photo by
Tales of Taco the Wonder Horse and his ammy rider on their way to a Training Three Day

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ask Taco: Cross Country and Conditioning Success

 Q. Dearest Taco,
I have long admired you and your sexy legs...I mean athletic physique and bold attitude. I can get kind of scared going XC, especially when my rider, Megan, tells me to take off too long at a jump. Can you give me some tips in how to be an excellent XC horse like you?

Your admirer,

A. Dear Flo,

Thank you for your kind comment about my legs.  I honestly thought that you had lost interest since you did not pay much attention to me this summer when we were in Indiana together.  But I am happy to help you out.

It is easy to be an excellent cross country horse if you follow three rules.
1) First, pay attention to absolutely everything that is in your path, so that you are prepared to handle it.  Study the terrain in front of you, the obstacle itself, and where the flags are (the darker one goes on the right).  Know where every bump on the ground is and whether there is just one jump or another one after it.  You will not have much time to do this so you always need to be paying attention, and this will make time seem to slow down.  This will help you with rule number two, which is:
2) Always jump if it is is safe to do so.  Notice that I do not say that you should jump no matter what.  You should only jump if it is safe.  This is the vast majority of the time.  Sometimes your jump might not be pretty, but that is not a good excuse not to jump.  For example, you might be coming to a jump and you are pretty sure that your rider is going to ask for a long spot.  At that point, you should slow things down in your mind like in #1, above, and check to see whether you can add another stride.  It might not look pretty, but you will be safe and your rider will be happy that you jumped over the fence.  The only good excuse not to jump is if you just can't make it over the obstacle and land on your feet on the other side.  Always try your very best to make it work.
3)  Pay close attention to where your rider is looking.  If you think about it, you can usually tell where she is looking, right?  That is very important information, because that tells you where to go.  If your rider makes some other mistakes on the way to the jump, you can stay on the line that she was riding and ignore the rest of her flailing around.  Again, your rider will be very happy that you jumped even though her riding was not perfect.

I hope that these tips help you out, and I hope that I see you again soon.  Would you like to jump with me sometime?


Q. Dear Taco,
I don’t want to be an eventer and neither does my mom, but she says I need to work on “conditioning” b/c it will help my dressage.  That sounds like a lot of work to me.   Anyway, she begged me to ask you for advice about this, so even though I have no real interest in it myself, I’m asking. I love my mom even if she’s sometimes nuts.

We used to have access to more trails, but some crazy people cut down the trees up there, and since the trees make horses’ feet sick, we can’t use the best trail anymore.  My mom thinks we should go over to your place and do this “conditioning” over there.  So what would you recommend, exactly?

Thanks (sort of), 


A. Dear Destiny,
Yes, conditioning can be a lot of work, but it helps get you fit, which feels really good.  It allows you to do anything you want to do without getting tired.  You will have more energy and vitality, and you will look great.  So those are all very good reasons to do conditioning.

As for where to do the conditioning, it is nice to have a large field or a trail.  It is possible to condition in a small arena, but that gets boring very quickly, and you will be tempted to throw in some spooks and bucks to make things interesting.  This will likely have the effect of angering or otherwise upsetting your mom.  Therefore, encourage her to find a nice area in which to condition.  Panther Springs Farm, where I live, does indeed have a nice track for conditioning.  Usually Stacy has me walk up and down the hill in one of the pastures, and then she does some trotting and cantering around the track.  When we are getting ready for a three day event we will do sets of trotting or cantering in between walking breaks.  This is called interval training.  Now that it is winter and I am not in regular work, we just do a few minutes at each gait but mostly walk around the farm.  The hill work is good for my hindquarters, the intervals are good for my cardiovascular system, and the walking is good for my bones, tendons, and ligaments.

I invite you to come over and do some conditioning with me.  Try it-- you might like it!

Best wishes,

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