Author Archives: Robyn Freer

Bundled up and ready to go! How to dress for winter riding

With an early blast of Old Man Winter this week, we are reminded that it’s important to dress for the weather. Many people will stop riding in the winter, in fear of being too cold; however, if dressed appropriately, winter riding can be fun – especially after a fresh snowfall out in the fields!

The first thing to keep in mind is to dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature. Layering allows you to add or remove clothing easily as your body temperature changes. On top, I usually suggest a turtleneck or high-necked shirt followed by a zipped sweatshirt or fleece top. For those riders who wear protective safety vests (which on their own add about 10 degrees to your body temperature), wear your vest on top on your turtleneck, followed by the zip top so that you have 1 less layer to remove as you warm up. For the final top layer, a down vest or winter jacket would be best. This piece will also keep you warm before and after you ride when you are grooming your horse or pony.

Since your head allows much of your body’s heat loss, fleece helmet covers will help maintain some of your body temperature, and can also keep your ears warm! Some riders will also add an ear band underneath a helmet and as long as it doesn’t interfere with the fit of the helmet, it’s another way to keep the ears warm.

For pants, I prefer to ride in “winter riding breeches” which are nylon on the outside and fleece on the inside. I don’t like to promote specific brands but will acknowledge ones that have been great for me over the years. After riding through many cold winters, the “Kerrits” winter riding breeches wash up the best, last the longest and are super comfy to wear. For added warmth, both on top and bottom, you can also add long underwear in cotton or silk. These natural fabrics add warmth and pull moisture away from your skin so that as you ride and get warm, you won’t get chilled when cooling down afterwards.

For me, what get cold the quickest are my hands and feet so it’s important to find the best gloves and winter footwear. For gloves, try to look for products that are rated for a minimum of -10 degrees. My favourite ones are SSG’s “10 below” winter gloves. They keep my hands warm and stay relatively dry. I also like the sheepskin lined deerskin gloves, but unless you are good at keeping track of your things, they can be a bit pricey.

Winter riding boots come in many different brands and styles. Some riders prefer winter paddock boots (short boots) while others like to ride in tall boots. Either way, the key is to wear good socks and to have lots of room to keep wiggling your toes. Both Mountain Horse and Ariat have many different styles so it’s a good idea to figure out if you want short or tall boots and then try on different brands. It WILL be difficult to get 1/2 chaps over most winter paddock boots so keep that in mind when selecting your style. Some of my students bring “Hot Shots” to lessons which keep their hands/feet warm and I know that many parents “buy in bulk” at Costco and keep a good supply in their rider’s “barn bag”.

All this being said, I admit that I AM a wimp when it comes to winter riding but when I dress properly, I warm up quickly. When I go out to teach, I am bundled up from head to toe from my Foxwood toque, down to my full-length parka and Sorel boot and I also added snow pants to my winter teaching wardrobe.

So, bundle up to stay warm and have a great season of winter riding!

Until next time,
Robyn

No stirrups November? No problem!

At first they thought I was joking…an entire month of lessons without stirrups? But why?

When I first started implementing “No stirrups November” a few years ago, I think most of my students lasted around 2 weeks before convincing me into letting them have their stirrups back. It’s not as if we didn’t practice without stirrups over the course of the year, but we never made it the full month. But this year, we ARE going to make it to 30 days!

I know it sounds scary (and trust me, I know how much it can hurt!) but riding without stirrups is a challenge, it takes us out of our comfort zone and it makes us better riders.

Most coaches would agree that riding without stirrups is necessary for all riders:

“Those looking to bring their riding to a higher level will benefit greatly by riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups will help to make a rider more balanced, stronger and secure in the saddle. The most important reason to make it a consistent part of a rider’s weekly riding routine is that it will help improve your seat. By improvising your seat, you will improve your feel, and by improving your feel in the saddle, you will ultimately become a better rider. Once a rider has put in the time and effort to develop a world class seat, it’s equally important for the rider to maintain their seat by riding without stirrups on a consistent basis.” (USHJA certified trainer Scott Lico)

We are now into our 2nd week of “No stirrups November” at Foxwood. I have started all of my students off slowly, with each rider going without stirrups for a little bit longer at each lesson. For our beginner riding students, who are still working on developing their balance, no stirrup work may simply involve taking their feet out of the stirrups at a walk and then putting them back. A small exercise but with big benefits – not only improving their balance but their confidence.

Our novice riders are confidently riding at the sitting trot without stirrups and are building muscle strength to try posting trot without stirrups, while our intermediate and advanced students are working on bending exercises as well as cantering without stirrups.

So, what really ARE all of the benefits of riding without stirrups?

1. Strengthening the leg
Everyone knows that riding without stirrups is a common exercise used to strengthen a rider’s leg, so a month without them is a great way to focus on just that. The rider’s leg becomes stronger and more useful in the long run.

2. Improving leg position
This goes along with strengthening. Posting off of the stirrups is a common mistake that many riders make and they don’t realize that they are doing it. When there is no stirrup iron to balance off of, the rider must use their muscles to hold their leg in place in order to stay on their horse. This helps eliminate any instability of the rider’s leg and it improves correctness.

3. Preparing the rider
Any rider that shows may know that sometimes in an equitation class, they may be asked to drop their stirrups. It also prepares the rider for any situation, whether at a show or at home, that involves them losing a stirrup and then subsequently, their balance.

4. Building balance and improving a rider’s seat
It is easy to stay in the saddle when stirrups are there for support, but when there is nothing to rely on, it forces the rider to use their seat to remain balanced. A rider’s seat is an essential aid that becomes especially useful when riding “green” horses or more difficult horses.

5. Developing confidence
Not every rider is keen to ride without stirrups as there is always the fear on falling off. Working at their own pace, improving with each lesson without stirrups, gives each rider a sense of accomplishment.

We are going to be stronger by the end of November and who knows?
Maybe my students will suggest we continue it into December…and add some jumping WITHOUT stirrups;)

Until next time,
Robyn

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Still smiling after a “no stirrups november” lesson

A Foxwood familiar face – Charlotte Hodgson

When you drive up to Foxwood, and you see the little lemon coloured car, you know she’s here. It’s our junior instructor, extraordinaire, Charlotte! I have had the pleasure of knowing Charlotte from the time she was just starting out riding on her Shetland pony, Champ. From the beginning, I knew that she was going to “grow up” to be an amazing horsewoman as she always seemed to have a connection with not only the ponies that she rode, but also with the horse people who surrounded her.

When I found out in the fall of 2016 that Charlotte was returning to Canada after nearly 6 years in the UK, I messaged her to ask if she would be interested in teaching some of the beginner and novice lessons at Foxwood. I was delighted when she said yes!

She has been back for nearly 1 year and I would like to share some of her riding and horse experiences with you:

Starting off in the saddle around the age of 7, Charlotte has spent more than 20 years around horses in various equestrian disciplines, both working and riding.

She started off competing on ponies at a young age and was successful in the hunter ring with small, medium and large ponies over the years. As a skilled pony rider, she even started training some green ponies (unschooled) and some of them advanced along to be competitive in both Canada & the United States. One of those young ponies was Foxwood’s own, Sera. I purchased Sera in 2000 as a 3 year old and was going to train her myself; until I found out I was pregnant. I knew Charlotte and her mother from riding at another farm and I asked Charlotte if she would be interested in riding Sera while I was unable to. Sera could be challenging at times; however, Charlotte spent the time working with her and soon, Sera was able to have more riders start on her.

Although Charlotte grew out of competing on ponies, she continued showing both in the hunter and equitation rings with a talented thoroughbred called Shades of Grey. She and Grey ended up being long time partners and he was retired in 2006 after a fabulous career in the Children’s Hunter division.

Moving on from high school to university, Charlotte helped start what is now known as the Ontario Collegiate Equestrian Association. She competed successfully on the University of Guelph horseback riding team and had the opportunity, during that time, to train with various hunter and jumper coaches.

Charlotte has recently returned from living abroad in the UK for nearly 6 years where she was involved with a local fox hunting community – riding with the Belvoir Hunt and the Duke of Rutland’s hounds in England. It was an incredible opportunity to ride different horses, connect with other horse people and experience the excitement of riding cross country with the hounds.

Since returning to Canada last October, Charlotte has a new horse who she shares with her mom. Training with FEI eventer, Julie Clark, Charlotte has been introduced to the eventing world and competed this summer with her little Cleveland Bay horse, Rideau. Converting from the hunter/ jumper world to eventing has added to Charlotte’s skill set as she continues to learn more and more about the three phases (dressage, show jumping & cross country) involved in the sport; however, she attributes her hunter background as providing a solid foundation for her change in riding disciplines.

Charlotte is great with kids, having not only taught at Foxwood in the past but she also worked for several years for the town of Bradford with their summer camp programs. She is looking forward to having fun with the students and ponies in the Foxwood Farm lesson program and we are excited to have HER as part of our Foxwood Family!

Until next time,
Robyn

Welcome to the Foxwood Family, Charlotte Hodgson!

Horse Coach Corner #FromWhereIStand – Lessons learned from my Students

The good days show smiling faces, the bad days have tears…but as a coach (no matter what sport), you learn to take the good with the bad and learn from them.

As we celebrate National Coach Week this week, I am grateful to all of my students, present and past for the impact they have all had on MY life. The role of the coach is to guide and mentor others; however, little is said about the role that the student has on the coach.

I started off coaching at my farm in 1999 with some of my neighbour’s children. I had my older horse at the time, who was a great school master and I knew that she was the perfect horse to teach young children how to ride as she was very calm and gentle. I had to develop beginner lesson plans; focusing on the basics starting with grooming and leading, to tacking up and getting on a horse for the first time – things you take for granted as a more experienced rider. It reminded me of how much there is to learn when horseback riding, how much time goes into our sport and how learning, is a process to advancing.

As my lesson barn began to grow, so did my desire to start taking my students to horse shows off property. 2013 was the first official year of the “Foxwood Farm Show Team” with only 3 riders. It then grew to 13 show riders in 2015 and now, in 2017, we have 20 competing show riders! Coaching offsite, in a competitive environment, has different challenges than coaching at home: there is the stress of how the ponies/horse will behave, which is beyond anyone’s control; there is dealing with the nerves of the rider and teaching them to focus on their riding, improving with each round and not just on winning a ribbon; there are the expectations of the families, who have invested time and money, to see their riders do well; and of course, my own expectations of wanting my students to have a positive show experience. Over the last 4 years, I have had to make changes to my coaching style to better prepare my students for the show ring and I have learned how to be a better coach by changing my ways.

The students I have taught, have made me the coach that I am.

Earlier this week, I was tagged in a tweet from one of my students, who was recognizing National Coaches Week. She wrote the following:

“This week is National Coach week, and I just wanted to say thank you so much to not only my coach but also my friend and role model! This summer was my first official show season and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome, as even though I only attended two shows, I brought home champion and a lot of first and seconds, this is all because of the amazing support and motivation I have from my wonderful coach. She is there to coach and support us at every show even when it’s 30+ degrees out! Her words of motivation keep up going throughout the day. I started at Foxwood Farm 2 years ago without any experience jumping and now I’m here, all thanks to you, Robyn! I was welcomed with open arms an now I can’t stay away from the barn (except when I’m away at school). Thank you for an awesome year, Robyn!”

I have been coach, mentor and friend to many students and I thank all of them for the positive role each of them has played in my coaching career.

Of all the coaching quotes I have come across, this one pretty much sums up how I feel:

“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, because of you, I didn’t give up.”

I want them to learn from me, just as much as I learn from them.

I love teaching people how to ride; children, adults, anyone who wants to learn. And if I can encourage people to improve upon their riding skills, while developing an unconditional love for horses, then I have truly done my job as coach while learning along the way.

Until next
time,
Robyn

Part of the Foxwood Farm ShowTeam for 2017

Coaching “my kids”


Coaching ringside at the Essa Agriplex

Mind your melon and save your money! Riding helmet shopping 101

Safety has always been my number one concern when teaching students how to ride. I find safe horses and ponies to teach on; I follow the farm safety protocol of Equine Canada, I have had my facility approved by the Ontario Equestrian Federation; and when it comes to riding apparel, I recommend safety vests but mandate a properly fitted, approved helmet for all of my riders.

With the start of a new session this week, it’s a great time for riders to check over their equipment to make sure that everything is safe. Even if your helmet has never sustained any damage or impact from a fall, ALL manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every 5 years…and for many of us “mature” riders, if not replaced, we may be wearing helmets that are no longer approved.

This coming weekend, manufacturers and retailers are offering great discounts on riding helmets for International Helmet Awareness Days (September 16/17), so it’s the perfect time to purchase a helmet for a new rider or replace your existing helmet – especially if older than 5 or if you have had a few falls in the last couple of years.

Once you choose a tack store, the decision then comes down to safety standards, fit and style:

Helmet Safety Standards
The first thing you will want to look for is a helmet that is ASTM approved. ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) tests all types of sports and work equipment including equestrian helmets.

Helmets are subject to drops, sharp and blunt blows, and extreme temperatures. If a helmet bears the ASTM certification, you can be assured that it is made to pass at least the minimum standards set by the ASTM.

Fitting a Helmet
To get the best fit, you’ll need to try some helmets on so it is imperative that the rider who is getting the helmet be present for the fitting. The sales person may measure your head with a tape measure before starting to select helmets to try on. This will give you a general size to work from. This measurement is only used as a guideline for finding the right size and to start trying on helmets as some helmets fit different shapes of heads differently.

Once you have the helmet on your head, leave the harness undone and tip your head back and forth, and side to side. The helmet should sit firmly, not sliding forward or backwards. The helmet should be snug, but not tight. Remember that the linings will compress with use, so take that into account. Do up the harness and notice how the helmet feels. It should feel secure but not like your head is being squeezed. Pay attention to any pressure points that may become irritating. The helmet should be between one half (1.25 cm) to one inch (2.5cm) above the eyebrows. If the helmet looks perched on your head or sits too low, try another style.

I can’t stress enough, the importance of having the rider try on different helmets, making sure you are shopping at a reputable tack store with knowledgable staff. I’ve had several students come to the barn with helmets they received as Christmas gifts or birthday presents, that do not fit properly. Having owned a tack store, myself, for many years and having taken a workshop on how to fit a helmet, I know how imperative it is to have the rider sized properly. Many tack stores will not allow you to return a helmet, for sanitary/safety reasons, so if you wish to purchase a helmet for a gift, get a gift card and then take the rider into the store to get properly sized.

Helmet Style
The style of helmet you choose is entirely up to you and there are many different options:

For weekly/daily schooling purposes, a schooling helmet is appropriate and they come in a range of colours with patterns/designs, etc and are easy to keep clean by simply wiping off. Most of them are vented, making wearing a helmet on a hot, summer day rather bearable:)

If you are going to be showing, a velvet/velveteen show helmet is more suitable; however, the popularity of helmets, such as Sam Shield, are on the rise and they are not velvet/velveteen. In most cases, it comes down to the discipline of riding that you are doing as well as how much money you wish to spend. Keeping all of that in mind,
whether it’s a colourful, schooling helmet or a sparkly show helmet, remember that the most important part is making sure it fits!

Buying Used Helmets
Should you buy a used helmet? The answer is NO! And tack stores will not sell used helmets. The same thought applies to using a 2nd hand helmet. Over the years that I have been running lessons and camp, I have had a few riders who show up to their first lesson with their mom or even grandma’s old helmet. I understand the sentimental attachment to the old helmet; however, most likely, it is not approved.

So, with a little information about fitting helmets, and with some great discounts being offered this weekend, if it’s time for a new helmet or time to replace an old one, happy shopping!!

Until next time,
Robyn

At the show

The “Golden Foxwood Years” – love, care and compassion for our retired horses

When I first moved to my farm in 1998, I only had my horse, Silhouette. Given that Foxwood had nearly 25 acres, I decided that Silhouette would need a friend or 2 and so, upon moving onto the property, I started to take on retired boarders. Not only would they help keep my horse (and soon to be, horses;) company, but they would also help will some of the costs associated with keeping horses, such as hay, etc. As the years passed by, my “geriatric” group grew from one or two retirees to, at one point, 11 out of the 13 horses that were here.

These horses ALL become a part of our Foxwood Family. Many of them have been show horses, or riding companions, and we have also had the privilege of boarding several retired school horses who worked very hard in busy lesson barns. Each and every one of them has deserved the time to come to Foxwood to retire; eating green grass in the summer, being a part of a horse herd, yet, still being loved and cared for.

This past Monday, we welcomed a new retiree to Foxwood! His name is Sam (aka Boston Clipper) and we are just thrilled that he has joined us! A little something sent to me from Sam’s “mom”, Melanie:

“April 2017 marked 20 years of Sam being in my life. He was my first horse and my first true love. He has been a part of my life for every major milestone; graduating University, starting new jobs, meeting and marrying my husband John and the birth of my three children.

Sam and I enjoyed a lot of success in the hunter and equitation ring on the A circuit and competed together at the Royal Winter Fair five times, but my best memories are times spent at the barn grazing and brushing him.

Seven years ago John and I decided to leave city living and bought a horse farm so we could keep Sam close and every day I woke up to see him in his paddock. We recently sold our farm and I knew exactly where I wanted Sam to live. I have know Robyn probably as long as I have had Sam and always envisioned him retiring at her farm. As Sam is 28 years of age I was nervous how he would handle the change but seeing him get off the trailer and all the other happy horses come to greet him made me know I had made the right choice.

I know I won’t have Sam in my life forever but I am so grateful to know at Foxwood he has found his forever home.”
Melanie Tory

I truly admire the owners, like Melanie, who are able to make “golden years” possible for their retired horses as they truly do deserve to live out their days in comfort and in peace. And when the time comes for our older horses to pass over the Rainbow Bridge, I make sure that I am here for each of them as they have come to trust me and know that I am here for them – I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Until next time,
Robyn

Sam and Melanie competing

Sam and Salty

Sam in with the Foxwood herd

Perfect posture for that perfect ride – equestrian fitness starts with standing tall

“Stand up straight. Don’t hunch” …I don’t know about you, but as a teenager, my parents were constantly commenting on my posture. It bothered me at the time but now, as I am getting older (not old;), I am realizing the long term effects that could arise from having a poor stance. A few years ago, I started taking yoga classes – not just to improve my riding posture – but my every day posture and my core strength. Several daily simple exercises, combined with stretching, have made a big improvement for me on the ground and in the saddle.

In the current issue of Wellness magazine, I read a very interesting article written by Gina Allan about posture and how it affects us while riding:

Why Rider Fitness & Posture are so important

You pay attention to your horse’s fitness program, but as a rider, it’s also important to understand how vital your own fitness it. It is your responsibility to ensure you have good body awareness and posture when you ride, so when you initiate even the subtlest movement in your position, you will know and expect your horse’s response. Horses can’t achieve good balance and self-carriage if their riders are unable to maintain their own self-carriage. Proper posture and understanding the dynamics of your seat and back, and how they affect the horse, are essential.

Back health issues affect up to 90% of the population and 66% of those affected are between 20 and 50 years of age. Muscles that are too loose and weak, or too tight, cause 90% of muscular and skeletal injuries; therefore, it is best to ensure that your posture, core strength and back health are in good condition before you set foot in the stirrup. Most injuries are due to muscles that are too tight or inflexible, or that lack sufficient strength. Injuries can also be caused by a fixed or repetitive motion with inadequate rest, or muscles that have not been properly warmed up prior to a workout.

Stretching for Strength
First comes the stretch, then comes the strength. Muscles are technically stronger than bones and act as the body’s pulley system, maneuvering and affecting the bones. The muscles determine the shape the body will take, so if you slouch, your muscles will pull the bones into that position, eventually shortening the muscles creating the constant slouching position. Once we have adopted poor posture, any attempt to use the muscles correctly will likely feel wrong. It will take time to make shifts in the body’s patterning and muscle memory in order to change it back. It is by using this awareness and patience that we can restore muscle balance and reawaken our underused muscles, gradually coaxing them to work harder. The “too strong” and likely “too short” muscles need to stretch and relax a little so we can restore balance and maintain good posture. This will enable us to ride with balance, ease of movement and athletic grace.

Common Postural Concerns
1. The hunched or rounded upper back, known as “kyphosis”, is a common postural problem. It can inhibit breathing, interfere with digestion, and cause tremendous stress to the discs between the vertebral segments of the thoracic spine. All this offers little support to your equine partner and often results in pushing him onto the forehand. Stretching through the front chest muscles and strengthening the mid-upper back muscles can help correct this problem as long as the kyphosis is not too advanced.

2. Another common postural problem is a protruding belly, or “lordosis”. It may result from tight hip flexors and poor abdominal strength. Although the “potbelly” may not necessarily be caused by weak abdominal muscles, the forward tilt to your pelvis will likely block your horse through his back, disallowing the hind leg energy to travel through his body.

With good posture, you will remain connected to the saddle and to your horse’s back at all times. With your feet rested properly on the stirrups, you’ll most likely feel a greater, more consistent connection to your horse throughout your ride”.

So much to work on but there IS hope for all of us…and help in the form of some very good exercises! I will share some of Gina’s exercise suggestions with you later this month.

For now, it’s off to do a little daily yoga practice,
Until next time,
Robyn

“You sit like a soup sandwich” George Morris

Gina is an Equine Canada Certified Level II Hunter/Jumper Coach, a Level III Theory Coach, and is pursuing her Level III Dressage Coaching Certificate. Gina’s vast experience includes three years studying and riding with former Canadian Equestrian Jumper Coach, Frank Selinger in Alberta before moving to Pennsylvania where she trained with International Dressage Clinician and author, Paul Belasik.

On the fitness side, Gina is a BCRPA Certified Group and Third Age Fitness Instructor, a Yoga Instructor and a Specialist Instructor in Pilates. She graduated from Capilano University where she majored in Lifestyle Counselling and Kinesiology. She has worked with Doctors and Physiotherapists to develop specialty modules including Back Care and Posture Assessment.

For more information, visit Gina’s website at:
http://www.ginaallen.ca

“Bullet Proof – A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring”

With just a few days away until the first horseshow of the season, I know my students are starting to get anxious and excited about getting into the horseshow ring! Sure, ribbons are great and it’s an amazing feeling when you end your show day on a positive note; however, in order to be successful, you need more than just the right horse or the right show attire. You need to be confident. We prepare all winter for the upcoming season: jumping courses, practicing lead changes, etc. but when show day comes, and the nerves set in…well, it sometimes seems like we may not be as prepared as we thought.

I came across an excellent article in the May 2017 issue of Horse Sport Magazine written by registered psychologist, April Clay which gives insight into how to BE confident and how to make your show experience the best it can be:

Bullet Proof
A Rider’s Guide to Killer Confidence in the Ring

“1. Understand this: Confidence is more than a feeling
When confidence is approached as a feeling, the way to change seems to be through willpower. You tell yourself to feel better, to buck up, to believe. It just doesn’t work. Your confidence is a set of beliefs you possess about your abilities; it is knowledge gained through experience. The feeling good part is simply a by-product of this new knowledge. Ask yourself what experiences you need to create for yourself in order to become a skilled rider. What kind of goals are you reaching for? Don’t get too hung up on feeling good; figure out ways to be good. Confidence is not a feeling, it is a “knowing” and the good news is you can grow your knowing!

2. Get ready for waves
Confidence is naturally variable. Confidence can be shaken. Even the most elite riders sometimes suffer doubt. This can come on the heels of an accident, or while trying to extend yourself to your next plateau of competence. If you are moving up a division, of course you will experience some doubt. If you are practicing more risk-taking, you will not feel a sense of certainty.
All doubt tells us is that something needs attending to. It sends a message that you are responsible for decoding. If you treat doubt as nothing more than an unpleasant feeling you have to avoid, then you are missing something – an opportunity to grow.

3. Talk to yourself
The tough part about negative thinking? We come by it naturally. It is part of our survival mechanism to look for potential problems. It’s called the “negativity bias” and unfortunately speaks to the way our brain is wired.
Sometimes you have to recognize how the negativity is trying to serve you, and look for a different way to get the same service! For example, “look out for that jump, your horse hates water” is your mind trying to warn you. Say ‘thank you for the warning,’ but turn your thinking into a solution: “stay straight, horse in front of leg, that’s how I ride to water.” Confident riders make sure their self-talk stays directive and productive. On the other hand, self-talk should not be so over-the-top gooey positive that it’s unrealistic. What you choose to say to yourself must be something you actually find believable. Otherwise you will activate that devil on your shoulder; you know, the one that wants to argue with you about why you’re oh so wrong. Instead of “I am the best rider in this class” try saying “I know I am prepared.”

4. Make a plan
The business of changing what you know about yourself as a rider entails action or experience. After an uncomfortable incident you can’t just pat yourself on the back and tell yourself to feel better. You need to lead yourself through the experience in a way that assures you that you can handle that situation and come up with a plan of coping and problem-solving. Find a way to work through the challenge and you will come out the other end a much stronger person.
A rider who becomes uncomfortable when asked to ride at faster speeds and take risks in a jump-off needs to define a path to that goal. What skills are needed? How might simulations of jump-offs be set up in order to provide greater rehearsal opportunities? Breaking the job down and knowing how it might be accomplished sets the task and the rider up for success. Experiencing the development of specific skills brings confidence in those skills in that setting. A confident rider is a good student of their sport; they know how to study.

5. Train for Adversity
You say you want to increase your confidence? Be careful what you wish for. Confidence-building may not always arise from pleasant circumstances. To be mentally tough, you have to learn how to have ‘good bad days.’ Every time something doesn’t go quite right in your training, this opportunity presents itself. You can either allow yourself to opt out – “I just don’t feel quite right today, better quit while I’m ahead”– or you can grab onto it and reap the rewards: “Sure, I don’t feel great today, but I am going to practice dealing with it because who knows how I might feel before my next performance.”
Janet, an amateur jumper rider, and her trainer decided to make sure they utilized the adverse circumstances life normally presents. Each time a challenging moment presented itself, one of them would say “that sucks, buckle up!” and then together they would devise a clear plan to deal with the challenge. Using humour helped Janet. “I liked the idea of our joint silly key phrase. It made tough times seem a little lighter and more like a normal thing to deal with instead of a huge deal, and the planning made it fixable and learnable. I never thought I could actually be tougher, but I think I am!”

6. Abandon Perfection
One of the greatest thieves of sport self-esteem is the habit of clinging stubbornly to the idea of perfection. Some people believe if they are not reaching for perfection, their goals are not high enough. The truth is, perfection is not a high goal, it’s an impossible one. There is no perfect performance – especially in horse sport, where your teammate comes supplied with their own set of variables. Horses can have off days, injuries, and most certainly a changing inner nature which makes each ride a unique conversation.
Accept that each performance you give will be different, and your job is to create the best you can with what you have on that day. Aim for excellence in your skills and learning to trust your instincts. This you can control.

7. Define your Brand
What is your confidence “brand”? Every athlete has an overall sense of confidence about their ability to perform in their sport, but there will always be strengths and weaknesses in that profile. That’s normal. You can, however, bolster your overall confidence by choosing an area of specialty. In other words, choose a skill that will really define you and go for it! Become known for possessing an area of expertise. Ian Millar, for example, is known for having a keen sense of direction and planning. George Morris is associated with discipline and consistency.
Having and developing a self-chosen superpower can help you get in touch with the rest of your confidence, especially in a pinch. For example: become an expert course walker, study equine body language, explore the history of equitation. Have fun creating your brand!”

I hope that by sharing this article with all of you, that perhaps your confidence, whether in the riding ring at home or at a horseshow, can get a little boost!

Until next time,
Robyn

April Clay is a Registered Psychologist with an independent practice located in Calgary, Alberta. Although she works with all kinds of athletes in her practice, April especially enjoys assisting equestrian athletes with their mental goals. She is a qualified member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) and she is a regular contributor to numerous publications both locally and abroad. You can visit her main site at www.bodymindmotion.com and the online course site at www.outofyourmindcourses.com

You CAN lead a horse to a “Drinking Post” to save you time AND money

The trees are budding, the birds are chirping, the horses are shedding – spring has sprung! With spring on the farm, comes lots of work: from cleaning tack, harrowing paddocks, grass cutting, and tidying up the Foxwood horses and ponies after a long winter season. With so much to do, there never seems to be enough time in the day!

I like to think that I am fairly progressive when it comes to trying new methods of working around the farm and if I can implement something that is going to save me time AND money, why wouldn’t I try it?

In the fall of 2015, I read about a watering system for large animals that had originated in Western Canada, mainly for cattle, but was becoming popular at horse farms. If you’re familiar with how a frost-free yard hydrant works, then you already understand the concept of how the Drinking Post Waterer works; however, unlike a regular frost-free hydrant, the Drinking Post Waterer has some amazing differences:

Frost-free yard hydrants/drinking post waterers are installed to provide water to various locations on a farm during all seasons of the year. They are manufactured and installed in such a way that they will operate throughout the winter without freezing and because the water is coming up from below the frost line, the temperature remains at 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round. The main difference between the 2 systems is that to use a frost-free hydrant, you then need to have a trough. A trough that needs to have a heater installed in the winter time, to keep the water from freezing. And, a trough that needs to be cleaned and dumped out, especially in the summer, to avoid algae growth (not to mention standing water which increases the likelihood of mosquitoes).

About 10 years ago, when I had a new well drilled on the farm, I had frost free hydrants installed in 3 of our paddocks. At the time, I thought this was fantastic as it meant that I no longer had to drag hoses out from various tap locations and during the winter months, I simply had to put the heater in the trough and all was good…well, until a power outage when the heater would then stop working, causing the water to freeze within the trough. Or in the heat of the summer, if I happened to be away for the day, and the horses would drink the trough dry. As horse owners, we know that having fresh, clean water accessible to our horses all the time is important for their health so something needed to change.

I took that leap in November 2015 and purchased 1 Drinking Post Waterer from System Fencing. I was skeptical at first – not knowing if they would all drink from it. Many of my horses had been at barns in the past with automatic drinking systems in their stalls, but none of them had access to automatic outdoor systems. Leading one horse at a time up to the Drinking Post Waterer, I was amazed at how quickly each and every one of them learned how to work it.

To operate, a horse simply presses their nose on the paddle inside the bowl and as it fills with water, the horse can drink. When they are done drinking, the paddle is released and the remaining water drains down through the interior of the waterer and into the ground below. It’s simple and has so many benefits:

Constant cool, fresh water at 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit, all the time. Horses will consume considerably more when at that temperature

Clean drinking water ALL THE TIME. No algae growth and no having to scrub out water troughs.

No standing water which equals no mosquitoes

AND cost savings due to no hydro requirements!

So, yesterday, I had my Drinking Post Waterer installer back to Foxwood. We put in 3 more drinking posts! One in every paddock so that now, I can rotate pastures in the summer without having to drag around the troughs to the hydrants. I no longer have to clean out algae, I don’t have to worry about water freezing in the winter…and with a decrease in my hydro bill this past winter, I can buy more crazy socks and saddle pads;)

Until next time,
Robyn

Horses, riding and finding that barn connection – a mother’s perspective

Over the years, I have had the joy of teaching many riders from a very young age, until they reach university. Many of them will return to visit during the summer months or will come back to ride once they are finished school. Just over a year ago, I met Alex. She wasn’t a beginner rider, nor was she the “typical” new Foxwood young rider. She was finishing up high school but wanted to get back into riding not only because she missed being around the horses but she wanted to learn how to jump. Given that she already had some riding knowledge, it was only a matter of a few lessons before she was on her way! Alex is very lucky in that her parents are very supportive of her riding and recently, her mom, Lisa, sent me a lovely note to share with me how important riding, horses and Foxwood are to her daughter:

“When I was young, I always loved to go and visit my cousins who owned horses, but I was never able to convince my parents to buy me a horse or pony. It was with great delight then, for me, that when my daughter, Alex was very young, I discovered that she also had a love for horses. My first memory is of a trip to the Kinmount Fair on Labour Day weekend near our cottage when Alex was maybe four or five. She pulled her Dad and me towards the section of the fairgrounds where all of the riders and horses were parked with their trailers getting ready for their shows. The first owner we spoke to had Clydesdales and Alex pulled us closer so that she could touch them, but then when we tried to get her to stand beside the horse to take a picture, she realized just how big he was and she got nervous. We never did get a picture, but the owner who had won several ribbons, gave Alex a first prize ribbon to hang on her wall at home. That clinched it. From that day on, her love and draw to horses was sealed. She began riding later that year or the next at a farm on our cottage road.

Over the years, we took her to various farms including riding with my cousin Iris in Sharon and later on out in Thornton where another friend rode. At this farm, Alex also belonged to the 4H club, but the owner did not teach jumping and after three years, we stopped going. Alex however did not stop thinking about horses and riding so when her friend Megan told her she was riding at Foxwood Farms, Alex went with her to check it out.

Soon after, Alex begged us to start riding again and I went to meet Robyn. We felt immediately at home being back at a barn, but it was more than that. Robyn and Alex had a connection through their love of horses and within a few months, Alex told us Robyn had asked her to be Head Camp Counsellor for that summer. Alex was already working as a lifeguard and swim instructor and had her first aid certification, so adding her love of horses to the mix, it was a perfect fit for her and we were overjoyed.

It’s hard to believe it has only been just over a year since Alex joined the Foxwood Family. It feels like Alex has found her second home and because Robyn is there, she will go to the farm whenever she gets a chance, but we don’t mind. We are happy that Alex has a place to do what she has always loved. Alex has grown her riding skills quite quickly and will be a member of the Foxwood Show team this year. Jumping and simply being at Foxwood has given her the confirmation that whatever she does for her future career, it will be with horses.

Foxwood is a place where not only can our children learn about and be around horses, it is also a place where they feel like they belong. We are thankful that Alex has found her way to the Foxwood Family. Thank you Robyn for being Foxwood!”
Lisa Paul

I’m so excited for Alex to show with our Foxwood show team this season! She has worked very hard to improve her riding skills and she has developed a great partnership with Maggie, the horse she will be showing. As to her future adventures, I know that whatever she does, she will be a success! (and maybe if she gets into vet school, one day, she’ll come back to Foxwood to be our vet;)

Until next time,
Robyn

Alex and her mom, Lisa, riding Fjord horses in Denmark

Alex in the fall of 2016 at Foxwood with Neo

Winter riding lessons at Foxwood