What does your horse do for a living? Does he need a change from your routine to keep him mentally fresh and physically rested or does he need a challenge mentally and physically to make him safe to be around? For this article I will concentrate on horses that are constantly working and horses that are never working. Both of these scenarios can be detrimental to the horses’ mental and physical well being. Horses can get bored, physically tired and sore; they may not enjoy their routine and develop problems because of this. Some horses need miles and not training while others need training time rather that just riding time.
Many people that own horses feel obligated to ride or work with them nearly every day. I agree that as horse owners we have a responsibility to interact with our horses. But we get days off from our jobs to rest and relax, I think that horses need the same. Horses as highly intelligent animals get bored easily. If a program is too routine they will lose interest and will start to fly on auto pilot. A program should be systematic not routine! A horse that does nothing except eat will get bored because they have nothing to do. They can become difficult to manage just because of a lack of handling and they have too much time to think up ways to get in trouble.
When horses work too much they can become physically fatigued. A sore or tired horse will not perform well and run the risk of injury. If your horse is tired he will not have the energy required to learn what it is you are trying to teach him. A horse has a finite amount of energy and if you use it all up physically there is not enough left mentally. He needs a vacation! The horse that never works runs the same risks but for different reasons. He is likely soft and fat and not fit. He will have no stamina due to the lack of exercise. He could injure himself because he has no muscle tone and he will not be as responsive as he could be because he is not expected to do much. This horse needs a job!
When horses are ridden are you training them or just putting on miles? I think that there needs to be a balance between the two. If the horse has an issue or is unsafe to ride he needs training time. If the horse is well trained and needs something different to do to keep him fresh then a few miles might be just what he needs. Paying attention to your horse and how he responds to the things you do with him should help you decide what is best for him. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Or maybe a rest is as good as a change?
Whether a vacation or a job is needed for your horse it is important to use both of these in moderation. If you just turn your competitive horse out he will lose fitness, but a few days off might not hurt. Horses that are used a lot often like working and they do need to keep their job, it is just important to give them a mental and physical break from time to time. If you can keep them interested in what you are doing they will be more capable of dealing with the daily stress of training.
If your horse has been on an extended vacation you can run into them resenting gainful employment. The lack of training or riding time will show when they start back to work. They will often need some training time before they are fit enough for any amount of riding and you will likely need to regain some of the control both on the ground and in the saddle that you may have had before they got laid off their last job. If they have never had any job start slow and assume they know less than they do. This will help you find the holes in the training that need filled in before they are employable
Finding a balance between stressful training and relaxing riding can be difficult. If you are prepared to adjust how you ride or train to help your horse he will appreciate it. You in return will get the benefit of a happier horse.
© 2005 Will Clinging