We know we must do physical conditioning of our horses for distance riding, but how many of us think about MENTALLY conditioning for the conditions?
We are faced with many challenges at a distance ride, and the more homework you can do ahead of time, then hopefully the better prepared one will be. While I think those new to the sport are more often finding some of their pre-ride training end up with a few holes in it, I have seen experience riders have some issues that they might have been able to lessen had they done a few extra preparations before heading off to a competition.
When we prepare and condition for rides, many of us have a tendency to only ride in weather that is more perfect, as we have a choice. If it is windy, or cold, we can wait a day or so for something better to head out to enjoy some trail time. But when we get to a competition, we do not always know what the weather is going to do. If it is not to our liking, we can always choose to not ride. And that is up to each individual. This has to be fun, and if riding in less than wonderful weather is not to ones liking, that is their choice, and theirs alone. This is recreation for us. But if one does choose to ride no matter what the conditions, then consider training for those conditions. On the physical end, consider doing some training in muddy conditions to be prepared and know how your horse might handle that footing before you end up at a ride and the sky opens up and changes things from dry and perfect, to muddy and slick.
Also, muddy conditions can be very mental for both horse and rider as it can end up slow and stressful, so it does fall into some mental conditioning.
Now, lets talk about cool or cold and windy conditions. At home, how many of you have decided to not go riding because it is windy? How many avoid it because they feel their horse is going to be naughty? For those who do not ever train in the wind, what happens when you get to a ride that has those conditions? Often the rider finds the horse they loaded in the trailer at home, is not the one they saddled up that morning. The horse is jumpy, uptight, and maybe even ready to buck, or does buck. And I think most of the time it is because the rider is the one who has concerns, worry, and tension about the wind,and what the horse is going to do and the horse is picking this up from the rider. Think about it. Most of our horses live outside, and deal with the wind on a regular basis.
It is not really a big deal. The wind is not what upsets the horses, but the riders feelings of the wind upsetting the horses, causes the horses to pick up on that anxiety, and then in turn, the horse becomes tense and does goofy things. They feel if their rider is nervous, they need to be on the look out. They spook more, and then just start feeling full of themselves. But if you take the time and make the effort to get out and practice in conditions that we think makes the horses mentally silly, we condition ourselves to learn that those conditions are not an issue. If I push myself, and my horse to conditions that mentally are worse than I'd ever expect at a ride, I can relax when these conditions present themselves at a ride, knowing I have done my homework and we have ridden in much worse, and this is not a big deal, and my horse and I can handle this. You end up having confidence that the conditions are not any different than just another day of riding. A windy day is no different that a clear warm day with no wind. If YOU have no worries, then the horse will not pick up concern from you. Instead they pick up your relaxation and lack of concern, and treat it like any other days ride.
There is other Mental conditioning you can do to prepare you and your horse for a competition. Find someone to ride and train with some, or a group of friends, and practice riding in groups. If you feel your horse is gonna be an idiot when horses pass him at a ride, then chances are they WILL be as you expected.
But if you get out there and ride with others when you can, have them ride in front, behind, and even go off ahead of you as you work with the horse that this is no big deal, then you will be more confident in your horses behavior at the ride when these situations arise. Have a friend trot off ahead, or even canter away. Now is the time to school the horse, and do the mental conditioning to deal with these things so when you get to a ride, and riders pass you, leave you etc. you do not need to have those concerns that your horse is going to be naughty and out of control, as you have done your homework. Now, chances are, some will still get silly at a ride even with all the homework, as others around you may be tense, thus getting their horses uptight, and your horse will pick up on that from other horses. Horses are herd animals and herd bound, and teaching them to not have a herd issue is tough with some, but worth the effort.
So next ride, if your horse starts to get uptight, look at yourself, and ask if you are sending the horse signals that are making him that way. Take a deep breath. If you are so tense you are holding your breath, sing! You can not hold your breath and sing at the same time. If you have done your homework, wrap your mind around the fact that you have ridden and trained your horse to deal with as many situations as possible, and this is just another ride. If your body is tense, try to relax. Look on ahead down the trail where you want to go, and enjoy the scenery. Don't focus hard and fast on 3' in front of your horse. Most of us do not do that at home when riding. We look around, take in the day. Enjoy your ride! That is why you are there.