Guest Author - Susan Hopf
Horses and Your Time
Having a horse is dream for many people. Their grace, beauty and strength offer great allure for those looking to bond with an animal. Being the rather peaceful creatures that they are they demand very little from their human partners but despite their ability to accept very little in the way of care we none-the-less do owe them a fair amount of quality time.
Horse ownership is a rather expensive endeavor but not just so in monetary terms. If you wish to ride the grand four-legged beast that melted your heart the first time you looked into his big soft eyes you must make enough time in your week to keep him riding fit. That old gray mare of lyrical infamy (with swayed back and buckled hocks) most likely got that way from people jumping on her back with no preparation prior to doing so.
So how much time does it take to get and keep a horse riding fit. This has many answers depending upon your ultimate goal.
If you wish a pleasure horse and by this I mean a horse that carries you around a few short trails whenever you head to the barn you can get away with little “schooling” once the horse has been trained to carry a rider. I suggest to all pleasure riders that you invest in a horse that has been suitably trained and not take on such a task yourself. Many amateurs that undertake such training themselves wind up with an unrideable and dangerous horse as well as a creature that is rather difficult to sell.
If you wish to ride over a few low jumps, dabble in dressage or pack up and hit some long trail rides then you must invest a minimum of four days a week toward that end. Instruction in any specialized form of riding is a must and when beginning weekly lessons will advance you more efficiently than a less frequent schedule. In between these weekly lessons you must ride at least three times in order to process and improve upon the work taught in the lesson. Once you are proficient at these basic skills and have no desire to pursue higher levels then bi-weekly or monthly instruction should be enough to keep your riding honest and your horse in good form.
Advancing to higher levels in either jumping or dressage and/or moving forward into combined training and endurance trail riding requires a much deeper commitment. Horses often need to be schooled every day and at a minimum six days each week. Anything less and you will not succeed in your attempts to advance your riding or your horse’s physically capabilities. In between your rides and instruction you should include time for reading – biomechanic knowledge of how horses operate, riding theory and new scientifically medical information will all assist in your better understanding of how to correctly influence and school your horse – always with the horse’s best interest in mind of course.
Regardless of what sort of weekly schedule you maintain each visit to the barn should include enough time for a proper grooming and physical inspection of every inch of your horse. This should include examination of his/her legs, feet, eyes, nasal passages and general overall body condition. If your horse is blanketed check for rubs and ensure that the straps and closures are in good shape. (I would also suggest having two blankets so you can air one out for a few days each week – this will help with preventing fungal issues). A cursory inspection and cleaning of your tack is something well worth a few minutes each time you ride. Checking for wear and cracks in your reins, girth and stirrup billets will help avoid any unwanted breakages and subsequent accidents from faulty tack.
Once groomed and tacked you must include time for a sufficient warm up and cool down for both you and your horse before and after engaging in any strenuous schooling. Proper warm up is more than running your horse around in circles on the longe or allowing them to walk around haphazardly. You want to warm up the correct set of muscles and this involves knowing your horse’s particular weaknesses and following exercises that address such. Lateral exercises are designed to do exactly that.
Please make sure you are aware of feeding times and allow and hour both before and after your schooling before your horse eats any concentrated feeds – hay is fine at any time.
Sometimes we feel overburdened as life gets in the way of the activities we really enjoy. When life is at its busiest I can guarantee that time spent at the barn will revive your sagging spirits and fatigue.