I’m writing this blog from my couch, where it is a delightful 72 degrees. I have an iced coffee, some office work and a leisurely Monday afternoon ahead of me. I am just home from teaching a clinic in Texas, where the high each day was 102. It’s been marginally cooler here in Virginia, but not by much during our recent heatwave.
We could talk about global warming, but it’s not like summertime in Virginia was a balmy experience before humans started humaning. It’s hot here. It’s sticky here. It’s certainly not going away. So, we plan accordingly.
I do things to make the day-to-day experience the best I can. I start early. The horses in my care are on night turnout, to relieve them of stress from bugs and baking but not deprive them of their outdoor time. Fans. Baths. Uckele’s Pure & Simple Summer Spray, an herbal blend with apple cider vinegar that helps keep summer skin itchiness at bay. Tribute Equine Nutrition’s Essential K with Fly Control, which all our horses eat, so that all manure produced on this property is inhospitable to fly larvae. (It’s made a huge difference on the farm this year; I can’t say enough good about it.)
I also plan my show year. My team winters in Wellington, so we do some showing there. Here in Virginia, we’ve got amazing local shows in April, May, June and one final hoorah in mid-July. That last one can be a scorcher, but at least it’s up in the mountains at the Virginia Horse Center. And then we hit pause. Anyone who needs one more outing before the regional championships goes at the end of August, leaving us with a solid five to six weeks to let everyone have a little down time in the heat of summer.
We pivot the training. We were just joined by my awesome friend Chelsea Canedy, an eventing, dressage and horsemanship trainer from Maine, for a weekend of what we jokingly called “rope-twirling for sandbox people.” She took us through cool horsemanship approaches to some of our dressage (and general horse life) hurdles. We talked mounting blocks. We talked relaxation of the topline. We talked self-carriage, responsiveness to both whoa and go aids, and spooking. While no horse training should be done with adrenaline and hair on fire, horsemanship work lends itself so brilliantly to halt, walk and trot—great things to double down on when it’s 103 degrees.
From the saddle, there are a few things I love to do in the summertime. One is introducing the double bridle to horses who are ready for such a thing, because I introduce it by largely farting around with a dangly curb rein for a few rides. When could be better to just waste time purposefully than when the heat index is disgusting? The flying changes and the half steps are also a favorite summertime project, because they’re usually done very briefly. Half steps I visit for a short period of time and reward/end when they get anywhere near it; change practice ends when they do one clean each way, and if that takes only five minutes, then your ride is only five minutes long.
Great strides can be made in things like bend and self-carriage at the walk. Halts, reinbacks and walk pirouettes often seem to be forgotten during the nice times of year, and are worthy of good focus that won’t leave anyone dripping with sweat. Summertime is also a swell time to double down on position things, like walking and trotting without stirrups, or having one’s hands/legs strapped to the girth/saddle/neck rope/whatever tool you use to put your body where you need it. Muscle memory can be built at the lower gaits, and for shorter periods of time. And for the horses who have to stay in peak condition for an August championship, or are for sale and could be shown at any moment, interval training provides a lot of cardiovascular and muscular bang for your buck.
And yes, by the end of the scorching time of year, I’m starting to get a bit twitchy. While I am terrible at being on light work myself, some of the horses in my care really enjoy their down time… like, really enjoy it and complain vigorously upon the return of cooler temps and our own ambitions. But it is nice to have a break. Or at least that’s what I need to remind my workaholic self. It goes without saying that my horses are always better for the down time, and it’s a much easier reminder to give myself when it’s 104 degrees.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist with distinction making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s C. Cadeau, as well as her own string of young horses, with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.