The 'Blahs' in Competitive Equine Athletes



In the past week, I’ve read a blog post and a CoTH Eventing forums post by eventers whose horses are just ‘blah’ lately.  This is my first full year with a horse in training, my first full year at a barn with a heavy competition schedule, and my first full year paying attention to the eventing world in general, but from my limited experience and anecdotal evidence, this seems to be a trend toward the end of the season.  Are they physically tired?  Are they mentally tired?  Are they in the wrong sport?

Connor, for one, seems to have perked back up post-trail riding adventure.  I’ve been told since I met them that Cobs possess above-average intelligence and get bored easily, but in practice, I got on a roll working on the little things and failed to make things as interesting for him as they were for me.   It’s a good lesson to learn now, before we start competing next year.  It will be fun to really start to become eventers next year now that we have a good, basic foundation, adding things like regular jump schools and conditioning sets to our weekly schedule.

Still young, still maybe growing (probably not up, though.)
When his breeder saw him at the show two weeks ago, she also said she thinks he’s going through a growth spurt, and that his line is known for being slow to mature, even for Cobs, which mature slowly anyway.  So it’s also possible that, like some of the racetrack babies I grew up with, he needs some time to digest all that he’s learned over the summer and for his body to get itself in order before we go any further.  I am very grateful that I know who bred him, that I am so close to her, and that I have a number of full siblings of his to watch, including Comrade .

I know that a lot of you are active competitors, and some of you are active competitors in a sport that doesn’t have three different phases to play with.   How do you keep things fresh for your athletes?  If you bought them young, did you get to a point where you knew that you needed to back off, and when did you realize they were grown enough to handle the mental challenges associated with more advanced training?  I am interested to hear your responses.

8 comments:

  1. I know when Teagan was younger we could only get about 30 minutes of work (if that) in with him a ride before he was over it...typically a brisk gallop at the end of our ride made things fun for him. We'd get to a point where he was being good and reward him with 'playtime'. He's grown up a bit now, but still thoroughly enjoys a gallop or walk down the road after a hard ride. Find something Connor loves and try to incorporate it in your daily rides :) Saved me a lot of frustration with the Tig when he was younger :)

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  2. My horse was introduced to work late in his life - at age 11 - after years of being wild and then in rescues. He has a highly independent and intelligent personality, and managing his mental state takes more work and planning than managing him physically. He burns out on high-intensity work and becomes resistant very quickly. I have to "read" him closely on a regular basis, and hacking and days off are an important part of our routine.

    When I first started working with him, doing nothing more than bringing him into the indoor and teaching him to stand still to be groomed, pick up his feet, and walk and halt on a lead line, I would work him for about 20 minutes, if that. When I turned him back out to his paddock he would guzzle water - he would get so mentally stressed from those sessions that he dehydrated himself a bit. For a time, I could gage how well he was adapting to things by how much water he would drink after a session.

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  3. Guinness is an odd bird. Obviously I didn't have him from a young horse, but as a thoroughbred he bores easily. I've noticed that when schooling we have to break up lessons and continually do different things. Just going around on the rail or working on a circle is a recipe for a bored horse. Instead, I have to constantly find ways to work on things without overly drilling them. I've also found that break time is important. Once he gets a concept, we break and walk on a loose rein for awhile. Then, we try that concept again.

    Even though we are doing "just" dressage nowadays, I find we must get outside and work in the field at least once every couple of weeks. In the winter (when the indoor is exceptionally boring), I find a good walk down the road at the start or end of the ride helps clear his mind and have some fun. Without fun rides, Pig gets sour and doesn't want to play anymore. He has such a work ethic, it makes me feel bad to abuse it without reward.

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  4. Guinness and Riva sound alot alike (must be the TB in her blood) - outside riding saves us. Riva gets bored quick in the sandbox - esp indoors. I have to constantly change direction, circle, across the diagional, etc. Going round and round...she justs loses interest. With IN weather, it is tough to get outside so much of the time.

    Ground poles is something Riva really likes for a change of routine. We have even set up barrels and pole bending poles in the indoor just to have some fun.

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  5. Jen, Lisa may be right about this line maturing later. Comrade really settled into work when he turned 7. He always tells me when it is time to get out of the arena and hit the trails.
    I am similar to Kelly in that we will use barrels and pole bending to break up the "english standards." It is amazing to see some horses discover the fun in letting loose during games. We have an unfenced grass arena, so I don't see the need to get out of an established arena in my guys. Change of scenery does a lot for motivation.

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  6. I think it really depends on the horse. Some horses seem to thrive in the daily discipline of dressage or other sports while some horses need you to change it up more frequently. I haven't had Chevy that long but I do try to keep our work interesting. We alternate between arena work, lunging, trails, and jumping, along with lessons and shows. We spend more time out and about during the summer but typically the winter is when I spend more time on our dressage work since it's a good time to be inside.

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  7. I think a lot of horses get bored and become resistant. Some may be in the wrong discipline, but I think many are just bored/tired/sore. I've heard of barrel horses that get gate sour and that probably happens to jumpers, etc. as well. Hacking and mixing things up must be a good thing for most horses.

    Even my 11y/o QH western trained gelding needs cones and poles and things to do in the ring or he gets a little ticked off and grumpy.

    Good for you for being aware of Connor's behaviour and changing things up!

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  8. Hue is 5 and still very much a baby. I have only had him since February but in that short time he has become much more able to cope with harder questions and more difficult tasks. Being a warmblood though it is typical for him to be slow maturing. I am hoping that we will be able to push a bit harder next year. Mentally and physically!

    I try to keep things interesting for Hue and we do a lot of outdoor work in addition to as many field trips as possible and new exercises when able.

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