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Planning Your Ride When Your Horse Has Had Time Off

Updated on December 10, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Some Horses Are The Same No Matter What

Some horses are the same no matter what. Whether you ride them every day or once a year. If that is the type of horse you have, lucky you! Those of us who own horses who need a little more input on the first ride after a day or two off, you aren't alone!

It's a common thing and easy to handle if you plan ahead

Sometime lunging can be helpful if done properly.
Sometime lunging can be helpful if done properly. | Source

You Should Always Have A Plan

If you have read any of my other blog posts you know that I'm all about planning. You should have some sort of plan every time you ride. Remember, horses need leadership, so if you get on in an idle sort of way with no plan, you're leaving your horse to his own devices. Which might come back to haunt you if he has had a day or two off work.

Have a plan, ride with purpose!
Have a plan, ride with purpose! | Source

To Lunge Or Not To Lunge-That Is The Question

The answer to that question is it depends on how you do it. If you are assertive enough, and your horse is responsive enough, that you can control his gaits on the lunge line, lunging can be of benefit.

You want your horse to travel on the lunge line in the way that we want him to go under saddle. If you can keep your horse at a nice steady speed, at whatever gait you ask. Then by lunging, you are getting him focused on work, in which case a lunging session before your ride may be of benefit.

On the other hand, if your horse is hard to control on the lunge line. If he runs or jumps and bucks and kicks, all you are doing by lunging is raising his energy level. Which is the opposite of what we want? I have seen people that would have been better off just getting on the horse and riding because they have no control while lunging.

So to make that decision you need to honestly access your ability to control from the ground.

If you are an assertive leader and can control your horse on the lunge line that can be a good option. If you aren't able to do so, you might make things worse.
If you are an assertive leader and can control your horse on the lunge line that can be a good option. If you aren't able to do so, you might make things worse. | Source

Your First Ride After A Day Off Is All About Reinforcing What He Already Knows

If you are getting on your horse after a day or days off, you are just wanting a positive ride. One where you work on what you know your horse is already good at. Reinforcing the cues that he knows, and practicing things that come easily to both of you.

If your horse has had time off( any amount of time) he may have a bit of attitude about having to work. Because of this, we don't want to push our luck by working on something brand new, or something that you have never done before.

This photo is of my mare on the first day she ever had a person on her back! Kind of different situation but cool picture.
This photo is of my mare on the first day she ever had a person on her back! Kind of different situation but cool picture. | Source

It Should Be A Easy Fun Ride For Both Of You

I want this ride to be easy and fun. You want to be relaxed and your horse to be relaxed as well. As I said before the best way to do this is by working on things that you know you and your horse both do well.

It can be a short ride, work on some simple exercises and then end on a good note. It can be a fun ride where you do a little ring work and then head out on the trail. It should be low pressure and relaxed since we are trying to get our horses head back in the game of the work routine for the week.

It should be a pleasant relaxed ride.
It should be a pleasant relaxed ride. | Source

If Your Horse Is Hard To Ride After Time Off

If your horse is a handful after time off. You will have to learn how to manage his schedule to keep this from becoming a regular problem. The main thing you need to be able to do when your horse is high energy due to time off is to get his focus on you.

Zoe looking pretty focused to me!
Zoe looking pretty focused to me! | Source

How Do You Get Him To Focus?

Micromanage him. Give him so much to think about that he doesn't have time to do anything besides focus on you. Do a lot of transitions, change directions a lot, trot over poles or weave through cones. Be so assertive about your riding that you are directing him so much it is like he is waiting for the next command.

Don't give him time to think about spooking, going too fast, or his friends in the barn. You need to be your horse's leader. If you are being an assertive leader, he will hopefully be paying attention to your commands rather than everything else that might be going on.

Ice here can be a bit of a handful when he hasn't been ridden, but as you can see with a little micromanaging he get's to focusing pretty well!
Ice here can be a bit of a handful when he hasn't been ridden, but as you can see with a little micromanaging he get's to focusing pretty well! | Source

Make It Short And Sweet

Your horse has had some time off. The point of this ride today is just to set the tone that you are an assertive leader and to reinforce everything you know you and your horse are great at.

Pick out a few of your favorite exercises, your go-to's, that always get him feeling right on. Do them in both directions. Ride him until he is relaxed, focused and responsive.

Then end on a good note. Find a good stopping point, tell your horse how great he is and make a big fuss. The only thing your horse will appreciate more than an assertive leader is positive reinforcement after a good ride.

Do something fun and easy, then call it a day.
Do something fun and easy, then call it a day. | Source

You Are Setting The Tone For Your Upcoming Rides

By doing a positive, confidence-building ride after your horse has had time off is setting the tone for the next time you ride, or the upcoming weeks work.

You don't want to start your week with your horse being high energy and tense. That just turns into the vicious cycle of tense horse tense rider and it all goes downhill from there.

If you have an assertive and positive first ride, hopefully, your horse will be ready to work for the rest of the week. After a good couple of days of reinforcing the things you are good at, then you can start to practice the new or harder skills.

You would work on those in the upcoming days until you see improvement. Hopefully, you and your horse are both having lightbulb moments with the new stuff.

Then you give him an easy ride, a bareback ride, a trail ride or a few days off. Then start off again the same way the next week.

Planning Your Riding Week

Planning your riding week in this way, that accounts for the first day after time off maybe being a bit harder. Then progressively working into your harder and new skills throughout the week is the best recipe to keep you and your horse on the same page. This should help your horse to stay relaxed and ready to go to work each day. This will help you as a rider from getting stuck or frustrated. It's bound to happen every once in a while, we all have bad days. If you plan and ride deliberately though you can make the most of your rides, and your relationship with your horse.

Nice and relaxed, that's how we want to start our week with our horses.
Nice and relaxed, that's how we want to start our week with our horses. | Source

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