Ever since I sustained my TBI earlier this year, I can't imagine having days where I just didn't feel like riding. Looking back, I know I had them though. You take things for granted when you can do them every day and not think twice about it.
There are times, though, that it's okay if you don't feel like riding. Sometimes, it can actually be best for both you and your horse.
Not Physically Feeling Well
If you are not feeling well physically—whether it's a cold, headache, or something else—you aren't going to focus and be as strong as you normally are. This may allow your horse to take advantage of your weakness and give you a hard time. When you aren't feeling up to par, that is the worst possible time for your horse to act up.
Save yourself the frustration. Go home, rest, and give your horse a day off. One day off when you aren't feeling well isn't going to totally screw up your program.
Bad Weather: Too Hot or Too Cold
Bad weather is relative depending on where you live and what time of year it is. In the winter time, if the ground is frozen hard and it's super windy, it's okay not to ride. Although, if it's sunny and calm and 40 degrees out, those days may be few and far between in the winter. I'd say bundle up and make the best of it. I think you will be glad you did.
One thing that I think is a real pain is when it is super windy. Some horses really don't handle wind well. If your horse is one of those horses that gets really spooked in the wind, I can see why you would choose not to ride on a windy day.
Keep in mind though, that the only way your horse will acclimate to behaving in the wind is for you to work them in it. Maybe you could lunge or do groundwork...that way you are still getting something accomplished and not driving yourself mad sitting on a horse that feels like he wants to jump out from underneath of you at any minute.
If the heat is your problem where you live, riding early in the morning or late in the evening can be the best solution. Flies often complicate the hot weather riding as well. I know here in Maryland, we have had days where the flies were so bad the horses were wanting to lay down and roll with the tack on. Obviously, on days like that, there is not enough bug spray in the world to make your ride pleasant so I wouldn't bother. I would say give your horse a nice bath and put him back in the stall in front of the fan to relax and then get yourself a cold drink.
Your Ride Yesterday Was Bad
This one is a little more complicated. If you don't want to ride because your ride the day before was bad, that is understandable. The problem is, though, you need to look objectively and decide if you are not wanting to ride due to fear of frustration or if you are actually afraid.
Either one is okay — you just need to learn how to deal with them in different ways. If you just had a frustrating ride the day before, it could be possible that both you and your horse are burned out. So, instead of not riding, spend a long time grooming your horse and then go for a lazy ride. Just wander around the farm or trails if you have access to some. Don't worry about anything that happened yesterday. Put all your frustration aside and just enjoy being with your horse.
If you are not wanting to ride because you are fearful, then you need to determine whether or not it is a safety issue. If you don't want to ride because your horse has gotten into the habit of doing something dangerous, that is a whole different ball game. Most times, the only way to fix it is to ride through it. But if you are afraid, it's only going to make things worse. If this is the case, you should talk to your trainer to come up with a solution and plan to move forward.
This plan could include anything from your trainer riding your horse for a while or for you to do two or three days of lessons in a row. Your trainer will know what is best for you: to take some time off or to face the issue head-on to help you get your confidence back.
Be honest with yourself about whether or not you are not wanting to ride due to fear or frustration. Both issues can be easily handled with different tactics and you may need to enlist a little extra help from your trainer.
Remember to always be honest with your trainer about how things are going. We are not mind reader's, and believe it or not, sometimes you students do a good job of hiding your frustration or fear from us. Although sometimes, it is a good thing, because if we can't see it, the horse can't feel it. Other times it is just avoiding a problem and could just make it worse.
You Are Just in a Bad Mood
If you are just in a bad mood from something totally unrelated to your horse or the barn, you will need to decide if you can separate yourself from your emotions to be able to ride effectively. If you think that you can turn off your negative vibes from the day and focus on your horse, riding might be what you need to do to turn your day around.
If you are not going to be able to let go of your bad vibes and are going to take them out onto your horse in a frustrating manner, then you are better off not getting on. Groom your horse, take him for a hand graze, clean your tack, sit in the barn and relax. Don't take out your bad day on your horse. You are better off giving your horse the day off than you are treating him unfairly and not riding tactfully because you are in a bad mood.
You Had Such a Great Ride the Day Before
Sometimes we have such great rides, whether it be in a lesson or on our own, that we just want to bask in it for a day or so and let it really soak in. We know that riding is hard and that not every day is going to be as easy as the last. So if you had an awesome ride yesterday and just want to bask in the glory of it the next day and take the day off, that is totally understandable!
Looking at it the other way, if you had a lightbulb moment with your horse yesterday, riding again the next day may be the perfect way to solidify the new skills you learned. Just know that you may not get it quite as easily, and if that is the case, don't let your ride end in disappointment and frustration. Remember how great it felt yesterday, and then try and break it down step by step and figure out what's missing to see if you can have that lightbulb ride again.
The Horsemanship Journey
The horsemanship journey is a lifelong process. Anyone like myself who has chosen this path can attest to the fact that it is full of highs and lows.
Learning to roll with the punches and control your emotions is a huge part of it. It is humbling to deal with a thousand-pound animal with its own brain that you are never really fully in control of, no matter how good of an equestrian you may be.
To really be good with horses, you have to learn to be humble. You have to know how to admit when you just aren't going to be able to do your horse justice for whatever reason—to listen to what your horse is telling you about how he feels. You have to know how to read his body language: is the horse tense? Nervous? Do you think he is in pain?
Being aware of all of these things with your horse as well as within yourself is what will make you a great horseman. If you are just having one of those days, there is no shame in not getting on your horse.
If you had an amazing ride yesterday and you just want to bask in the glory of how great it felt and take the day off today, I say go for it.
If you had a terrible ride yesterday and you want to get on a try and see if you can work it out today, go right ahead.
Even if you don't have an amazing ride—because let's be real here, they won't all be amazing—no time in the saddle is wasted. Every time we throw our leg over our horse is an opportunity to learn, not just about our horses but also about ourselves.
Be humble, listen to your horse, and ask for help if you need it. Take a day off every now and then. You have your whole life to be on this journey.