Our last show was the middle of July, and our next show is at the end of August with not a whole lot in between except some clinics and normal lessons. We’ve had heat indexes above 90 (and more than a few above 100!) for weeks on end, and if ever there was a time to give our horses a wee break before the end of season ramps up, it’s now.
Elvis was the victim of my own attempts to help him. In consultation with my wonderfully experienced sports medicine veterinary practice, even though Elvis was 100% sound and working like a rockstar in May, we decided to experiment with an aluminum hind shoe to help give him some support as he worked at a high level. We made the change right before his second qualifying show for the USEF Developing Prix St. Georges Championships, and he hated the change, and we had a very mediocre score. We all decided to change him back to the boring ol’ steel shoe he’d been in when he was next due to be shod, which was, of course, the week of his third and final qualifying show. Of course, 1,200 pounds of warmblood horse felt like the steel shoe was just SO HEAVY that he couldn’t pick up his own hind legs, and we got an even more mediocre score, and we found ourselves in 19th place in the rankings, and the top 15 in the country go. So that was the ball game.
I’m disappointed, of course, because he’s the most eager and talented creature I’ve ever had at this age, and I know he would show well at Lamplight against those other top horses, and it’s also been a while since I got to play in the big pond. But I also know that Elvis is going to be an even better Grand Prix horse than he is a small tour one, and that I want him to have a long and illustrious career well beyond what he does the summer of his 8-year-old year, and so my heart isn’t exactly broken at the prospect of saving myself a few thousand bucks in schlepping to Illinois and lost income, and getting instead to let my wonderful horse have a bit of strength-building down time.
That looks like this: After two weeks of playing in the field and stretching post-show while the weather was REALLY foul, he started back into work last week. I’m still finding the groove I want, but I’m thinking about two days of work, where work is lots of transitions and half-halts and very little that looks like the Prix St. Georges test, followed by one day of work in-hand, where Elvis is learning about piaffe. He then works another day, another day of in-hand work, a day of hacking, and a day off. Or some variation on that theme. I’m experimenting with the double bridle, which he very cheerfully accepts, but he isn’t as easy in the self-carriage (which is definitely his weakness at the moment anyway). I’ve been riding with the reins in one hand, to make sure my half-halt is from my seat and not from the bridle. And I’m doing it all in short bursts, followed by stretching, with plenty of light, playful work as well. I play on hills. He’s gone splashing in the pond bareback.
There’s no roadmap on how much is too much, or when they need to hit certain developmental milestones. But I know what I need: a consistent half-halt at all three gaits that comes from my seat and leg alone, and that keeps the poll up and the neck correct. And I know when I need it by: our next show is in October. So that’s my plan. Upgrade my half-halt, while improving his strength, teaching him about how to make a few piaffe steps, and keeping both mind and body happy and healthy. No sweat! (Ha!)
Puck has had a light summer. He mostly behaved himself at a show in May, the first time that’s ever happened, but we’d been dancing around a minor shoeing issue that finally caused us all to hit pause. (Note to Puck: Kicking walls is stupid. Please stop.) The timing was perfect, as there was nothing I’d planned on doing with him anyway except continuing to develop strength and technique for the MONSTER impressive big-boy trot he’s conjured up, and he’s so big and so goofy that just working lightly through the summer wasn’t the worst use of our time. The foot is growing out perfectly; he’s been a mostly model citizen through the light work (he’s only caused one working student to owe pie), and he’s starting to ramp back up to normal work. Yay!
Baby Swagger is not such a baby anymore. He was never ugly or scrawny as a kid, but he’s gotten HUGE, with an awfully big topline for a big baby, though he’s still a lot like riding a Labrador retriever puppy, with approximately the same attention span. He’s figuring out how to really connect his hind legs to the bridle, and I’m far from the finish line—there’s nothing I can do about the fact that he’s 5! It’s improved markedly, and he suddenly has a bit of expression to his trot, at least behind (which is the end I care about!) that wasn’t there in the spring. I wasn’t going to take him to any shows, but he’s going so brilliantly that, along with his co-owner, Beverley Thomas, we made the choice to take him, so he’ll go do first level in a few weekends.
I have the ride on a really neat 6-year-old named De Angelicus, or Patrick, owned by Terrina Baker. He came to me in the spring a bit of a soup sandwich: he’s about 18 hands, and he’d gotten a bit thin at the end of his 5-year-old year, so he was scrawny and all knees and elbows. He’s been trucking along, getting fed and getting worked hard enough to build muscle and skill but lightly enough to preserve calories, slowly making his way into being healthy and presentable enough to go to a show in mid-July, where he won everything. In the last few weeks I’ve felt like I’ve got a connection from bum to bridle for the first time, and that slowly but surely he’s learning that his hind legs and my leg pressure are what make his neck and back round. He’s a good egg, fun to train, and can I tell you all how fantastic all 5’10” of me looks on an 18-hand horse?! To top it all off he’s a chromey chestnut, my absolute favorite color, and between him and Puck my Belly Spot Count is now up to two. Lucky me!
And as those who follow me on Facebook or Instagram know, I’ve been knuckling down this summer on my own health, doing a lot of cooking and exercising. I’m working with the nutritionist at my sponsors, InForm Fitness, and following a keto diet. I’m loving it, and so is my body—I’m getting lean, and I can’t recall a time where I’ve felt less of the daily aches and pains of my job. I actually wake up pain free, which is truly incredible. So when the quiet time is over, and the temps go back under 100*, I’ll be ready to go back to work on all fronts!
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver & bronze Medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, her and Beverley Thomas’s Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook.