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  • Writer's pictureLindsey Oaks

Planning your winter ’24 season right now? You’re already behind.

At the time of writing, Messenger Hill Farm (MHF) is running through the most chaotic time of year: Indoor Season! With horses showing in SIX different states over the course of EIGHT weeks, we rely on plans A, B, C, & D to make it all go smoothly (and grab a few ribbons along the way 😉).

Messenger Hill Farm at Tryon International. Photo by: Meg Gehron

One thing that most people don’t know about making this particular two-month stretch of horse shows happen is that we started planning for them years ago. You read that right. Years. We plan in 4-year, 1-year, and 6-month increments for our clients, our horses, and ourselves.



Four-year out planning isn’t just for Olympians. Even the cross-rails competitors in the barn have goals! If your kid is jumping cross-rails now and has dreams of winning at Washington International Horse Show in the next four years, the steady-Eddie you need now may not be the stone-cold competitor you’ll need to claim Champion! Step one in laying down a road map to get where you want to go is to define where you want to go! From here, we loosely define some targets and general plans.


Example: By the end of year 1, we’d like to be laying down consistent trips in the short stirrup division. Consistent trips in the childrens by the end of year 2 and begin the search for a division winner to move up on. Spend time learning the Juniors and the new horse, earning points year 3 for a trip to Indoors year 4!



Every year, we ask, “Are we on track?” Are we smoothly checking off the list of benchmarks we set for ourselves? (It’s also noteworthy that we are continuing four-year out planning every year!)


In our example from above, we would ask, “Are our trips becoming consistent? If not, what do we need to work on to get to that place?” or, “What type of horse suits this child’s style of riding? Have we talent spotted any horses that would complement her at the bigger horse shows?”


One-year planning is key for another reason. To qualify for some of these bigger horse shows, we have to start earning points a year in advance. No time to waste! If you want to go to WIHS in October 2024, you’d better be on your game starting September 2023.

It's showtime! At the gate with Freddie Vazquez at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Photo M4E



6-month planning is for logistical work. Each month, we sit down to plan out where horses, riders, grooms, and trainers need to be six months ahead of where we are now. This is very important for catching the right flights and hotels, getting the paperwork needed for horses. We are often setting up three different plans, back-ups for when things go wrong (because inevitably… something will go wrong).


Most of the horse stuff will get planned by your trainer but if you wait until the last minute, small imperfections in the plan have large implications.


For example: After waiting until the last minute to book a flight to Washington DC, you had to fly into Baltimore instead. This made you arrive half a day later to the horse show. Your kid lost precious time to get acclimated at the show and to do a little bit of history homework. (Yes, yes, your kid won’t complain, but you will!) After feeling rushed into a quick school that afternoon, she isn’t really comfortable in the new environment the next morning jumping around the junior hunters. She misses out on third place by 1 point.


OUCH. This sounds like a stretch, but it’s not. Divisions are won and lost by less. And you spent years of planning to be here! Don’t miss out because of poor logistical planning.


It’s hard for some to wrap their head around planning so far into the future, but when you get into the habit of thinking that far ahead, magical things can happen! (One of our riders just WON at Capital Challenge! Magic!)

Capital Challenge Goodies! Photo by Meg Gehron

See you at Washington International Horse Show next!

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