How do we keep going in these crazy times? Shows are on hold. Many barns have closed. Clinics are canceling. Some things about life are frozen in time, but not all: We want to keep learning, stay inspired and see other humans. So how can we do so? The internet.
A source of so much negativity and nonsense, the internet still rules for its power for good. Here are a few ways to use it wisely:
1. Virtual Lessons
These have been a thing since long before the coronavirus, but the technology is not foolproof. Still, it’s out there, and you can make it work. A few ways to do so:
- If you’re lucky enough to have a Pixem (and it WORKS; they are a little tricky, particularly in indoors), you connect it to your phone, connect to the internet, and connect to your trainer of choice. Boom, done.
- If you don’t, you’ll need a cameraman and an app like Skype or FaceTime. Your camera holder “calls” your instructor, and off you go.
When I’ve tried it, I’ve found that it works best if the rider wears a Bluetooth headphone of some sort, so they can hear me rather than trying to crank up the volume on the cameraphone. And that means that your camera probably needs to be in the middle of your arena, so you’re not too far from it, lest said Bluetooth headphones disconnect (a dressage arena is quite a bit longer than the average Bluetooth range!). If you’re shopping for headphones, look for something with “Class 1” Bluetooth, which goes farther than the typical “Class 2.” And if you’re really stuck or really need to have the whole arena, use a second phone: one for video and one in your pocket to call.
None of these are idiot-proof, and all require a good signal to the internet, the cellular network, or both, which isn’t always so easy to come by. But I know folks who’ve put in the effort and are riding with trainers from Europe. It is DEFINITELY worth the time.
2. Virtual “Shows”
Let’s get a few things out of the way: A virtual show is not a show. It’s not real; it’s not the same. Opportunities abound for cheating: Your horse could be on drugs; you could have warmed up in 18 sets of draw reins and six bits for four hours; you could have someone off camera with a buggy whip for inspiration. And this, amongst other reasons, is why organizations like the FEI are saying their licensed judges can’t participate in such a thing. It’s OK, that’s their prerogative.
But I think we’re all smart enough to embrace that, “Wow, Betty and Fluffy got a 70% in the Grand Prix at the Virtual Dressage Show in May; they should be considered for the Olympics!” or “Ooh, Sir Flingshislegsalot got an amazing score in the Corona Show, so I’m going to buy him sight-unseen for a quintillion dollars!” aren’t really things. These are for fun. These are lessons on a test, and with a scoring system at the end that can (CAN! when taken with a grain of salt, just like a LIVE SHOW) help a rider track their progress against their goals in a time where there isn’t really another option. I say enter them and have fun. I’m doing them with my students! The FEI is just going to have to take a breath.
And the other thing that’s great about these? They have DEADLINES. The biggest thing I’m hearing from my students and fellow riders is that they’re feeling lost without a concrete date to shoot for. Having to submit that video by next Thursday, or three Tuesdays from now can provide a sense of purpose I know a lot of us are hurting for right now.
3. Off-Horse Educational Content
There’s great stuff out there, and a lot of it’s free. My amazing friend Eliza Sydnor is doing a whole series on how she starts young horses under saddle. There are podcasts, like the Dressage Radio Show. There’s the Online Riders Collective, which is fundraising for the Equestrian Aid Foundation, but some of their virtual ride critiques are available for free to view. And the FEI has made their FEI.tv service free until the end of June.
And if you’re not riding, you need to be doing something to stay in shape. There are so, So, SO many workouts online right now! My personal favorite, as I’ve mentioned before, is interval training via OrangeTheory’s at-home videos, but I also just discovered a great free yoga channel on my smart TV at home, relieving me of any last excuse I had not to start touching my dang toes every day.
What are your ways of staying connected and of making progress towards your riding goals in these wacky times? Tell us in the comments!
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her 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 and Instagram.