How performance horses benefit from variety in their training
Horses, like people, can get bored with their “work-out” routine. It’s just as important to consider variety in your training plan as it is to give your horse days off. My horses and I love our hack and trail days. But if your farm isn’t in a location where hacking is possible, you may need to get creative. For Dressage horses, this could be a jumping/cavaletti or longlining day. Other fun options are liberty work and de-spooking obstacle courses.
Often if I have a horse that needs to build muscle, I will do a hill work session at least one day a week. Hills are a good way to help your horse lose weight and build muscle without overchallenging their mind.
A de-spooking obstacle course can be engaging for the horse and fun for the rider or trainer to put together. The course can include tarps, poles, bridges, water, cones, gates, pool toys, hula hoops, and for the more experienced horseman, things like smoke flares can even be included. It’s important to start small with only a few items and build on your de-spooking sessions. It can be a great way to build you and your horses’ relationship and connection, but this also means being patient and moving at a pace your horse is comfortable. The purpose is to build your horse’s confidence and engage them in a positive way.
I am also a big believer in turnout for exercise when possible. I know turn-out can sometimes be dangerous, especially for performance horses that don’t have much experience with it. So, I do it as safely as possible based on the horse’s personality and needs. This includes smaller or medium-sized paddocks, avoiding muddy turn-out, and booting up their legs. Limited or no turn-out can lead to a number of health risks including colic, vices such as cribbing or weaving, and not enough blood circulation which leads to things like stocking up.
Again, like people, variety in your horse’s training can make for a happier, well-rounded partner. Diversity in training can make concentration easier for them as well as build a better connection between horse and rider.