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Coping with Quarantine - We Interview Sponsored Riders

We all know how tricky it has been to step away from our 'normal' lives, whether that's stopping work, being unable to ride or no longer being able to spend time with friends. But when you're a professional rider, and you have to maintain your horses, how does the lockdown change your life? We ask sponsored riders Simon Grieve, Eliza Stoddart, Harriet Mitchell, Tabitha Kyle and Flora Harris about the effects the new normal has had on their daily lives.

How have your schedules changed following the decision to stop all events?

Simon: My day to day routine is still pretty similar, albeit not as intense or busy with no outings in the lorry. The horse’s routine however needs to remain the same - horses thrive on routine - so for me it is really important to maintain that each day. We can keep the horses work pretty varied with good hacking, as well as plenty of flat and pole work exercises to keep us busy in the school.

Eliza: We are keeping most of the horses in consistent work. We have stopped canterwork, and the older horses are having a slightly easier time, one having gone to stud for embryo transfer, and the other having more field time than normal to accompany his normal routine. I have a few youngsters who are using a variety of different strengthening exercises in the arena and keeping the horses mentally challenged without putting too much pressure on them. I am mixing up their weekly plan so that they don’t go in the arena more than twice in a row. I am turning out my 5yos on a rotation for 3-4 weeks at a time to allow them time to come down mentally and grow in the field and enjoy the best of the grass.

Harriet: I have less horses to ride at the moment now we aren't eventing. Owners horses who aren't based at my home I'm unable to ride so the structure of my day has changed somewhat! Now I don't have as many to ride I am working more on my personal fitness with my trainer and have found a good routine to my 'new' day to day. 

Flora: Our schedules have remained fairly consistent through this lock down period as we have kept all of our horses in work and ticking over. Their training regimes are less intense and they are only being worked 4/5 days per week which is different to their normal 6 days a week. We are focussing on keeping them happy and relaxed and interested in their work whilst developing strength and athleticism using a variety of exercises. They are hacking, being worked on the lunge, focussing on dressage training and lots of pole and cavaletti work. 

Tabitha: Our schedules have changed drastically without shows and school.

How have your horses reacted to the change? Has it been difficult to keep them ‘competition-ready’ when there’s been no competitions to attend?

Simon: They have been amazing and a wonderful tonic for me with the inevitable down days which I'm sure everyone has had. They love their time in the field but seem to thrive on the work too - although they have the odd off day as well. I love training with horses regardless of the situation, they are the kindest and most forgiving of creatures - it's such a privilege to work with them every day. My horses were all pretty fit and so they have had to wind down slightly, which hasn't been easy. I have tried hard to keep them ticking over so as not to lose their base fitness, but so they are ready to rock and roll when we are allowed – it’s a fine balance to maintain

Eliza: I think due to careful management we have avoided a smooth transition to their period of “no competitions” we have an excellent variety of hacking routes which allows me to get the best out of the horses that are sharper than others. It’s about looking outside the box for new goals to focus on! 

Harriet: Kimi (Iceman) was very fit ready to go. We were all set to run at Thoresby Park in prep for Tattersalls before we went into lockdown. He has been quite easy compared to my other horse Jamie (Jameson) who has a much busier brain to say the least! 

Flora: Our horses have coped brilliantly with the changes to their normal mid-season routine. We are very lucky we have access to lots of excellent turn out which along with all our other work keeps them relaxed and happy. We have lessened the intensity of their training but we are still focussing hard on each of their bespoke programs to make sure when we get back to competing we are as ready as we can be.

Tabitha: We are just keeping them ticking over so they are having lots of fun in the field and enjoying the break.

What do you miss most about the ‘good old days’ before lockdown?

Simon: I love going eventing and I miss the thrill of cross country riding as well as the camaraderie between us riders at events. I also miss being able to go to the pub and see my friends.

Eliza: The sense of improvement that you get from competing and going out training which helps to motivate new changes and having a good bench mark of where you are and what you need to focus on.

Harriet: This has been the first time in 9 years I haven't started an eventing season so that is a huge chunk out of my life. It has been made easier knowing we are all in the same boat and those other riders are feeling very similar to me I am sure! 

Flora: We certainly miss the variety of travelling to different competitions and seeing all our eventing friends and owners but most of all I miss the adrenaline rush of competing, especially going XC!

Tabitha: I really miss going to shows and seeing all my friends.

Have there been any highlights of the lockdown for you?

Simon: The highlight for me is the way that lockdown has made everyone realise how blessed we are with our families and friends and that when it is over we will appreciate each other and our freedom so much more.

Eliza: We have managed to stay very busy but I am pleased that my 5 and 6 year olds will have extra growing time, and that it has allowed us to do extra jobs that we wouldn’t usually do at this time of the year. It has also opened up new opportunities for new owners to send horses to me. I have a few youngsters that have come in, and for example I have a racehorse that has come in to work here to practise jumping and grid work before it goes back into racing. I am always very excited to get started with new projects and opportunities.

Harriet: Lots of family face times which usually we don't have much time for. Appreciating where we live whilst walking our dogs (who are missing XC course walks as much as me I think!) Lots of cooking and baking hehe! 

Flora: Having this quieter time has definitely enabled us to look at each horses strengths and weaknesses in a different light and really spend time developing what they are good at and building confidence and strength. We also haven’t missed the 2am alarms before travelling to an event with an early dressage time! 

Tabitha: One highlight has been having lots of time to bake cakes!

What has been the biggest challenge of the lockdown so far?

Simon: The inability to see any of my family or friends has been very difficult, but the horses have been a fantastic escape and I am so grateful for that.

Eliza: Not being able to compete and see my owners and trainers. Also not having a clear timing to work towards getting them back out which makes it hard to plan their work and fitness routines. 

Harriet: Motivation! It's tricky not knowing when we will be back eventing again. Not having an end goal or something to aim for is challenging. 

Flora: I am a very goal oriented person so the uncertainty of not knowing when we may (or may not!) be back out competing has been quite hard as I like to have things planned and organised well in advance. That said it has certainly been good for me to go with the flow a bit more.

Tabitha: The biggest challenge has been doing school work from home.

Would you like to retain any new lifestyle changes that you’ve developed in the lockdown?

Simon: To be frank, probably not. For example, the ability to have a leisurely breakfast or lunch is all very nice, but I'm a lot better when busy and eating on the go! I can’t wait to get back to it.

Eliza: I will be keeping up a few of the new exercises.

Harriet: Yeah, for sure! My own personal fitness focus is definitely something I will retain (I hope!)

Flora: During lockdown I have managed to have a day off every week so far just to relax at home and spend time with my partner. This is certainly something I would love to retain but I’m not sure how feasible this will be once we start to become crazy busy driving around the country competing again.

Tabitha: No school work would be fun to retain!