By Zazou Hoffman
Bad weather is not fun… or is it? Can we make it fun? Playing in the mud was fun when we were kids, splish-splosh, splish-splosh. So if we can learn to ride in all kinds of weather we can not only potentially have fun but can also have the upper hand in a competitive situation.
During Week I of HITS Thermal, we were deluged with rain on Sunday. Many exhibitors scratched, but after watching a couple of hunter rounds I thought that the footing was still good and that as long as the trainer and the owner of the horse I was riding gave the okay, it was a go. Here in California there are so few opportunities to show in the rain and wind, it’s important to get the experience whenever you can.
George Morris told us in the Horsemastership Sessions to “practice what’s not comfortable in order to get better at it.” On the East Coast riders often have to ride under sloppy, cold conditions. I have benefited from showing on the East Coast where “the show goes on” unless there is a dangerous electrical storm (see final paragraph for more about lightning). Every rider’s tack trunk is stocked with raingear and the barn manager and staff all assume that getting drenched and covered with mud is a job requirement. They think it’s fun. My barnmates at Missy Clark’s North Run actually giggled when I told them I had never heard of Helly pants, (in case you don’t know either, they are water proof pants with zippers on the sides) which they put over their show breeches. Just zip them off before you go in the ring.
So, it is to a certain degree a mindset. You CAN ride in the rain – the horse does not mind. So why do I, the rider, want to get all wet and dirty? Because after working all year to qualify for a Medal Final which takes place on the East Coast in the Fall where you can be 99% sure that it WILL rain you do not want to let bad weather psyche you out of putting in a great round. But, you might ask, “Since they are called Indoor Medal Finals, why would I get wet?” Yes, they are Indoors but the layover farms and warm-up rings where you prepare are outdoors. You never know what weather you might encounter on the East Coast in the fall.
Try this mantra: “I love the rain, I can ride in the wind, and getting muddy is fun. Most importantly my horse doesn’t mind.”
This is the best reason to practice whenever there is rain and wind at home. I try to expose my young mare to puddles on the ground and muddy footing so that she will become desensitized to these things. Nothing is worse than getting to a show and having your horse turn into a clean-freak white-gloved party princess. Try to visualize your worst nightmare, the Junior Hunter Under Saddle Hack with twenty run-away horses in a windstorm or in pouring rain and sloppy footing. If you know your horse can behave under these circumstances, you will remain confident and your horse will feel it, too.
This confidence comes from all the training at home. Earplugs can definitely help your horse to focus at a show, but you should practice riding without them at home. Save them for situations where you really need them.
Okay, mantra said, you had your fun in the mud. Now you are back at the hotel after showing in the rain. Your boots and breeches are sopping wet and covered in mud. Your hunt coat smells like a wet sheep dog and you have to show tomorrow.
A few things you can do:
• Hang up the wet huntcoat, spot clean it and place it in a warm but not too hot area. You don’t want it to shrink.
• After getting the mud off of your boots, rub some lotion on the inside of your boots to prevent them from drying into stiff cardboard.
• Next, crinkle some tissue paper and shove it into the foot. The boots can regain their shape, yet breathe and dry. Put boot trees or rolled magazines into the leg area.
• If you have mud-stained white breeches you can rub toothpaste on the dirty spots and take them into the shower with you. I found that if you throw them in a laundry basket with globs of mud, the mud stains the fabric and the breeches are ruined.
A bit on lightning – remember that lightning is electricity. If you are on your horse get back to the barn as quickly as possible. If you have returned the horse to a stall that has pull-down or shutter windows, do not close them. This is because those shutters are often made of metal and even touching them in an electrical storm could get you electrocuted, particularly if the roof of the barn is metal. Just leave them open and get yourself to the center aisle. Regardless of how it strikes, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical and plumbing fixtures. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.
Final note: Lightning storm – head inside. Rain falls – as long as the footing is safe, have fun in the mud! Wind blows – if the jumps are blowing down, call it a day. If you can see, go with the flow. Remember your mantra and those words from George…
Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.