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Killacky: Preparing For Spring Training

John Killacky
In the arena

As the last vestiges of winter linger, the pony gets distracted in the indoor arena as the old wooden barn creaks in the freezing wind. She startles at the unfamiliar noises. Other days when the temperature warms, she spooks from the crashing of icicles melting or snow sliding off the roof. Crow-stepping and anxious, she wants to flee the scary sounds.

When she’s jumpy, it’s important to stay focused and reassure the pony, with me firmly in charge. As she pulls me in the cart, we’re a team in sync, responding to each other’s emotions and body language. Tension from either of us translates through the reins. We circle back to the place where the unexpected sounds happened, letting her know all is fine now - no monsters in this corner. Circling back and confronting our fears is always good, both for the pony and for me.

Other horses and their riders are also antsy this time of year, and one misstep can set off a chain reaction in the training arena. Disruptions are quickly dispelled when riders and horses settle back down with calm intentionality. Soon enough we’re orbiting each other contentedly.

As the winter wanes, we all look forward to more quality time with our equines. Gone are the frozen water buckets, as well as numb and tingly fingers. Early morning and late afternoon visits are no longer in the dark. And the horses are spending more time outside in the fields, resulting in happier animals with less pent up energy.

Training now ramps up in preparation for spring clinics and summer shows. It’s fun to see all of us, teens to seniors, get more motivated. Individualized action plans are honed with coaches. The pony and I have been working together for six years now, and I still find it essential to work with someone more proficient, to build on what I know and learn what I still don’t know. My only end-goal is further enjoyment.

As the seasons shift, however, it’s important not to rush getting back into competitive shape. I’m told most accidents happen in the spring with over-eager equestrians and their under-prepared horses. As with marathoners and their training cycles, we have to remember to build upon the basics, cross-train with groundwork, and gradually build up strength and stamina for peak performances from our equine athletes.

John Killacky is the executive director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington.
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