In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a global pandemic going on. It’s canceled horse shows, clinics, and other social and business functions for us in the equestrian world. And with a month left in Florida for my crew, it’s made us hit pause for a while.
Of course, we’re happy to do our part, staying in, washing hands, bleaching everything, being smart. And now we reroute our plans and find ways to be productive while we twiddle our thumbs until whatever happens next actually happens.
Before COVID-19, we’d planned on being here in Wellington until April 15. We keep my Virginia location going over the winter for the handful of year-round clients who don’t come south, as well as taking on winter training horses who come for our indoor arena and other cold-weather friendly amenities. But we have some construction projects that need to happen at the farm—work on our arena roof and footing, resealing the barn aisle floor—and to get those done we need as few horses in the barn as possible. The plan is to boot out our winter clients on April 1 and commit to two weeks of construction pandemonium. Even if we wanted to head home early, we snowbirds, we can’t.
And that’s just as well because the virus is everywhere. Heading home isn’t going to change our risk of infection. The great news for those of us in the horse world is that our livelihood is outdoors, and it’s possible to do it while mostly staying away from other humans—unless I put a hand on the reins to demonstrate contact or move a student’s leg into a different position, I’m almost never physically close to them.
So: I’m teaching. I’m coming up with a long list of things that we can power wash before we head home. I’m giving my dogs baths, and I’m going for walks, and I’m trying to do some yoga (and remembering that I hate it), and I talk to my boyfriend and my friends at home, where we talk about being a bit scared. And we roll.
The downtime is perfectly timed. Elvis is cooked. He’s had a long season, really without any breaks, and I felt it at our last show. I hadn’t planned on doing four CDIs, but the Disaster Show from January forced my hand, so I had to add one to the schedule. And he’s fine: He’s sound; he smiles at me; he does his job. But he’s tired, body tired, a bit mind tired. In the spirit of, “If I’m not winning, I’m learning,” this last show taught me an extremely important lesson: Three months of work, unrelenting, requiring that he be at his peak, is the max for him, at least right now. This is important information to have as we move towards Elvis’ Big Wondrous Future, because now I know that I need to plan for a little downtime mid-season when he’s a fancy international Big Tour horse.
But that gives me time to play with my other two kids and a few client horses as well. Puck has matured tremendously over the last few months; he’s gone off property many times, in the form of one show and a few lessons, all with virtually no off-color behavior, and the stunts he did pull were quite banal. I’m taking him to a few different amazing instructors while I’m here to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from Wellington’s many world-class riders and trainers. I’m excited to hear some different voices, to add some tools to my toolbox, particularly with nothing pressing on my dance card.
Swagger trundles along, as does Terrina Baker’s Patrick, and my mom’s Helio, two horses I ride regularly. Patrick is BIG, so developing him physically while keeping an eye on his health requires slow and steady progress. Helio is right on the brink of his Prix St. Georges debut, so he’s also doing lots of conditioning work, building that last bit of strength. With horse shows all up in the air, it’s actually helpful for me to have a date like June or July as my target; if we’re back to life as normal earlier than that, then great! But if not, then it’s nice to have a goal.
Here are some other things I’m doing to stay motivated, on and off the horse, in our month of thumb-twiddling:
- I’m doubling down on my equitation efforts. Since the beginning of February, I’ve been riding at least one horse a day with my stirrups tied to my girth, in an attempt to train myself to stabilize my lower leg. With nothing exciting going on for a bit, I’m going to ride all my horses as such. And while Elvis has earned himself a few days of hacking, I’m going to add in a bailing twine neck rope when I ride him, to loop my pinkie fingers into, to work on training myself to keep my hands down as well.
- I’m trying to keep active off the horse. My gym closed “until further notice,” though I can’t imagine that I’ll be comfortable going back anytime soon even if they did open. But they’re doing a bunch of free YouTube video workouts—check one out here—and I’m trying to take some long walks every day, at speed, since my back doesn’t allow me to run anymore. (During the first walk I tried to take my new rescue dog with me, and we made it MAYBE half a mile before she had to be basically dragged back because she was so tired. So I’m fitter than my dog, at least?)
- I’m working on some fun educational stuff. I did a whole slew of educational videos for my Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club, and I’m going to make some more, both on and off the horse. I’m on a few upcoming podcasts, and I did a Q&A on my Instagram. And I’m corralling friends into a “virtual dinner party” using Zoom, a videoconferencing service, where we’ll talk about horsing, training, writing… the possibilities are endless. (If there’s someone or something you want to see, drop a comment, or reach out on my social media!)
- I’m trying to put funds back into the community. When they canceled the end of the Wellington show season, some amazing folks got together and donated to my little fundraiser for the cleaning and security teams at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, knowing that they were going to have much harder lives for the show’s cancellation. Thank you to everyone who donated! My partner and I bought gift cards to our favorite restaurants, and I prepaid for a haircut; there are so many folks out there who aren’t as lucky as we are, to have jobs where telecommuting (for him) and keeping physical distance from my customers (for me) are possible.
- And YES, I’m going to keep plugging away at the yoga. Ugh.
This is only the beginning. And it’s scary and stressful as it is. So having a plan, or even multiple plans is helping me sleep at night. And it’s time for creativity, both in and out of the horse industry, for ways to make the most of it!
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.