How Often Should You Ride Your Horse?
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Aug 23, 2023
Whether you're a new horse owner or a seasoned equestrian, finding the right balance and frequency for riding your equine companion is essential for their well-being and your enjoyment. There are various factors to consider when determining the ideal riding schedule for your horse, including their age, fitness level, discipline, and overall health. By understanding these factors and tailoring your riding routine accordingly, you can ensure that your horse receives the right amount of exercise, mental stimulation, and rest, fostering a harmonious partnership and promoting overall health and happiness.
Although we’re focusing primarily on riding today, remember that the Parelli Program teaches us four different Savvys or ways to play with our horses — two on the ground and two riding. As you develop through the Parelli Levels Program you add additional Savvys to your repertoire, starting with On Line, which is on the ground, and building to Liberty and to our two riding Savvys, FreeStyle and Finesse. As you continue through the remainder of this article, keep the concept of these Savvys in mind. Playing in all Four Savvys helps balance your horse (and yourself) mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Today we’re going to focus specifically on riding, which, once you get to Level Three and Level Four in the Parelli Program, will have a combination of both FreeStyle and Finesse riding.
Horse Riding Frequency: Why It’s Important
Horse riding frequency plays a substantial role in maintaining your equine partner's health, well-being, and performance. Regular riding sessions provide essential exercise for your horse's muscles, cardiovascular system, and overall fitness. It helps to develop their strength, coordination, and suppleness, ensuring they are in optimal condition for various activities. Consistent riding sessions offer mental stimulation for your horse, keeping their mind engaged and reducing the risk of boredom or behavioral issues. However, balancing and avoiding overworking your horse is equally important, as they require adequate rest and recovery time. By finding the right balance in riding frequency, you can establish a routine that keeps your horse physically and mentally fit while respecting their individual needs and capabilities.
Generally, riding three to five times a week is a good starting point for most adult horses. However, it's important to consider the horse's individual needs and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the rides as their fitness improves. Younger or older horses may require lighter exercise or shorter sessions, while horses in intense training may benefit from daily rides. Additionally, incorporating rest days into the schedule allows the horse's muscles and joints to recover and prevents overexertion. Regularly monitoring the horse's health, soundness, and energy levels will help determine the appropriate frequency of riding sessions to ensure their overall health and longevity.
How to Properly Condition Your Horse for Riding
Implementing a structured conditioning program ensures that your horse is physically prepared for the demands of riding, reducing the risk of injuries and enhancing their performance.
Build-Up Ride Intensity and Duration
When conditioning your horse for riding, it's essential to build up the intensity and duration of your rides gradually. Start with shorter sessions at a moderate intensity and gradually increase these qualities in the sessions over time. This gradual progression allows your horse's muscles, tendons, and cardiovascular system to adapt and strengthen. Monitor your horse's breathing, energy level, and overall soundness during each ride. You can gradually extend the duration of your rides and introduce more challenging exercises.
Extended Periods of Trotting and Cantering
Extended periods of trotting and cantering play an important role in conditioning your horse for riding. If you’re riding in an arena, start by incorporating shorter trot and canter intervals, such as four strides trotting, then four strides cantering down the long side. You can also do this in a field or a wide open space if you and your horse are adequately prepared, and it’s safe to do so. The intervals will help build endurance, and the transitions will build muscle mass. You can also do intervals between walk and trot if your horse is not fit enough for canter intervals.
After each exercise session, pay close attention to heart rate and respiration, as well as your horse’s overall demeanor and behavior. These factors allow you to gauge how quickly your horse is recovering. By monitoring his recovery, you can adjust the intensity and duration of future workouts accordingly, ensuring that you balance challenging his fitness and allowing him sufficient time to rest and recuperate.
Determining How Often You Can Ride
How often you can ride your horse depends on age, fitness level, and overall health. It is essential to consider the specific training goals, as certain activities may necessitate more or less frequent riding sessions. Remember horses are pattern animals, and it takes 4-7 sessions of repetition to establish a strong pattern. These sessions do not have to take place every day in a row, but the longer the gap between play sessions, the more repetition it may take to truly solidify the behavior and pattern change.
A horse's age is a significant factor when determining how much you can ride. Younger horses, especially those in the early stages of training, have developing bones, muscles, and joints that are more susceptible to stress and injury. It is crucial to increase their exercise load for proper growth and development gradually. As horses age, they may experience age-related changes, such as decreased flexibility or stamina.
When conditioning, a horse's training regimen should be gradual and progressive. It typically involves a combination of groundwork and specific exercises under saddle that target different muscle groups and enhance overall fitness. The training should focus on building strength, flexibility, and balance in addition to developing the horse's responsiveness to your cues and phases.
Each horse has a unique disposition, AKA Horsenality, which can impact his response to the world around him, including training and exercise. Horsenality is based on 4 things: innate characteristics, learned behavior, environmental influences, and spirit level. Some horses are naturally more willing and eager to move their feet, while others are more sensitive or cautious. Some horses come across as non-responsive and unmotivated while other horses can be characterized as explosive or overactive. So how do you bring out the best in your horse during your daily riding routine, no matter what comes more naturally or easy to him? Learning your horse’s individual Horsenality will help you plan your daily sessions. Discover the strategies to bring out the best in your partner by studying our Horsenality Program.
The environment in which your horse lives directly affects his overall health. Adequate access to fresh water, quality forage, and a balanced diet are essential for supporting the horse's energy levels and muscle development. A spacious and safe turnout area also allows the horse to move freely and engage in natural behaviors.
Proper shelter from extreme weather conditions, such as heat, cold, and precipitation, is also important to ensure the horse's comfort and prevent stress-related issues. Regular grooming and hoof care are vital to maintaining the horse's health and soundness.
Rider Physical Fitness
While the focus is often on the horse's fitness, it is equally important for the rider to be in good physical shape. Riding requires balance, coordination, core strength, and stability, among other physical attributes. Regular exercises, such as yoga, pilates, and cardio, can enhance a rider’s abilities and help maintain a secure and effective seat. Additionally, proper posture and body alignment are essential for effective aids. Studying the principles of fluidity in the Parelli Program will teach you how to stay on your balance point and develop an independent seat, two vitally important skills that help you stay safe and have fun while riding.
Can You Ride Your Horse Daily?
While some horses can handle daily riding sessions without any issues, others may require rest days in between to allow for proper recovery and muscle development. It is crucial to assess your horse's physical condition, monitor their performance and behavior, and consult a veterinarian or equine professional to determine the appropriate riding schedule.
Additionally, varying the intensity, duration and type of rides can help prevent overexertion and maintain the horse's enthusiasm for work. By considering these factors and tailoring the riding routine to your horse's needs, you can establish a balanced and suitable schedule that promotes their well-being and enjoyment.
Establishing a consistent riding routine and monitoring your horse's response can ensure optimal health and enjoyment in the saddle. Always prioritize your horse's needs, comfort and well-being, and consult with professionals for personalized guidance based on your horse's specific requirements. Here’s to a long and healthy partnership under saddle!