Obviously I can't give her 2 weeks off after every session. That would be pointless. There is a balance between the benefits of regular work and vacation time.
My horse is not in a pasture, she's in a smallish dry paddock. I try not to let her sit in her pen for more than 2 days. Even if we just get out for a hand walk, or a jog.
Except after major events, such a 100 mile race, I don't actually schedule extended time off for Farley. It seems that ~3 months, a major events arises in my life where I have to ignore my precious pony for 2-3 weeks. This is her vacation time, and I rarely feel guilty about it because I know she needs the time off.
Invariably we are both better off after some time away from each other once in a while.
I also think that regular work is very beneficial for her mentally and physically. She likes to get out. I like to ride. Her feet and body like to get movement every day. Since she isn't in a pasture, I feel she needs the daily movement of either a ride or a handwalk.
This most recent period of time off was especially eye opening. She's always been "better" after time off, but it was hard to quantify because I didn't do dressage, only trail, and I wasn't asking much of her mentally. I've always felt that rest was the most important element in an endurance horse's schedule to prevent injury and physical breakdown, and to a lesser extent to prevent mental burnout. I was amazed at the quality of work she was able to do after 2 weeks off. I'm now a firm believer in extended time off for the horse mentally, as much so or more so as the physical aspect.
So what's the plan?
- Regular work ~5-6x a week. Some days are "active rest" days.
- Make sure that every 9-12 weeks she gets 2-3 weeks off. If something doesn't happen like a race or a work/personal crisis, then schedule it.
- I think a ratio of 4 weeks of work to 1 week of vacation time seems to be Farley's magic number. I'll watch her closely and give her a week sooner than every 9-12 weeks if she needs it.
- AareneX suggested that she's the type of horse that will actually think through things on her vacation. Since Minx was the type of horse that went to square one after significant time off, it's a bit counter-intuitive to me that a horse could improve her "mental" training after time off. Horses are certainly individuals!