Guilty of being a magazine pack-rat, I found in my pile and re-read Dressage Today, February 2017. Articles included “The Training Scale: The Evolution of a Well-Trained Horse,” “Holistic Care for the Dressage Horse,” “The Leg Yield: A Tool To Improve Horses At All Levels,” and “How Patience Pays Off with Young Horses.” While each article held valuable insight, what caught my attention this time through the magazine was the “Mind Over Matter” section by Jenny Susser, PhD. The question posed was “How Can I Maximize Rides When I Have Minimal Time?” Dr Susser broke her response into three sections regarding the rider’s physical, mental, and emotional preparedness for time in the barn and while riding.
I agree that when in the barn we should “be prepared and streamline.” I am an efficiency expert. I have a fulltime job in IT. I also have a seven stall stable at Amberdell Equine Sanctuary, with four rescue horses and three boarders. Seven stalls means there are no economies of scale and I take care of the stable management as well as training and teaching.
I can appreciate words like “When you’re short on time, you might be better off skipping some luxury in exchange for some time in the saddle.” From the mental pointers I especially liked “Sometimes feeling the crunch can make you more efficient and have you focused on things more intensely.” The summary of the emotional pointers was to control emotions regardless. Easier for me to do with the better part of a century now behind me.
Still, I feel that there is a better answer to “How Can I Maximize Rides When I Have Minimal Time?” Yes, the rider’s physical, mental, and emotional states are important, even critical, to successful riding time. Even more desirable is to see our riding time invested in continual improvement of our own skills and the capabilities of our horse.
With four rescue horses and a fulltime job, my goal has been to bring each horse to healthy states and train them to be acceptable members of the equine community. My past training experience has demonstrated that horses have very good memories and that what ever you repeat with them three times, they’ve learned it. Good or bad, if the behavior pattern is repeated three times in a row, the horse will have a conditioned behavior. I prefer to have only good behaviors retained, so I pay attention to patterns beginning and do my best to set up each horse to repeat only good responses. If my horse demonstrates an undesirable action then I change things up immediately so to avoid repetition of that behavior.
Avoid fighting at all costs, fighting with a horse only teaches them that fighting is an option they might win. I’ve found that horses are always a bit rough on their first day back to work after their day(s) off. So, my Day 1 of riding is always a very basic stretching, exercising day, in the mind of an extended warm-up relative to the degree of training of the horse. No high-pressure precision is expected and most of the time is spent hacking out with a relatively short time in the arena. Total time in the saddle each day may be less than an hour.
If a rider has only enough time to ride once a week and the horse is only exercised when this rider is out, then each ride is a “Day 1” ride. Sequential days of systematic progression in training exercises is required for horse and rider to advance. I find that 3 or 4 day sequences are optimal. Three days in a row for me has been the best. After the Day 1 ride, Day 2 shortens the hacking, stretching time and lengthens the schooling time. Day 3 shortens the initial warm up time, has a schooling time that mirrors and reinforces the Day 2 experience, and allows a longer hacking time cool-out.
After our three day series, it may be two days or two weeks before I’m back on this horse again. I have to keep track of what we were doing the last series and the next Day 1 has to review the previous Day 3. With this, we proceed again through our Day 2 and Day 3 of this series. Progress may be slow, but we do make progress.
Using the same method in a 4 day series accelerates the training progress as does limiting the days off to only one or two between each training series.
My answer for how to maximize rides when I have minimal time is to make the most of each riding time by keeping it positive and on track with our overall training goals. Keeping the ‘Three days on” rhythm has proven successful, it is not a fast track to a trained horse but it will get you there.