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BLOG: Keeping your horse’s training program varied

Emma Booth and Zidane - © Photoability

Emma Booth and Zidane.

© Photoability


By Emma Booth

I’m sure that there are many riders who fall into the trap of repetitive training. Don’t get me wrong, I believe repetition to be one of the most important elements when schooling a horse - I don’t think anyone would disagree with this being true. However, I’m not talking about repetition within a training session or consistency with exercises. What I’m referring to are riders who, perhaps unknowingly, lack variation in their riding schedule and are therefore left with a rather dull training program.

I believe that one of the most important qualities a horse can have is his attitude to work. A horse can have all the movement and talent in the world, but if he isn’t willing to work or doesn’t aim to please, he is never going to be a world class competitor. Take Valegro as a completely obvious example. Yes, he is one of the most talented horses to take the dressage world for years, but what stands out to me the most - more than his movement and precision - is his attitude. He loves what he does, he always wants to please, and whenever he is asked for more, he is happy to try his hardest and offers his absolute best. Why? His willing attitude!


Dujardin Charlotte, GBR, Valegro Olympic Games Rio 2016 Photo © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans

Charlottea and Valegro.

© Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans

Now, how do we get more horses to have an attitude such as Valegro’s? Well it’s a given that some horses are naturally going to have a more willing nature than others. But I believe a big part of a horse’s work ethic is also a reflection of their training program. If you put him in a 20mX60m arena, doing the same thing, at the same place every day, I don’t think it’s going to take very long before he starts to get bored.

So, the answer to what I think is so many riders’ problem? Change it up! Keep it fresh! Add variety! Take your horse to different venues – not always for a competition, maybe just for an outing. Go for a trail ride with a friend. Add some pole work to your weekly training program. Make them think about what they are doing. Keep them guessing a little bit.

When working on my horse’s program, I try to mix it up as much as possible. I still do regular work in the arena to improve our training, but I always find I get the absolute best work from Zidane when he has a fresh mind. A friend has started doing some pole work with him once a week, as this is something I can’t do. This is an exercise that is undoubtedly good for his body, his mind, his balance, and his muscle tone. We go for trail rides, he gets lunged, we always try to work on different exercises, and we go to different venues. By doing all of these things and keeping my training varied, I ultimately have a happy horse, and am therefore a happy rider.


Emma Booth and Zidane - © Photoability

© Photoability

Many people get stuck doing the same thing over and over. I think particularly in the winter months, it’s easier to just ride in the indoor arena every day, practicing the same exercises. This is obviously fair enough when the weather is truly brutal, and in honesty, your horse probably prefers being inside as well. But if you’re complaining about a dull horse, or one that lacks willingness when exercising, I highly suggest considering your training program.

It’s easy to add slight differences within your program, even if it’s as basic as going for a walk outside to cool off after doing your normal training in the arena, or popping them on the lunge briefly to warm up instead of jumping straight on. Maybe on a ‘lunge day’, finish with no side reins and let them just stretch and use their own body without restriction. Take them to do some hill work, which can get them using their hind leg and opening up across their backs. Get a permit and take your horse for a weekend walk on the beach. These are just a few simple ways to change things. These small alterations might just be enough to amend the way your horse approaches his work. 




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