Why Diversifying Your Riding Schedule May Help You Reach Your Goals Faster
Everyone wants to be good at whatever it is they are doing, but for everyone the reason why they want to be good at that activity is a bit different. However, the general fact remains: when you are serious about something, there is a tendency to drill. There’s even a quote which goes along the lines of “don’t stop until it’s perfect.” Therefore, it’s just so tempting to hone that pirouette or jump that line until it feels one hundred percent correct. “Just once more” you say as you prepare to repeat the exercise, but once again something feels off. The cycle then continues and soon grows into frustration and anger as nothing seems to be going right. By this point your horse is exhausted and you finally call it quits. The next day, you go into the arena and drill something. Once again something falls aparts and things just don’t feel right, you easily blame it on the horse for “not feeling right.” Maybe tomorrow, they will feel better.
If you think about the above vicious cycle in words, it might seem like insanity. Yet in reality, so many riders are making this mistake and many don’t even notice. Sometimes, you need to back down one step in order to move two steps forwards. Think about your day at school or work; you would go crazy solving the same three math problems or writing the same type of code every day! Sure, there is a certain monotonicity to life, but that’s why weekends, vacation, and breaks between work exist. It’s easy to demand perfection, especially when the one who takes upon most of the physical work in this sport is the horse, but it’s simply inhumane and actually counterproductive to drill without any diversity or rest. Furthermore, a calm state of mind from the rider’s part is also important, and drilling almost never helps this. Without this composure, the horse will inevitably become more nervous and associate the task you are asking for with something disturbing (Gollehon and Meyer). However, there are fixes, and those solutions, like many things in the equine industry, require a different approach and open-mindedness from the people.
Start thinking outside of the box; take advantage of the warm weather to walk your horse outside of the arena. If you have no access to an outdoor trail area, walk around the barn. That way, you are giving your horse the opportunity to stretch and start working with a fresh mind. Take at least one day out of your riding week to trail ride (if you are lucky enough to have a trail) as this helps reset both you and the horse. Keep in mind that technically speaking, the work doesn’t stop on the trail. Your horse is being exposed to many different elements, especially if he/she has never or rarely goes outside of the arena. Many dull horses benefit from this type of activity because of the change in environment. It’s interesting to see a ‘whip and spur’ horse turn into a highly spirited hotblood when going out of the comfort zone
Arena work does not have to stop, but the way many think of arena work as constant drilling does. That’s not to say that you should quit working on your half-passes or related distances, but be conscious of how much you are doing. There will be days when your horse simply feels like he/she is not collected enough to perform, for example, that perfect pirouette in preparation for an upcoming test. Take a step back and work on more collecting exercises on the arena walls until your horse feels like he/she is reacting enough, then consider ending on that note for the day. The horse will realize that good work is rewarded by rest, and will be more eager to work the next day (Gordon). Drain the word “drill” out of your mind. It may be good to practice something many times, but with a good amount of intervals in between. Adopting this type of mindset will help you put your horse’s safety and well-being in top priority. An overexerted horse is a horse more prone to issues such as lameness and eventually problems in the ring.
Dedicate a day for doing something different with your horse, something that you have maybe never even tried. The most obvious example is bareback riding. Taking off the saddle allows you to feel the horse, improving your seat. An independent seat is essential for every rider to have, as this allows you to give your horse more clear cues (Gollehon and Meyer). The feeling of bareback is strange at first, but eventually you will start to understand the sense of security the saddle gives you. Before you laugh the idea off, consider that some of the most legendary riders and trainers in the world started off riding bareback. They may have been kids, but it’s never too late to begin! Riding on the lunge, no stirrups, and even bridleless are all other activities that will challenge your position and force you to become a centaur. Additionally, consider trying an unfamiliar discipline, just to keep yourself and your horse fresh. This may be more challenging to do without the right equipment, but you would be surprised just how much you learn. If your primary discipline is dressage, try jumping your horse over a small cross rail. Meanwhile, showjumpers should try something along the lines of barrel racing. You would be astonished how much challenge three barrels can give you!
Sometimes, diversifying your riding schedule means no riding at all. Instead, it could mean spending time with your horse at one. Riders who have a stronger bond with their horse are more likely to perform better at competition. So give your partner a good groom and discover what he/she does and does not like. Notice every little detail signifying content or discontent by observing every part of the horse’s body. Create a goal to learn something new everyday, even if it is something minor. The more we know about the horse, the better our relationships become, and the greater we can be as a team. After all, every horse is an individual with their own needs and none of this would be possible without these incredible partners.
Gollehon, Robin, and J. Forsberg Meyer. “Improve Your Horsemanship and Stop Bugging Your Horse!” Horse&Rider, Horse&Rider, 22 July 2019, https://horseandrider.com/western-horse-training-tips/improve-your-horsemanship-and-stop-bugging-your-horse.
Gordon, Susan. “A Compassionate Approach to Training and Showing.” The Horse Owner's Resource, The Horse Owner's Resource, 15 Sept. 2015, https://equusmagazine.com/riding/compassionate-approach-training-showing-29524.