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Friday, January 1, 2010

Meltdown part 3

Lesson 1: Time Off
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!


  1. Last year I put 30 days on a 3 year old QH for a friend and he learned in the strangest way. He wouldn't understand something for the whole session and no matter how I tried to explain something ( like trotting or turning) he just didn't get it. I would end on a good note and try again the next day. I began to see something amazing, it was like he THOUGHT about it over night and could do whatever he had been struggling with the day before. This was really consistent with him to the point that I would introduce something, not push it, try again the next day and BAM he had it and we were moving on. Totally opposite from Boomer who had to have everything broken down into parts and spoon fed to him.

  2. I've really come to believe through my experiences with my parents' mustangs that they do need time to "mull it over" and that their little pea brains will work something over and over in their minds until it makes sense to them. Yes, it sounds like I'm anthropomorphizing, but more and more of the natural horsemanship trainers, such as Mark Rashid and Julie Goodnight, are supporting the idea that horses just need some time to think things over.

  3. Even if she was in a perfect pasture, she might still need the riding. Adult horses are often soooo lazy! If there's no baby horse to entice her to play, she might just stand by the gate waiting to get fed. Dixie has 15 acres, and she spends about 90% of her time within 100 yards of the gate. Don't feel too bad about boarding her with only a paddock for turnout!

  4. Funder - that does make me feel better. :)

    I'll have to experiment with Farley and see if she gets better if I leave things on the unfinished side instead of making sure she completely gets it at the end of the session. I think that's what's making her a bit sour - me pushing her to see the whole picture before we quit.


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