The Amateur Equestrian Winter Woes, part I
Around December I hear from my equestrians friends that their instructor or trainer is packing up and heading to a show circuit somewhere where it is warmer than their home-base location. Usually Southern California, Arizona or Florida. I remember Southern Cali being the hotspot for the winter months but now with the glamour of the the World Equestrian Center and/or Events at multiple locations every weekend, seems like Florida is the place to be from January to April. I don't disagree, I spent my college years in Florida and thoroughly enjoyed it!
My friend's comments about their instructor's winter relocation is often laced in irritation, sadness, and concern about what to do as now they find themselves instructorless for 3-4 months of the year. These are friends that, understandably, cannot just pack up and join in the 12 weeks of showing. Work, family and for those like me, who keep their horses at home and have a hobby farm to care for, cannot just say bye-bye frozen ground be off to the sun and sand of the west ( or east) until May!
So how do 'they' do it? They being the riders/owners that can uproot for 3 months and follow their instructor/trainer/coach to another state. For the Instructor/Trainer, they can train, instruct and coach while at the winter barn or show circuit. Also, their clients are often paying some of the living and re-location expenses, if not all their expenses. But what about the amateur owner/rider? Just open a search engine and type in 'how is the amateur rider able to go to Florida for 3 months' and the top answer you will get is that they have more money than you. There is truth here. Equestrian sports, particular of the English variety, are becoming more and more exclusive. If you have big dreams to ride out the winter at the WEC or show at basically any hunter/jumper level, you need a really good income or wealthy family. But there are others that can do this that are not dipping into trust funds. I know of a few riders who have careers that give them the winter months off. Think about the farmers and ranchers. Not much growing happens in the winter but they work long hours from spring to fall. Winters offs! The remote worker also has some freedom to pack up and go south. I know of several that just move their office to the 3 month rental, or their RV. Others work in professions that allows for travelers such as traveling nurses or respiratory therapists. There are ways to make it work but it takes some long term planning.
I know of a few owners, like myself, who keep their horses at home and the only time they 'board' is when they take off to California or Florida for 3 months. They have a trailer that accommodates the number of horses owned or they have a commercial shipper take over the long distance travel and the owner heads south a week or so later. For those of us who have taken the path of a small horse farm, it is hard to leave for an extended period, at least for me. Even my non-competitive equines, I like to see them daily. I will take off for a week long show with a few of the competition OTTBs but that is as long as I like to be gone. Caring for the farm is a lot of work and time away is very limited. Some farm owners will hire staff to care for the horses and property during extended shows so that is always an option. Not what I like personally as I stick to 'My Barn, My Rules' so being gone longer than a week invites barn modifications that may not fall into the My rules category.
How about the mental game that we equestrians are famous for? It is well known that riding and horse ownership is a whole other level of mental stress. I have had friends tell me that if their instructor is gone for 3 months, their riding skills may decline or they will just stagnate while the other riders who can leave, flourish. To this I say, no. You can keep learning and growing with your horse without constant instructor guidance (another topic soon to come!).
As many riders do find themselves in this left behind predicament, what are other solutions? For those of us who have taken the path that limits participating in 3 month horse show excursions, what do you do to keep the 'fear of missing out' from taking over your soul? How about that little bit of anger that may creep in if you are in a program where you still pay for services and lessons even if your primary trainer/instructor leaves with a few select clients for the season? Stay tuned for Part II.