I am getting to type these words from the patio of a villa in Barbados while seeking refuge from the sun for a bit. I have been here almost a week for a good friend’s destination wedding, and it has been a great escape from the hustle and bustle of normal life. This is the first vacation I have had in far too long—since my wedding in Croatia three years ago. I miss Lizzie terribly, and I am excited for Trance’s final checkup upon my return when he will be cleared for jumping and a summer of fun with his young rider.
Ever since Trance got older, the summers have been a time when we take a break from competing due to the hard ground, and instead spend intense time at home focusing on the basics. Even though Lizzie is only 5 and perfectly capable of competing all summer, I have gotten used to the habit of a mid-year competition hiatus. My plan is to continue this summer in that tradition, with no shows scheduled and a lot of lessons booked.
The summer is the time when I get to address any cracks in our foundation. During the busy competition season, it is hard to find time to really challenge the horses out of fear that their confidence might be shaken up before a show. With jumping, I am careful not to work too much on technique least they get too careful and lose their boldness. On the flat, it is difficult to really challenge them to use their body in a new way when you know in a few days you have to put together a quiet test in front of a judge.
With the summer off, those pressures disappear and I can assess myself as a rider and make a list of priorities. For me, it is always when the stirrups disappear both on the flat and over fences. I work on my position and feel, and can spend entire rides only thinking about one thing. I can finally let the precarious house of cards fall down, and just work on one card at a time.
For Lizzie, it is the perfect time to assess where she is and where I would like her to be. This year, she finished the spring season strong in all three phases at her training level debut. While she is competitive, we are just scratching the surface of her talent and abilities. On the flat, she needs to work on strength. Not something specific, but the general path that every horse must go down from being a floppy baby to a powerful and tuned athlete. It won’t happen magically over the summer, but during these few months she will be walking lots of hills, going on long hacks, and getting her butt kicked in lessons to develop her top line and strength behind.
With her jumping, she can be powerful or she can be coordinated, and she needs to work on being both at the same time. Without the pressure of an upcoming show, I can spend lots of time doing cavalettis and grid work to help her hone her technique. I can begin to introduce difficult questions in her coursework and push her to develop reaction time, footwork, and the ability to read a question.
And aside from all that—we can finally have time to stop and smell the roses. Hard day? Then we can just go hack out bareback and wade in water somewhere the next day. Getting overwhelmed? Maybe time for a long bath and a day off. The summer offers the one thing we don’t have the rest of the year—time to do whatever it is we want without the pressures of an upcoming show. While in many ways it does serve as a boot camp for me as a rider, for Lizzie it is all about solidifying our partnership and developing her in a positive way. Some days it does mean we are pushed far outside our comfort zones, but those days can be followed by long trail rides.
And perhaps the summer should also be a time I take another vacation and remember the rest of life. As much as I have missed riding this week, I completely forgot all the things I miss when I am too busy riding. Perhaps Lizzie is not the only one allowed to take days off without guilt, and I should spend some time sleeping in, staying up too late, and laughing. Here’s to a summer of improvement not only as a rider, but also as a wife, a boss, a daughter, and a friend.