Many riders will be familiar with the following situation: You are on your way to the stables and already know you won’t be getting into the saddle today. Maybe you’re not feeling well, you don’t have much time or the weather isn’t playing along. Maybe the horse has worked so well over the last few days that you want to give him a little break, or maybe you simply don’t feel like riding.
Programme in the stable
For whatever reason, riding is not on the agenda. So you arrive with a different plan in mind: Today we’re going for a walk. Or we’re going to free school. Maybe we’ll even lunge? A bit of ground work would also be nice. Or we simply enjoy a nice, long day out in the paddock.
Whichever option you fancy, you stride happily towards the stable to grab your four-legged friend, who is supposed to enjoy a day off from riding. No sooner have you left the stable aisle with your horse in tow to do whatever, than stablemate xy approaches. With look of bewilderment she asks: “Oh, you aren’t riding today?!” Horse people who follow a certain routine and, for example, always have Mondays off from riding or always free school on Saturdays, may even hear the reinforced version: “Oh, you’re not riding again today?!”
No matter in which tone of voice you answer, the declaration “No, my horse is not being ridden today” causes an incredulous or even horrified expression on friend xy’s face. This can’t be true, the nag is not being ridden today? What is he there for? Quite lazy. You have to train, muscles don’t grow overnight, as you can read in every internet forum. And the horse needs exercise! And anyway, she doesn’t ride! Animal cruelty!
Training can’t do any harm, can it?
So you shuffle grudgingly past xy and maybe even feel a bit guilty — is xy right? Would it be better to ride after all? Training is not a bad thing…
Is riding the only way?
In fact, there is a frighteningly large number of horse people who seem to think that riding is the “only way”. A riding horse is there to be ridden, so it has to be ridden, simple as that!
When asked for arguments for riding on 365 days a year, one hears the funniest stories. “He has to stay in training”, “We have to reinforce this or that movement before it’s forgotten”, “I have to exercise my horse every day after all!” or “What else am I supposed to do?” are just some of the answers I have heard over the last few years.
Taking time-out from riding
Horse and rider should find and follow their own rhythm and training schedule, independent of the opinion of others. There may indeed be horses that are real workers and want to be ridden every day.
Equally, there will be those four-legged partners, who like my mare, raise the white flag when it comes to riding day after day. Many horses are much more comfortable with variety in training than with a “Groundhog Day” routine. (Riding) breaks do not have to be harmful, as many riders seem to assume and openly express with an indignant look.
On the contrary, riding-free days can even be beneficial for muscle development, partnership and motivation. Many experts even warn against signs of fatigue and performance loss when training too hard or for too long on consecutive days.
In addition, there are many great alternatives to riding! These not only add fun and variety into training, but also help to educate and develop our horses. Who wants to do the same programme day in, day out? Nevertheless, you sometimes get the feeling of being patronised if you don’t ride.
Conclusion: Take a break from riding
Our sport is certainly best when we can enjoy it from the horse’s back — but even that back may need a break once in a while. Of course, days off and days training should be in balance, but a break now and then doesn’t do any harm — on the contrary!
So allow yourself and your horse a ride-free slow day if you feel it’s required. Let stablemate xy circle around the arena day after day and round after round. After a hard day’s work, when it’s 30 degrees in the shade or after a really good workout the day before, you can just sit on the sidelines and watch.