**3 weeks until RPSI inspection**
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m now to the point that if I think about the inspection too hard, I feel like I need to throw up. It’s super fun. So, what’s a girl to do to keep her mind on things? What do we riders always do when we’re in trouble? Sit up and add more leg. 😉
Fitness is something that can drastically effect how a horse is viewed. A well-trained eye can sometimes see past bad condition to the horse’s actual potential, but it’s not an ideal state for anyone. Fitness means different things to different people, though.
I had a trainer once who liked fat horses. Any horse that wasn’t overly fleshy was too thin. Any visibility of ribs was a cause for extreme concern. A lot of lead-line classes will have a fleshier horse/pony. Not only does the extra fat help the shine, it also gives them a bit of a flourishing look.
This is fine for its purpose, but at the end of the day Star is my main (read: only) mount. I can’t afford for her to get fat. Fat means more weight coming down on her muscles, bones and ligaments. More weight is more stress and more stress is certainly not what I’m trying to provide to my 11-year-old green jumper.
So, while I definitely don’t want to see a thin horse, I think I have a very strict idea of fitness. On the ten-point body condition scale, I like a five or six. If Star gained weight evenly and not from the bottom of her belly up, I might be willing to stretch it to a seven. She doesn’t; Star still looks possibly pregnant most days. I joke that we both have “mommy tummies” and I think I’ve finally just come to terms with that.
I have a fairly strong riding routine. We do a lot of poles and grid work, and all sorts of exercises meant to build strength, balance, and muscle tone. Both Star and myself are better than we were when we started together, and we continue on the path of progress not perfection. Star gets a lot of compliments under saddle.
Too bad the inspection is completely on the ground.
Every warmblood registry does it a bit different, but inspections all require at least two things: 1. standing up in front of a judge or judges for a conformation overview; and 2. movement to allow the judge or judges to score gaits. For the RPSI inspection, Star will have to be stood up with her left side facing the judges in an “open” stance. (Open basically means all legs should be visible at once.) Then the judge will ask the handler to walk and/or trot Star out in a triangle or straight line. Once this has been accomplished, the lead is removed and Star will be judged on walk, trot and canter at liberty.
Starting about four months ago, I decided to get a lot more serious about ground work. Lounging went from a winter warm-up to actual regimented work. Once Star graduated from obeying vocal cues no matter the distraction, I added in liberty work. Every couple weeks, I’d do a mock inspection. Practicing standing Star up for the judges, then trotting around the triangle, and finally letting her go run around like an idiot.
While I’m pretty pleased with the way Star moves in general, I definitely felt that she could be using herself better. Slowly, and with a lot of care, I added in a few days a month lunging with side reins. At first I simply put them on high and loose to get Star familiar with them. Three months later and she reaches low for contact. It’s lovely, and I think it’s really helped her figure out how to move from her butt and lift from her back. The swing in her shoulder has vastly improved, and it’s visible even under saddle. I don’t like misuse of any aid, whether it’s my own leg or side reins. I do, however, believe that most aids can be gentle and beneficial to training if used with care.
For the last week, I’ve been annoyingly sick. The type of sick that makes you afraid to leave the house and sobbingly grateful for a moment of relief. I don’t think I’ve ever been sick enough to be away from the barn for nine days, but I was this time. I was actually doubtful that I could manage a ride on nine-day rested Star. So I pulled out the lunge line and the side reins and watched to see how crazy she’d get.
It’s so rewarding to be able to say, she was perfectly fine. A bit grumpy on her weaker lead at the canter, but even that settled down quickly. Mostly she just looked fit and fluid, as if the week and a half off did nothing more than give her a bit of a vacation. She was shiny and quite happy to see me when I came in, and seemed well worked and content when I put her back out.
We’ve got this. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the judges liking or not liking her. She’s going to tick off their boxes or not. I can say with 100% certainly that if they don’t like Star, it won’t be because we aren’t prepared. She’s fit and fabulous.
Rampaging stomach butterflies or not, I’m looking forward to the inspection. It’s so close now, I can almost see it. In the meantime, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. There’s not much time left, and I’m so glad I’m not waiting out the last three weeks alone.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Jumper Circuit and Warmblood Breed Inspections. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.