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October 31, 2011

Practice—And Preparation—Makes Perfect

Photo by Mollie Bailey.

Continuing along the indoor tour, I just wrapped up showing at Harrisburg and Washington. I was very pleased with the mileage and confidence that my first year horse Elitere was able to gain from the experience of indoors as a whole.

He started out at Capital Challenge with limited exposure to those types of venues, and while he tried really hard, he made some small, green mistakes. Harrisburg was a little easier, and by the time we got to Washington he was going around smooth enough to earn ribbons or jogs in every class.

I chose to show in the green conformation division as well at Washington, since that was our last show of the season, and I wanted to give him as much time in the ring as possible. He also got ribbons in every class of that section.

My horse came out of indoors a better horse than he went in. Those shows really test the young horses, and I feel that my horse rose to the occasion as best as he could at this stage of his career. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can ask the horses to do is just to step up and try when you put them out of their normal comfort zones, and get a little more relaxed and confident each class. He did exactly that, and now I know that he can handle new challenges, whether it’s showing at indoors again with me next year in the second years or showing with his owner in the adults or trying some bigger derby classes.

Geographically, we are located close enough to all the indoor shows to be able to come home to regroup in between each one. We are very lucky in that respect, because it gives the horses the best of both worlds. While they are able to draw from the consistency of going from one show to the next, they also have the opportunity to rest comfortably and work on any problems in between from the comfort of their home setting.

I spoke in a previous blog about how I love to watch horses and riders from other parts of the country when we all meet up to show at indoors. Something else that fascinates me is observing how different professionals prepare their horses to show. I think that all horsemen love to figure out what makes their horses tick, and what makes them go their best. I really enjoy watching the schooling area and the ring early in the morning to see how people train their horses. Everyone has their own system and style, and yet oftentimes there are pieces of other people’s program that may work well for your own. I am a big believer in watching and learning.

When you prepare horses to show you have to do so both physically and mentally. However, both aspects end up very intertwined, and you have to find a combination of both that works for each horse. To me, the mental part has to be in place first. Horses have to be quiet and relaxed and have a certain amount of trust before you can work on fine-tuning things like their jumping style or rideability.

Of course, sometimes it takes some physical work, like a longe or long walk around the show, to get them to that state of calm. Preparation is very much an art form with no rigid formula. That is why I love to see different people’s takes on it.

As a rider, there is also some preparation involved. While I was so excited to be back showing at the major fall indoor shows this year like I did as a junior, it was a bit hard for me mentally to only have one horse. There is a certain amount of pressure involved with only having one shot. I like to watch the course from a few different vantage points around the ring, and then I like to find a quiet spot where I can visualize the course in my mind before actually getting on. If I am feeling a bit nervous, sometimes I will remember really good courses or classes that I’ve had and replay them in my head. Those little tricks help give me the focus and confidence that I personally need before walking in the ring.

Overall, indoors was a wonderful, positive experience for my horse and myself. We both gained new experiences to build upon and ended up more confident than we began. As a young professional, it confirmed my passion in the direction I want to be moving and the level I want to compete on. These past few shows were great stepping-stones to that, and I am so excited to keep learning and growing and working towards building more of a presence for indoors next year.

Jennifer Berol Bliss had a very successful junior career, which included achievements such as earning USEF Pony Finals championships, national championships in the pony and junior hunter divisions, and top 15 placings in all the major equitation finals. She ran her own business, Harris Hill Farm, from 2007 until 2011. In September 2011, she joined Sleepy Hollow Stables in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., as a rider and trainer.