Some of us are lucky enough to have flexible schedules and laid-back lifestyles, allowing as much time at the barn and riding as we would like. Others, not so much.
Some horse owners are constantly having to squeeze their rides in amongst other things. For these horse people, I have some advice on how to make the most of your ride.
Have A Plan
If you know your time is limited with your horse, having a plan for what exactly you want to work on will have you using your time much more efficiently.
If any of you have read any of my other writing, I'm all about keeping training journals. It is a great tool to be able to look back and see where you came from a month or so ago. It will help you to pinpoint what still needs working on and what you have made a lot of progress on.
If Your Time Is Limited
If you are headed to ride, and you know your time is limited, now is not the time to work on something new. It's not even the time to work on something that you have been struggling with.
Pick something that you know you and your horse can do well and work on that.
Work On Building Your Own Strength
When time is limited, doing things like riding without stirrups or riding in two-point can be a great way to be productive on a quick ride. It will get your horse out and moving around, and you won't be asking anything hard of him. You will be improving your position and strength which will be of great benefit to your riding.
It will also be a good way to give your horse an easy day without taking a day off. Focus on improving yourself, not your horse and your horse will find he gets an easy casual ride.
The Day Before You Have A Lesson
The day before you have a lesson you want to make sure you work on whatever it is that you did in the last lesson. The day before your lesson you should definitely ride and brush up on what you were working on last week.
I mean, literally, brush up. Practice it a little bit. I'm sure it won't be perfect, but just practice it and think your way through the steps. Feel how your horse responds and make mental notes of any questions you want to ask your trainer.
We want our horses to be on point and ready to work on the day of our lesson. So the day before the lesson should be spent preparing for the next days lesson without getting into a fight with your horse or getting you both frustrated.
We want our horses to go into the lesson feeling fresh and positive, so overdoing it the day before will work against you. Even if you had to miss a couple of rides since the last lesson, don't overdo it. Cramming doesn't work with horses. You can't ride extra hard and push and push the day before your lesson and expect to have an energetic and willing participant the next day.
The Day After Your Lesson
The day after your lesson is probably the most important ride of the week. What you learned should still be fresh in your mind, and hopefully your horses as well.
On the day after your lesson, you want to pick up where you left off the day before. Do the same exercises that you did during the lesson. Aside from the day of the lesson, the day after your lesson will probably be the hardest ride of your week.
Mental Health Days
When we speak of mental health days for ourselves, we are talking about days off work and school. Rest days basically. Horses in training programs need mental health days too.
Sometimes these will include riding, other days it might just mean spending time with your horse on the ground. A mental health day riding would be something like riding bareback with a friend, or going on a trail ride. A no pressure ride, just enjoying your horse.
A mental health day without riding might be a good grooming for your horse. Walking him and letting him graze in the extra special good green grass he can't reach through the fence. Maybe give him a bath or pull his mane. Just spend time with him or her without the pressure of trying so hard to get things right.
Just as you will sometimes do a ride where you focus especially on your own strength and riding fitness, fitness days for your horse are another way to break up the monotony of ring work and improve your horse's condition at the same time.
Fitness days would include riding outside of the ring, on the trails maybe. Somewhere with hills is always good too for fitness work. You will use a timer or stopwatch and do trot sets, see how long your horse can trot before he becomes winded. Then give him a break and do it again. Over time, you should be able to build up his breathing and physical condition.
If you do your sets in two-point, that is another way to do it. You and your horse do a fitness workout on the same day!
A Day Off
A good day for a day off is after a fitness day, giving both you and your horse a day to rest and refuel. You can spend time with your horse on the ground this day or just skip the barn that day and allow him to be a horse, whichever you prefer.
A Word On Jumping
A horses legs can only hold up to so many jumps in a lifetime before they start to show wear and tear. Depending on what you are learning and your trainer's recommendations, the frequency of jumping can vary quite a bit.
Remember the in between the jumps. The flat work or dressage is just as important as practicing the jumps themselves. So even if you are showing over higher jumps, you don't have to practice over that height every time you ride. You can accomplish the same schooling exercises at a lower height and spare some wear and tear on your horse.
Ask your trainer how many times a week they recommend you practicing your jumping. They will know what is best for you and your horse. Just keep in mind how hard it is on their legs, feet, and joints. Even though a lot of horses love jumping, we don't want to over do it and cause them to wear and tear that will make them unsound in the long run.
Keep A Journal
I know I'm a little over the top about writing everything down. I will admit that! Keeping a journal though will help you see your progress. It will also help you decide if the program/schedule you are working on is ideal to help you meet your goals. When you can go back and read over the details, it may help you decide if you need to tweak things a little bit. You'd be surprised what a simple change in schedule or plan can have on your horse's attitude and in turn your success.
Remember, we all have good days and bad days! Be willing to change the plan on you or your horse's behalf. We will be our most successful if we not only have a plan but if we are flexible enough to tweak it to make it work even better if necessary!
If we all know one thing about horses, it is that no matter how hard we try, eventually they are going to screw up our plans. We just have to be willing to roll with it and figure out what works best. All horses and riders are different, and all horses and riders work as a team differently. It will take time, but you will figure out what is best for you and your horse!
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