Keep Your Horse Happy

Whether you’re stuck in a ring by necessity or by choice, you can add some sparkle to your everyday riding if you just think beyond the circle or the crossrail.

Riders often have trepidation about riding outside of an enclosed ring. The summer, when the ground usually isn?t deep or slippery and the weather usually isn?t severe, is the perfect time to change the riding routine.

Make a training goal or goals.

Decide that you want to be able to sit the trot without stirrups, jump a short course of fences or through a gymnastic line without stirrups, that you and your horse will develop a correct shoulder-in and leg-yield, or that you’ll work through whatever your particular challenge is.

Go on some trail rides.

At least ride around some fields. don’t do it just once; do it once or twice a week. You and your horse will get fitter, become more forward-going and forward-thinking, and more confident overall.

Or go riding on the beach, if you live near one that allows riding. The sand and the ocean just seem to invigorate horses, mentally and physically.

Ride at different times of day. If you normally ride in the late afternoon, during summer?s long hours of daylight, pick a day a week when you can ride first thing in the morning. Or, if you normally ride in the morning, ride in the evening, just before sunset. If your barn?s ring is lighted, ride after sunset.

Perhaps you live near a show grounds or other ring that has lights. See if you can arrange to ride there at night, perhaps with friends or family, say once a month. It will probably cost you $25 or $50, but it could be well worth the cost. If you can’t go at night, go during the day.

Going on trips perks most horses up, and it’s good for the nervous types to get out and do their jobs somewhere else.

Go to a schooling show.

Perhaps the recession has kept you from showing for the last year. Can you afford $50 to go to a nearby schooling show’ Just going to a new place, with new sights and new horses, will be fun for your horse and will push you toward a training goal or two. And it’s great for the greenies or the nervous types to have the exposure.

Do something really different.

Instead of schooling, try playing Pony Club-type games ? pole bending, musical stalls, egg-and-spoon races. Kids and their ponies obviously have the most fun at this, but anyone can become a kid for a day (or two).

If games aren?t your style, try free-longeing. To free-longe, all you really need is a good fence around the ring and a gate that closes, although if your ring is really big (roughly larger than a standard-sized dressage ring), you might want to set up another rail or a line of jumps to enclose your horse and make it easier on you.

Your horse won?t understand what you want him to do right away, so he’ll either refuse to leave the gate or just run around the ring like a wild man. So start on the longe line, to remind him of your voice commands and the meaning of your longe whip.

Once you?ve unhooked the longe line, you’ll need to literally chase him around the ring, using your voice commands and whip. (It helps to have a second person guiding and urging the horse at the opposite end of the ring.) After a session or three, most horses have the routine figured out.

You can make free-longeing an even more productive training opportunity by putting on a longeing surcingle and attaching side reins. This will help the horse develop the muscles in his topline as he trots and canters eagerly around the ring. (You can warm him up on the longe line first.)

Play games with your horse.

If your horse has the type of temperament that will allow it, you can really have some fun. it’s similar to free-longeing. Turn your horse loose in the ring or a small paddock with toys ? Jolly Balls, beach balls, plastic baseball bats, cones or some large children?s toys. Carry the toys to him and encourage him to pick them up. ?Chase? after him once he takes it, as if you were trying to get it back.

Some horses will even learn to fetch things you throw for them, especially if you reward them for the return. You and your horse can have a lot of fun, but don’t encourage him to chase you: That can get ugly really fast. And remember, you always want to be in charge of him, not the other way around.

Just for kids.

Kids of all ages can have all kinds of fun relieving boredom (and dealing with summer?s heat) with children and their ponies or horses. The easiest activity is to schedule an afternoon of bathing, with the kids wearing shorts and t-shirts or bathing suits (with safe footwear). Let them shampoo and rinse their equines and then have water fights.

You can also let them paint their ponies with water-soluble tempera paint. Then they could play games with them or perform a simple story (like a short play). They could decorate their ponies to celebrate a holiday (the Fourth of July is the most likely summer holiday) or birthdays.

Kids always have great fun riding in quadrilles or drill teams. You or another person could create the choreography and organize practices to perform the drill ride for the rest of the barn or at a local fair, rodeo or horse show.

With a bit of coordination, you could even combine the horse painting with the drill team and the water fights. The kids could paint their horses for the performance, then bathe them and have a water fight afterward.

Kids and adults can also take their horses swimming in a pond, a slow-moving river or in a quiet, shallow bay. Many horses do actually enjoy swimming, although take it easy with this activity as it is very strenuous for the horse. Build up his conditioning.

don’t forget the safe shoes and helmets.

John Strassburger
Performance Editor

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