Dressage training can be pretty full-on for your horse, especially if that’s your passion.
While some horses accept their daily work happily, others can become stale and resentful.
So, how do you know if your horse has become stale and what can you do about it?
How do you know if your horse is becoming stale?
Most owners know their horses well enough to recognize a change in their horse’s way of going, attitude, or general demeanor.
Typical indications that your horse might be fed up with his work include:
- loss of enthusiasm and energy
- resistance or disobedience
- avoiding being tacked-up
- appearing listless and dull
Obviously, you should have your horse checked over thoroughly by your vet to rule out physiological problems, as well as checking the fitting and suitability of your tack and equipment before assuming that he’s simply bored by his work.
Re-lighting the fire
How would you feel if you had to do the same job, day in, day out, without ever having a break? You would probably get bored silly very quickly!
And whilst you might find dressage challenging and absorbing, your horse may require other stimulation to keep him interested.
That’s not to say that you need to give your horse a complete lay-off; you just need to spice things up for him and rekindle his enthusiasm for his work.
Stable-kept horses can become bored very quickly when kept in such an unnatural environment.
If at all possible, you should allow your horse some freedom every day to spend time outside. The horse’s digestive system works best if he’s able to move around at leisure, grazing as he does so, and constant gentle movement also helps to keep his joints loose and free from stiffness.
In addition, freedom is great for your horse’s mental happiness.
If you’re fearful that your horse might hurt himself, put him in a small paddock on his own, but within sight and sound of other horses. Horses are gregarious, social animals and don’t thrive when isolated from their own kind.
You can inject a little-added interest into your horse’s work regime by adding some alternative activities to schooling.
In addition to lungeing, long-reining makes a great addition to any horse’s work programme.
This can be especially useful if you have a spooky horse that is easily distracted at competitions.
However, long-reining is something of an art that requires practice in order to develop your coordination, so it’s a good idea to start off by long-reining your horse around an enclosed area until you are both confident.
When you’re happy that the steering and brakes are reliable, set out a selection of ‘obstacles’ in your arena or in a corner of your field.
These items could include:
- buckets or cones set out in a line
- balloons tied to a stick and placed in a cone
- a tarpaulin on the ground, held down by jump poles set around the edges
- poles spaced out for your horse to walk over
- pots of plastic flowers
Now you can begin long-reining your horse around your ‘handy pony’ course.
In addition to improving your horse’s confidence at approaching and passing strange objects, pole work helps to improve the suppleness of the joints, and ‘weaving’ in and out of a line of cones helps to develop suppleness.
Try placing two poles parallel to each other with a couple of meters between them and practice your rein-back, or set two poles at right angles and execute a quarter pirouette to negotiate this ‘corner’.
These exercises are likely to be perceived as a game by your horse, rather than work and are great for keeping him interested, while craftily keeping up your schooling.
Go wild in the country!
Even if you don’t enjoy jumping, you and your horse might enjoy taking part in one of the many cross-country rides that are held in the spring and autumn months.
These non-competitive rides are usually organized by local charities to raise funds for good causes and take place across participating farmers’ fields. Jumps are included around the ride, but they are completely optional.
These rides are perfect for freshening-up a bored horse, as well as raising money for good causes.
You can enjoy a bracing gallop if you want to or simply stroll around the ride at a more sedate pace.
Even if your horse is not confident at hacking out on his own, you could join a group of riders on the day or go with a few friends.
Another option is to box your horse to the beach or to a country location and just go for a long ride.
Working-out while hacking out
Hacking out can be used to give your horse a change of scenery, whilst discreetly incorporating some schooling.
Make sure that your horse walks forward and into the bridle during your ride and ensure that he remains supple around your inside leg when you negotiate corners and turns.
On long rides, allow your horse to work on a long rein for short periods to give him a breather, paying attention to the transitions in and out of the free walk.
When riding down bridleways, practice leg yielding or half-pass from one side of the path to the other, remembering to change the bend as you do so, and ride a few steps of shoulder-in, travers, or renvers along the hedgerow. You can ride these exercises in both walk and trot, making sure that the transitions are obedient, smooth and sharp.
Think about your route before you set off and try to include some hills for trot and canter work. This is great for encouraging your horse to use his hindquarters when moving uphill. Try allowing the horse to stretch in trot and canter whilst riding with a light seat so that he can really use his back underneath you. These exercises are great for improving suppleness through the horse’s back, as well as for improving his fitness.
Walking downhill is a really good way of working your horse’s pelvis and effectively giving him a deep physio work-out for the muscles in this area.
With a little thought, you can freshen up your horse while still continuing his training.
Try to include daily turn-out for total equine downtime, and spice up his weekly work programme by including hacking out, groundwork, and exciting day trips.
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