Waiting Out the Storm

What are NRHA members doing to keep themselves busy and their horses on top of their games during this competitive hiatus? Read here.

By Jennifer Paulson, Reiner Editorial Consultant, and Kaycie Timm, Reiner Associate Editor

horse walking out of barn toward arena with dog in the background
NRHA members offer a positive perspective on this temporary break from showing and share suggestions to help you stay motivated and keep your horse in shape. (Photo by Kaycie Timm)

Reiners are competitive achievers, so times like these—when there’s a virtual cessation to all horse shows—can be tough. They can even lead to feelings of depression and despair. Or fear of how you’ll be ready to compete once the in gates fly open.

We talked to a handful of NRHA members to find out what they’re doing during the break from showing. They offer positive outlooks and proactive measures to keep yourself motivated and your horse in shape.

NRHA Non Pro and Owner of Mechanics 4 the Equine Heidi Pichotta

I’m taking this time to focus on my horse’s condition and getting him really physically fit and feeling great without overdoing the maneuvers. I think now is such a great time to give a very productive break where we focus on riding for soundness and not so much overdoing things.

“I’m doing a lot of long-trotting—sometimes 40 minutes of it. I think it’s so good for soundness and my own fitness. If you can post off your horse’s weaker hind leg, that can help strengthen it. The diagonal they naturally throw us into is the leg they push off of harder, so the other leg is typically weaker. No matter a horse’s discipline, long-trotting is needed for conditioning and soundness.”

NRHA Professional Ryan Rushing

“I have some customers who can still come out to ride, so we’re just doing our best to stay distanced. I schedule them one at a time for a 90-minute block. They bring their own grooming supplies, bridles, saddles—everything. It’s great for those who can still come ride. When they come out, we’re working on the small things—the things maybe we’d have gotten through a show without fixing, but now that we have some time, we can really focus on—fine-tuning things like rollbacks. 

“For my customers who can’t come ride, I’m looking into getting a motion-detecting camera. I can set it up and use my air pods to talk through what I’m doing with their horses, sending a video once a week or whatever makes sense. They can watch the process and really see what they need to do, which is really helpful for many riders.

“I see a big silver lining for my 2- and 3-year-olds. Having consistency with them is so nice. Usually, we’d be at shows this time of year, losing about 25% of our time with these horses. That consistent time has allowed me to slow everything down and not feel as pressured. If I feel something I don’t like, I can work on it until I get it where I want it and my horse understands. I can really feel the patience benefitting my 2-year-olds.

“Mentally, I’m probably a lot different than most guys. I do a lot better when I have goals outside training my horses. My wife, Amy, and I rock-climb, and I trail run. Both those things require a lot of calm and focus, so that carries over when I come back to my job. If the only thing I do is ride and stress about the economy, that carries over into my training. This way, I get the energy out, take a breath, and come back to riding.

“We just went for a trail ride in a state park near our place. Amy rode her derby horse that she’d have been showing pretty actively this time of year. I feel like it’s really good for them, and it helps me stay focused and keep perspective.” 

NRHA Professional Shannon Rafacz

“As soon as we saw what was happening, Mark and I talked about what we could do to keep our clients focused and on a path to success. They’re goal-oriented—they have their horses in training to go to horse shows, and when you take the horse shows away, what are you left with? 

“We chose not to close our barn down completely. We’ve asked our riders to use common sense and clean everything that they touch. We clean all of the common spaces, which aren’t many, each day. We don’t have an indoor arena or a fully-indoor barn—that’s a bonus, because there’s air moving.

“The other thing we did is open our home to our youth [before state-mandated extreme social distancing]. Rather than have people take their horses out of training because their kids are home and want to be riding, we offered to let a few of the girls come stay here. Right now, I have two girls here—one from Georgia and one from North Carolina. What they’ve been able to do is amazing. They all homeschool together in the morning on their computers, then in the afternoon, they go out and ride with us. 

“The best advice I’d give people is if your horse is in training, don’t panic. Let your trainers do what they do best. I think our customers are getting more for their money right now, because their horses are getting our undivided attention. We aren’t having to stop the process, go to a horse show, and start over again. We’re finding ourselves focusing more on every horse in the barn, not just the ones getting ready to go to a show. I think we are going to see better trained and better minded horses when this is over.”

NRHA Non Pro Lindsay Handren

My horses are in Michigan, and I’m in California. I’m used to not seeing my horses for periods at a time, but I normally go back at least once a month, which I haven’t been able to do. My horse trainer and the people in the barn send me videos and pictures. I’ve also FaceTimed with my trainer and other girls in the barn, which is almost like FaceTiming with my horses. 

“Here in California, I’ve been working from home, so I’m confined to my apartment with my dog. I’ve gotten pretty creative with home workouts trying to stay in shape and stay motivated for when we can finally go back to riding and get back in the show pen. 

“Some of the ladies I ride with have been asking me how to deal with not seeing their horses every day, because they’re having a really hard time dealing with shelter-in-place. Now that we’re all isolated and can’t see each other, we have been staying connected with a big group chat. We send pictures from last show season of our group together having fun. We keep reminding each other that we’re still a barn family, and we’ll be back to showing again soon. This is a short-term sacrifice in the scheme of things. In the long run, we’ll all be healthier and safer, and our horses will still be there waiting when we can go back.”

NRHA Professional Matt Palmer

I’ve done a few different things, like studying videos of my previous runs and working on what I see there. Then, I have someone here video when I’m running hard, stopping, or circling at home. That has helped me find problems in my program that I haven’t noticed before. When I’m on the road from show to show, the last thing on my mind is taking the time to video at home and study past runs. Doing that has helped me find things I’m doing personally—not just the horses—that I can correct and improve. 

“I’ve also done a lot of maintenance and Magnawave therapy. I’ve pushed some of my horses like they’re getting ready to show and found where they need to build extra strength. It’s like humans: some people have back trouble, while others’ knees might hurt more.  I have taken advantage of having time to work my horses at a high level so I can see where their strengths and weaknesses are and address those with extra therapy as needed.

“For example, I was riding one of my horses, and I felt some weakness in his back end. I started long-trotting him for about 20 minutes before I work him, and he’s getting stronger already. A lot of times when you’re going from one horse show to the next, you don’t get to learn where your horses’ strengths and weaknesses are in their body. Through this time, I’ve been able to do that with my whole string.

“I have such a variety of horses, and I want to mark as big as I can on every single one of them when those gates can be opened up again. That’s been fueling my fire, personally. I’ve also been reading about what other athletes are doing, and that’s fueling me, too.”

We want to know what you’re doing to stay busy (and sane) during this time of social distancing. Tell us about your reiner-related activities by emailing ktimm@nrha.com