How to Salvage a Bad Day in the Ring

How to Salvage a Bad Day in the Ring

You’re exasperated. Your horse flicks an ear back, surely rolling his eyes in disgust at your inadequacy. No matter how many times you remind yourself that it’s just one day, one off ride, you can’t help but live in the failure for a moment.

You try again to no avail. Your horse continues to drop his right shoulder, falling in on what should otherwise be a completely ordinary 20-meter circle.

Your temper flares, your horse kicks out, you yank the reins in frustration. Quickly, you release the pressure and reach forward to pat your horse, whose confusion and equal frustration is palpable. You both sigh before you reluctantly toss one leg over the saddle and dismount. Maybe it’s just better to call it a day.

But you can’t help but feel defeated, like you quit. Sound familiar? I promise you’re not alone. We’ve all been there.

So how do you make the most of a bad day? Sure, there are times when running your stirrups up and calling it quits is the best option. But we chatted up three prominent riders and coaches for their take on the notorious off-day blues and how to cure them.

Eventer Laine Ashker Takes a Moment to Shake It Off

The first thing to ask yourself is if you are the one having an off day or if your horse is the one. If it’s me, there are a lot of times where it’s not about coaching through it.

I once had a bad lesson on [my up-and-coming young horse, Calling All Comets], and I knew it was me having a bad day. So I literally got off, put him away for a bit to chill, and rode another horse. After that, I felt I was more collected and ready to try again. So we did and improved on that last ride. If you’re up against a wall, sometimes it’s best to not call it quits but to just take five and try again later.

We've all been there, buddy.

What about when it’s your horse or maybe a combination of both? Sometimes you can simply change tactics to try to send the message in a different way. For instance, if your horse seems to be struggling with lateral work on a straight line, try using the wall as an additional support, or try some new circles. Find out if there is a better way for you to ask the question and focus on creating a positive experience for the horse to learn from. Don’t just keep asking in the same way, with the same results, every time.

Top Jumper Trainer Missy Clark Goes Back to the Basics

The rule of thumb for me is that there’s no problem in lowering a course if it’s a possibility when having problems. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to drop down, especially if it’s a confidence issue for either horse or rider.

If you’re having an off day, sometimes just focusing on one line or one simple exercise for awhile can help. Oftentimes, breaking things down into smaller pieces is a more approachable way towards solving a problem.

Everyone wants to bring out the best in their horse — we can help.

Some of the best riders in the world have their off days. What sets them apart is having a calm attitude to be able to work past it and the maturity to realize that a bad class is not necessarily a reflection of the whole picture. The best riders can keep a very unemotional perspective on the realities of working with horses.

International Dressage Rider Lauren Sprieser Emphasizes Transitions

My go-to is always, always transitions. Transitions are never a bad idea. They are the thing I start with when my horse feels like a million bucks and I have laser focus, and they are the thing I start with on the days when neither of those are true.

Even most upper level horses and riders can benefit from transitions. One of my favorites to use as a “tell” is canter to trot transitions. That’s often the hardest one; they can just kind of stop their hind legs when going down to the walk, but the canter to trot is a good litmus test of how much engagement you have that day. I like to think of it as a good honesty test.

When your ride is spinning down the drain, what strategies do you use to salvage the day?

Read this next: Don't Panic When the Bell Rings. Nail Your Final Warmup in 45 Seconds or Less.

Photography by Andrew Ryback.

Written by Sally Spickard

Sally Spickard caught the horse bug at a young age and can still remember her first trip to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, which subsequently afflicted her with the eventing bug. Sally spends her days in San Diego, California and thoroughly enjoys her career telling the stories of our sport and assisting clients with their digital marketing needs.