Grace After Time Off
Updated: Jan 6
Giving your horse some grace…
There are times when your horse will get time off. Chances are, if your horse hasn’t been worked in a week or so, he’s stiff. Especially if he had to have time in a stall and even more so if your horse isn’t young.
You’ll have to lower your expectations. Your first ride back probably won't look like the last ride before time off. Collection or suppleness may not be as accessible as usual.
Focus your ride on basics. Prompt transitions (although the promptness may not be as crisp if they are stiff), straightness, suppleness, and quality of connection. We can think about suppleness both laterally and longitudinally, that is, suppleness behind the saddle. Think of it as the whole ride is warm up. If you can get out of warm up phase, good for you, but don’t worry if you don’t.
Lots of walk. Maybe you get a chance to hand walk or even tack walk before you get a chance to really ride and it’s so worth it. Not only is it good for his legs, but moving around will also help keep his gut moving if he has to be stalled. You can also add hill walking or poles to the mix.
Leg yield exercises are great for suppling and developing that inside leg to outside rein connection.
Trot-Canter-trot transitions are great for suppling longitudinally.
Then you can blend all of that together. One of my favorites goes like this*:
In the trot, take the diagonal, at the centerline, change the orientation of your and your horse’s chest to face the short side to leg yield the rest of the way.
When you arrive at the rail, canter in the corner.
Canter most of a 20 m circle and transition near A or C.
Begin across the diagonal again and repeat.
An easier version is to start by turning down the centerline and leg yield to the last corner.
Try the leg yield part on it’s own first, then add canter. You should feel him well connected and set up for it.
(*This leg yield exercise is in the Dressage To Go app, if you want further instruction*)
Having grace with yourself…
Remember, you haven’t ridden in a week either. Go easy on yourself. Always take your time. If you are having trouble feeling coordinated, slow it down. Maybe your first ride back you only focus on your position (your horse may thank you for this!).
Your horse may have time off for any number of reasons, I promise your horse will come back to you after a few rides! Take your time, realize that you may have to ride thinking more restoratively than progressively for a few days. It’s always a great time to layer on the basics!
*You'll find even more exercise ideas on Dressage To Go: audio lessons to enhance your dance with your horse.