Several experts—from academics to doctors to journalists—are writing about how COVID-19 is not only changing our world temporarily but also permanently. From healthcare to technology to workplace organization, this crisis is making us make changes, and a lot of them may stick far after the virus is gone. That got me thinking: will COVID-19 change our sport, and the ways we train and ride, in the long-term as well?
We are already seeing severe economic hardship on the horse community, and it is likely to worsen over the coming months. People are buying fewer horses, staff at horse shows no longer have jobs, and some horse owners face the hard choice of selling their horses in order to keep themselves financially afloat. But in the longer term, will COVID-19 change our sport in structural ways? Will it change the way we think, or the way we approach our own competition schedule? What will we learn from this forced hiatus from competition?
Time will only tell, of course, but one potential lesson learned from not being able to compete is the effects of competition on our horses. For the first time in a while—maybe ever—all of our horses are getting a long break from competition. What if we come back in a few months and our horses feel super—better than ever? We should note that, and then think about how to plan our schedules in the future—maybe a month of hacking or time off a third of the way through the year is actually the best “training” we can give our horses to maximize their performance later on.
Of course, this could also work the other way. You could give a young horse time off, and it could be spooky, difficult to ride, and dump you halfway through the course at your first show back. Then you’d know not to give that one too much time off, at least at this stage in its career!
The point is to keep track of how this forced break affects our horses, including their soundness, mood, and fitness, and then apply the knowledge from this experience to our future schedule. Some of us might realize our horses stayed fitter than we’d expected. Others might find that they lost fitness quickly and have a hard time regaining it. We will also learn about how easy it is to bring our horses back from a break.
It’s hard to find the bright side of a global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for one. We are in different boats. Some of us can’t ride at all, others are lucky to ride occasionally, and a few of us can still ride everyday—but none of us are competing right now. Let’s take detailed notes on how our horses come through this period so that we can make optimal decisions for them in the future.