve’s neck. When I first brought him back into work in March my focus was simply on fitness. That accomplished, I began trying to embrace my inner DQ. The main issue with this is that I don’t really HAVE an inner DQ, but it doesn’t matter: dressage is the best way to train a jumper, so that’s what we do. At this point, Steve is going incredibly well; he’s using his back, his topline has developed, and he’s even beefier than normal, but in a good way. Sort of like an elegant linebacker.

Steve! Note the mane flopping to the right side in one spot. Photo by Susan Glover.

Except…there is a spot on Steve’s neck where our winter homework is apparent. You can see it in the picture above: a five or six inch stretch where his mane flops onto the right side; it’s just this one tiny, little, annoying stretch that lays to the right. When we first started doing more intensive flatwork his mane flopped all over the place, both sides. One of my trainers, Morgan, pointed out that as he got more fit and started using himself more correctly, the mane was slowly moving all to one side. So, this winter I am committed to getting him to release that last bit of tension and really work over his back, tail to poll, and get that stupid little bit of mane to go to the left. 

Steve’s a bit tough to ride correctly. He’s lazy and doesn’t want to use his core (who does, really?), and let’s not forget my lack of an inner dressage queen. But we are going to do this! I let his mane lay incorrectly to the left because that’s the side it likes to lie on and we aren’t hunters, and by god, the whole thing is going to be incorrect by January! 

Wrapped up in that goal is, obviously, riding properly. The more precise and consistent I can be in our flatwork, the better chance I have of getting that mane all on one side. I’ve taken to getting on and telling Steve: “We are dressage people!” It’s not really true, and he never seems impressed or convinced, but I think it’s helping me get into the mental game a bit more. 

On the road with Micah. Photo by Susan Glover.

My second main goal is to be able to show without a trainer. I’ve done this quite a bit, and quite successfully, in the past, but some confidence-killing rounds made me realize that I was at a place where help is necessary, at least for a little while. The problem is that I seem fated to ride with eventers (Morgan Connelly and Jumper Nation’s own Ema Klugman), and their season generally conflicts with mine from spring to fall. While Ema in particular is very familiar with the jumper world, going to jumper shows is not her main focus during eventing season. Therefore, by the beginning of spring, I need to be back to feeling confident and happy to show by myself.   

Well, I never show entirely alone, because that’s just not very much fun. Instead, my friend Jaime is my show mom and drinking buddy, and she always makes sure I know my courses and Steve’s socks are clean. We usually bring my young dog, Micah, too. He’s been going to the barn and to shows with me since the day after my husband and I brought him home from the rescue, so he’s an excellent horse show dog. Although Micah is not the smartest guy, he’s a fun companion and loves going on adventures with Jaime and me. So, if I work really hard over the next few months, go to as many little winter shows as I can and take advantage of Morgan and Ema’s lack of events, I will be ready to compete trainer-free when their season starts again. Just me, Steve, Jaime, and Micah!

Steve and Jaime at a horse show. Photo by Jaime. #selfie

I love having goals. I might not have an inner DQ, but I sure as heck have an inner organizer. I always plan out each ride, every time in advance with both short- and long-term goals in mind. Sometimes you have to change your plans, sometimes things get really off-track, and sometimes your plans just don’t work very well…but that’s no excuse not to have any! 2020 has made a mockery out of many of my goals, along with most of us, but that’s even more reason to throw myself right back into it and think about what I want out of the coming year and how to get it. A dressage neck for Steve and trainer-less horse showing for me is what I’m going for!

What are your plans?