So, the school holidays are here. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere the longer days and warmer weather are drawing us outside for longer. If you are a fair weathered rider you might have recently bought your horse back in to work and ready to get out and about. We have many more hours available for us to rider so how can we keep it interesting and still be progressing towards our goals. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere perhaps you are looking for things to do to keep the sessions fun and engaging while stuck in the indoor.
Here are a few tips to keep the motivation up for both you and your horse.
Create a challenge with a friend
Get a group of like minded friends together and each week one person in the group puts forward a challenge. You can use an object (like a cone/pole) that everyone in the group will have, or something you can do in the arena. Have someone video yourself completing the challenge and post it on a group page along with the rest of your friends.
Look for new things to try on the internet
We are all guilty of spending some time on the internet doing very little except for scrolling through facebook or youtube videos. Why not use it to your advantage and look for new things you can try with your horse. Look for things that are out of your comfort zone, or unfamiliar to you. You may even look at pages from other disciplines for inspiration. Look for something small that you can start to practice right away.
Have a go at a different discipline
If you are a show jumper, check out some reining patterns or horseball. If you are a dressage rider, try some tent pegging. Google equestrian sports worldwide, watch a few videos and then come up with your own version of how you can practice some of those skills. You can even look for a club in an area near you and go to a practice day and try something new. For a good laugh check out... buzkashi. I don't suggest finding a dead goat to use but there are plenty of alternatives
Place 10 objects in the arena and create a game using them
Grab some friends and each person bring an object or two. The challenge is to find as many things to do with each object as possible. You can pass it, have the horse go over it, put their foot on it, balance it on the horses rump while walking....anything you can think of.
Sometimes just the experience of sitting on a horse bareback can be scary. You don't need to line up facing a jump to start to feel insecure, it can wash over you the minute the horse takes an initial step forwards. However that is not a reason to avoid bareback as riding without a saddle is hugely beneficial for both horse and rider. It develops a better seat and balance, and helps the horse to relax connect more with the rider. Whether you are up to simply walking a few steps or cantering a full jumping course spend some time bareback. Your horse will thank you for it.
Ride in a halter
Obviously if your horse has never been ridden in a halter before it is a good idea to start in a small yard before progressing into a bigger space, but riding in a halter alone helps to accentuate out other aids (legs, seat, weight etc) and improves communication with the horse. It is also pretty fun and liberating. You will be suprised how well your horse accepts being ridden in a halter. If you are feeling ready, and your horse is calm try riding with a pieve of string around their neck only. Keep the halter or bridle on so you have something as a back up if the horse need some helps but see how you go. It will give you an opportunity to clarity your seat aids.
Ride in a different paddock, on a hill
If you are lucky enough to have a large area in which to ride, then take advantage of the different spaces. It is easy to get into the routine of riding in the area or one certain part of the paddock but if there are other options take them. Use it as an opportunity to mentally prepare for a competition where the horse is in an unfamiliar space and is being asked to perform as well as he does at home. If the space you have at home is in on a hill... great! There are huge benefits to doing your flatwork session on the side of a hill. If it is noisy... great! Ride in your comprtable area first and then go to that space after he is calm and do your cool down and finish in that area so he thinks of that area as relaxing. Look for all the weird places to ride. It will force you to be creative in what you are asking of your horse.
Have an outcome but be prepared to shift your focus if necessary
Having goals and outcomes for our sessions are important, but so is adapting that outcome depending on what comes up as your progress through your ride. Think of it this way, your outcome for the ride maybe to improve the canter, walk through transitions from left to right but you horse is becoming anxious and tense. You will then need to chunk the exercise down and find what part is causing the problem. Once you know what is happening you may spend the next little while helping the horse to improve that aspect before putting it all back together. You may notice that your horse is dropping his shoulder to the right, as you prepare for the upward transition back to canter so you may then work on exercises to straighten him. There are many exercises to help. If you are not familiar with them, google different exercises and go through and try each one. Once he is straighter then you can retry the canter walk though and notice how much easier the horse finds it. Every movement or skill has several other skills intertwined into it. It is like an orchestra. Listen to your horse and you will start to hear whether it is the violin, the drums or the bass that needs a bit of work.
It doesn't matter what discipline you ride, having a clear set of goals and outcomes is vital and each session is designed to move you and your horse a little closer to that each time. Laser focus is great but if it is to rigid it can become uninspiring for the horse and they shut down and develop resentment and frustration so to avoid that have some fun as well. You can use all of these suggestions in such a way that they continue to move your forward towards but with some imagination and inspiration which will keep both you and your horse coming back for more!
When you are enjoying yourself the connection with your horse deepens, and you find the flow. Solutions come to you and your aids are fluid and clear. Your horse is well aware how you are feeling each and every time you are with him so taking to the time to be in the right state of mind is worth it. Be creative, and enjoy.