Monday, February 27, 2012



Recently I was having a discussion with someone concerning being consistent in the training of your horse.  The conversation raised some thought provoking questions such as:

Is it okay to not be consistent?  Let’s face it, winter is not the best time where riding regularly is concerned.  So, is it okay to only ride when weather permits, or would it be better to simply give the horse time off and start training/riding again when we can give their training our full attention?  Is it fair to the horse to drag him out and tack him up once or twice a week or month?  Most horses really don’t maintain a good level of fitness during wintertime’s letup of activity.  So, is it reasonable to expect our horses to be ready to go whenever we have the time or inclination to ride?

Or should we ride whenever we get the chance?  We’re all horse people who like to ride and some of us will ride no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.  I used to be like that.  There was always a reason why I braved the cold, snow, wind, rain or whatever.  I had horses that needed training and horses that went to shows almost every week.  Now, not so much, so I’m a little more lax with my training schedule.  The various herd members all need different degrees of training for different reasons--some more goal oriented, some more fitness related--and in our opinion that’s not going to happen with a few random days of work here and there.  We think they all need consistency to progress.

I’ve decided that if I do ride Blue, who is getting chubbier by the day and is basically unfit for anything strenuous, I’m just going to walk him and work on his steering and relaxation exercises.  Dusty is not fit either and not ready to be ridden so when she does exercise we’re just doing hand walking and light longeing for now.  I take full responsibility for my horses being unfit; the weather this winter has been nicer than it’s been for years, but the truth is I had no motivation this year.  I don’t know if anyone else has ever dealt with the “I don’t feel like its,” but I caught that lazy virus this winter.  I’m sure it will be cured with some Spring sunshine, flowers blooming and green grass.  For now I’m concentrating on getting myself fit for riding again with eating better and exercising more.

In closing, how do you feel about the consistency question?

Until next time
Quote for Today
It is the best of lessons if the horse gets a season of repose whenever he has behaved to his rider's satisfaction.
    - Xenophon - The Art of Horsemanship


  1. The last few years that I had my last horse he was stable enough and well trained enough that I rode when I could in the winter. I considered it more exercise than training and did not take lessons or push him. My current horse is still reluctantly giving up bad habits and the weather has been so bad this winter that she is having the winter off. No point in having that 'first day back' ride over and over again. 10-15 years ago I used to suck it up and ride no matter what. Then I set a minimum temp that I would ride at. All that disappeared this year with soggy or frozen, unrideable footing. And I don't care.

  2. I believe that horses learn through consistency. If I ride in the winter it's not to teach "new" stuff in the saddle because of just how inconsistent riding can be. Especially without an indoor place to ride.

    However, you can do a lot of ground work. Most of us handle our horses every day. To me winter is the prefect time to work on those ground manners that need fine tuned, or to work on moving some body part away from pressure.

  3. That is a very thought-provoking question. I'm just as guilty as anyone about being lax on riding during the winter. Where I am at very few people want to be outside when in is 20 degrees with a 15mph northern wind chill. However I do think it is okay for a rider to do the whole "I want to ride today" and pull their pony out whenever they feel like. As long as we are aware that since we haven't trained since November, perhaps we should take it very slowly as it is February. We have to read our horse's attitude as well. If they are excited to work for us, I see no reason not to ask more. If they are blase after a long hiatus I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask for nice transitions and conistant gait quality in each direction, a serpentine, a few circles and maybe suppling, then call it quits. Pretty much a little tune up that is the equivalent to your Training Season warm-up is acceptable. That's my opinion. I think it's a gentle way to maintain quality (not endurance) from one ride season to the next. This helps prevent the initial few weeks of frustrated "You did this so well before, now you act like you know nothing!" that we all get. :)

  4. I think it depends - on the horse and the rider. An older horse who is solid can benefit from the exercise. With a younger, or green horse, it's hard to string together a series of rides to actually get something done, without leaving things not where you want them to be. So, Pie and Drifter have had several months off - and the trainer's going to be the one to start them back to work - they both have plenty of energy to burn so better her than me!

  5. I ride all year, mostly because I don't know how long I have him for (he's 25), and don't want to miss any opportunity to ride (as long as it's safe, and there is decent footing for him to walk on).

    I like to do groundwork with him as well, in his pasture or in an arena. I like to keep both of us in shape this way- him responding to me, and me keeping him busy doing new skills.

  6. i tend to think it's ok to drag them out of a winter off for the occasional hack out or trail ride here and there, but i won't ask them to work or train until i'm ready to bring them back gradually into a regular, consistent program. it just doesn't make sense to me to have a bunch of stops and starts when you are trying to develop fitness make sense of a particular training question with a horse - that kinda seems unfair....

    that's where i am now - just waiting until i know i have the time and motivation to actually stick to a consistent program once i start one :-\ harder than it sounds after a winter of not doing much of anything!

  7. To me the difference is if you're working the body or the mind.

    I used to think that if you're starting a green horse that you should get on them as much as possible for the first few months so they'd "stay with the program." But Gwen has shown me something different. It probably has a lot to do with her lifestyle and clicker training but if I can't ride her for two weeks I can still get back on and she'll be right where I left her.

    I do know that if you're working on fitness you should work the horse as often as you can. You can't build stamina and strength without steady work.

  8. I think horses have pretty good memories and do okay with a little time off that way, but the being fit aspect is important. You can do so much at the walk and, done right, build a good foundation for later in the riding season when you get them up to speed physically. For that matter, a lot can be accomplished on the ground, too.

    Last year I went from not riding Cowboy for months to loading him in the trailer and taking him on a major trail ride. I have since regretted that move--it failed to see and address a number of his needs. I don't know if I could have prevented his head shaking, but I'm sure it didn't help.

  9. Most of this winter I'm managing three rides a week, sometimes four. Weatherwise it has been easier than the last few years to be consistent.

    My goal is mainly building fitness at the moment. We've lacked instruction for so long, major training goals seem out of reach, but we continue working on the basics none the less.

    I think I'm more concerned with making sure the rides we do get in are fulfilling and resolve happily - especially for Val.

  10. Very good questions. This is the first winter I've tried to keep riding, especially after missing all last summer with Misty's dental issue and then finally getting training last fall. I have to say though, my winter riding has been consistently inconsistent. At best I can ride 2 times a week (if the weather is good on the one evening the indoor is open and then good on Saturday so I can ride outdoors.) This rarely happens and I often go 4 weeks between rides. And the weather is so bad during those 4 weeks that I don't want to be outside and don't do much else but feed her. When I do get to ride, we go slow, mostly walking and some trotting. And we've made progress with each ride, so I'm glad I'm riding when I can. However, the inconsistency has taken a big toll on Misty's attitude. She tries to avoid me when I have the halter in my hand and has been very hard to load into the trailer at home (but when time to return home, she loads like a charm...she knows the difference between leaving to work and returning home, the smart cookie.) This is my fault because I haven't done other things with her between rides. I'm just the waitress. I need to halter her and walk her around and groom her and do a little bit of ground work, maybe load her into the trailer and give her carrots and call it good. I need more face time with her in between outings, so that she doesn't react with "Oh no, here she comes with the halter. She's going to make get in the trailer and go somewhere to work." So I think even if the rides are few and far between, it is really important to be consistent with some kind of activity, even if it is just haltering them long enough for a quick dusting off and hoof cleaning. Or a short walk around the barn. Just something to keep them checked in with us.

  11. I have the same winter disease. Because I ride totally for pleasure (no more lessons or goals that I can't reach) when I do, my horse is not overworked. The results I get are very much related to the amount of work I have put into the process. It is not fair for me to ask Berlin to do things that are inappropriate for a horse that is not in shape. And I should never be unhappy with her if I have not put in the time. We are in the "let's enjoy this" mode. (That does not mean anything goes behavior wise...luckily she is a mellow and sweet girl). I am also all for ground work...just don't do it enough.

    Is this comment area set up in a different way? I like it.

  12. Hi Lori,
    I think Blogger must have set up the comments section differently. It wasn't me, I'm not touching anything ever again!

    Berlin is a sweetheart.

  13. I think it depends on the horse and on the rider. When I was younger, I rode five days a week in the bitter cold or wind or even rain to stay on schedule. I look back at myself now and think I was nuts. I view winter as a time to take a break and work only when the weather is welcoming. Fortunately, here that means most of the time I can ride three times a week. But if it's awful out, I don't, and I don't feel guilty about it.

  14. I think the answer is dependent on the horse. If the weather permits I will ride. For a while my green horse was priority, but recently my arab who is really getting fat has moved to the top. All my horses need mental work consistently, be it stretches, tricks or in hand work. I am blessed to have horses that retain information and training well enough that after a long rest they are ready to work. Are they better with consistent work? Sure, but I won't risk their health in bad footing to ride.

  15. Usually I just take it easy over the winter months, with lots of time off for the horses and just the occasional hack. Now, with two recovering and unfit horses, I'm just focussing on some in-hand work and clicker training, keeping the sessions short so I can fit them in most days regardless of the weather. When the weather improves I'll start getting them fit by walking in hand on the roads and we'll take it from there.

  16. I think that it really depends on the horse. Lucas needs consistent work and does best being ridden 2 or 3 times a week with some 'different' stuff thrown in (lunging, showmanship, doing trotting poles on the lunge line) However, I do think that a young horse that has been well started, and even shown will be better off for a couple of months off from the time they are 2-5. Although they can be tough to bring back I think they need the time to mature in there body and mind. Older horses are harder to put back into shape and I think they would do better with having a lightened work load but still some steady work to keep them moving.

  17. I used to ride 5-6 days a week regardless of the weather--unless the footing was impossible. Not any more.

    If I were competing the schedule would be different, but I too have been suffering from the "I don't feel like its" myself.

    TB's get fit super quickly, so it's no issue for Tucker, but Chance is another story.Since my horses have 24-7 turnout, they do maintain a level of minimum fitness, so when I do ride I can walk and trot without too much worry. But, I don't ask them to carry themselves in much more than a natural frame. Expecting them to use their stomach muscles/backs when they have not been legged up is just not fair.

    So, we just kind of do the basics, waiting for the weather to get consistent enough that I can be consistent myself.

  18. I think that taking it easy during the winter is totally fine. Everyone needs an off-season. Recently Harley has told me that he is bored with off-season, so I have had to add more "work-like" activities to our rides. I do not mind, but I thought that I was taking it easy for his sake!

  19. In a perfect world, consistency would be the key, but we don't have that. Time, weather, AGE - all plays a part in whether I ride today or not. Do I have show ready horses? No, but thankfully I don't show. But most of them will do what I want them to do; load up in the trailer and hit the trails no matter how consistent or inconsistent they are ridden. The exception is riding around home; those not ridden as frequently do tend to be barn sour but away from home, they get the job done.

    I think you do just right by your herd, Arlene. Probably better than most. :)

  20. I'm not sure it's training so much as it's mental focus. When I can ride consistently I have a horse that's tuned in, when I don't I have a horse I have to spend 20 minutes getting into the zone.

    At least that's Smokey. Lily suffers physically from inconsistent riding. She needs to be kept in good shape to stay sound.

    Gotta ride. That's all there is to it. :)

  21. What a great post and certainly one to get us all thinking .....My horses are my pleasure now days. Sure I have goals but with a young family and busy work load the horses do get worked when I have time. I always work them to their fitness level though and I must say that my gorgeous rides around the farm are for stress relief for me and enjoyment for the horse. I do however like Eve to wlak out nicely and we do work on lateral movements as we go along roadways and tracks ....collections and extensions within paces but generally if I dont get out consistently I'm not too bothered

  22. I tend to ride whenever I get the chance but then again, my rides are hardly strenuous. Ours pretty much exercise themselves on 24/7 turnout (they play HARD during the winter). As the most laid back in the group, Sarabear tends to be our resident chunky monkey.

    I'm hoping to get down to more serious business as far as riding goes this summer, albeit at a fairly slow pace ;o) I guess it really just depends on what you're planning to do on that ride as to whether or not consistency matters.

  23. Interesting questions. I think for riding some consistency is necessary just to maintain a degree of fitness in the horse. As regards not feeling like it, once I decided that Ben was having the winter off, rather than guiltily trying to keep him going, despite weather etc, I felt quite relieved and I have really enjoyed the break. I feel enthusiastic once again

    I do intend to build up to riding with a couple of weeks of walking in-hand. Good to build fitness and muscle without me on board, and good for re-connection as well.

  24. The technical answer to your closing question would be to remain consistent with your training techniques and schedule. Managing expectations and all that.

    The nontechnical and to me, animal response, would be to trust your instinct, go with your gut and your joy. You can't go wrong.

    And hey...Arlene...give yourself a break. You are still healing.

  25. I have been thinking of this recently. I can only manage seeing Gem twice a week in the winter and I rarely miss one of those days. I will ride in all types of weather and temperatures. :-) There are times that I don't ride, like when it's -20C, but we still hang out. I try to make my visits with him full. Would he benefit from more frequent consistent interaction? Sure. But seeing him every day is not an option....yet. :-)

  26. If I can't be consistent, and I want to ride, I only walk. I think it's good for a horse if you get on only to walk once in a while. I also think it's good for a horse if you give him a lot of time off once in a while. That's good for their minds. Either way, you can't go wrong.

  27. It's an interesting question and I've read equally interesting answers here.

    I think every being benefits from a consistent approach. I ride my horse 3, 4 or 5 times a week, depending on the weather and my personal energy. Because there's no point in riding her if I don't feel 100%. She immediately notices and gets worried and insecure, hearing and seeing things that aren't there. But when I ride, I'm consequent in what I ask her to do. I don't ask much when I don't ride often (winter). Sometimes I take up lunging or groundwork. Other times she just has days off. And as long as we're both having fun it's fine by me.

  28. At times I have ridden on a very regular schedule and enjoyed that consistency, but for the past two years I have taken a "go with the flow" approach.

    It's been interesting to discover that the rides I have now on the much looser schedule are many times better than those when I rode 6 days a week (and for several years three of those were lesson days).

    Our horses are not stalled so I think the fact that they walk, trot, canter, do all sorts of airs above the ground, etc. on a daily basis keeps them fit enough that they can enjoy a ride whether they've "worked" consistently or not.

    All that said, I'm not really trying to teach the horses I live with at this point - if anything, they're teaching me. If I work on fitness it will be mine, not theirs, as they are all far more fit than I am! :)

    For me, consistency is important but more so as applied to the way we communicate than how many times and how regularly we ride. And consistency in our expectations of them - which should be consistently fair.

  29. Nothing of note to add, obviously, but interesting to read the differing takes on consistency.

    Good luck with the 'getting fit' regime.

  30. I wouldn't think it was reasonable to do a challenging training session sporadicly, but in my opinion riding for pleasure can be done anytime as long as the horse is healthy. The first winter I had a horse I was still working and could only ride on weekends. It was great.
    I like your plan of riding at the walk for the winter. I can happily ride at only the walk for an hour - there is so much you can do! ANd if you just want to walk along and enjoy, that's always a good thing too.

  31. Here is my current predicament; I commute 45 minutes to an hour each way to reach my horses (I live in a city, and they are stabled at a rural farm). I consider it my responsibility to visit them, oversee their care and ride them. But one day I did the math, factored gas money into my budget, and found that I actually can't afford to go there more than three times a week!

    It can be difficult, especially since I have three horses on my plate now (two of my own, and one I ride for another boarder, who gives me gas money-a huge help!) and driving an hour to the barn after an 8-hour work day can be really exhausting. If it's a cold winter night, and I have the gumption to ride all three horses, you can bet I'm a zombie the next day.

    But I keep it up, with the hopes that my one to three rides a week gives some benefit to these horses-it certainly does a lot for my riding, and since only one of them really needs three or more rides a week (the other two are older and mainly need suppling) it's not too bad. But I will say this: I'd ride a hell of a lot more if I had less of a commute!

    Thanks so much for this insightful post; I loved reading it.



It's so nice of you to take the time to visit. I appreciate your stopping by and commenting on what I've written. Even though I sometimes don't have the time to reply to each comment, I do enjoy reading them.