Does Your Horse Need a Job or a Vacation?
By Will Clinging
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? In this article I will concentrate on horses that are working regularly and horses that are seldom working. Both of these scenarios can be detrimental to the horse’s 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 who 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 are highly intelligent animals and get bored easily.
If a program is too routine the horse 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 he has nothing to do. He can become difficult to manage just because of a lack of handling. He has 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 runs 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 riding your horse, are you training him or just putting on miles? 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 he may need something different to do to keep him fresh. A few miles on the trail might be just what he needs for a vacation. 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 your horse needs a vacation or a job, 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 jobs; 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 he may resent working for a living. The lack of training or riding time will show when he starts back to work. He will often need some training time before he is fit enough for any amount of riding and you will likely need to regain some of the control that you had before he got laid off his last job, both on the ground and in the saddle. If he has never had any job, start slow and assume he knows less than he does. This will help you find the holes in the training that need filled in before he is employable.
Finding a balance between stressful training and relaxing riding can be difficult. If you 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.
Main photo: If your horse has been on an extended vacation he may resent going back into work, and will need some training time to regain his fitness level. Credit: Canstock/Kotomiti