7 ways to keep your performance horse happy and strong all season
Burnout is real and it’s on the rise. No one wants to see their horse lose its magic halfway through show season. You know their heart is still in it, they’re working hard but they are running out of steam. It’s heartbreaking on many levels. After helping way too many burned out horses I figured it was time to share a couple of my strategies with all of you. So I put together my top 7 tips for preventing your horse from becoming grumpy, sore, tired, and burned out.
How to find the right combination of support...
Slow the flip down. Listen to your horse and your gut. None of these things are going to work like a magic pill. You will need to test and tweak to meet the needs of your horse. Most of them also have a cumulative effect so you’ll want to be prepared to stick with it even though the improvements might be small in the beginning. They will pay off in the long run. Horses don’t get burnout in one day and they aren’t able to be restored in one day. Hang in there, you got this!
strategies to Help your horse prevent and overcome burnout
Be on the lookout for deficiencies
Horses that are working hard can easily need extra support. Giving them a boost of even the most basic vitamins and minerals can make a huge difference in their ability to perform and recover. Next time your big buddy is breaking a sweat bust out the electrolytes and watch how quickly he can bounce back.
Change up the exercises
Regardless of what your goals are with your horse, there is more than one way to reach it. Rather than drilling the same exercises over and over again only to hit a wall, you will find that switching things up a bit will not only keep your horse happier but will also increase progress. If your not sure what extra activities to add to your sessions start by thinking of the types of things your horse loves to do then make small tweaks to these activities to touch on skills related to your goal. Remeber there is no one perfect way to train for success.
Switch up the times of day that you work with your horse. Just like people most horses have an optimal time of day to work. Tapping into this perfect timing will certainly boost progress but going to it every ride can make your horse lose its enthusiasm.
Change the scenery
Getting out to ride in new spaces might seem like a good way to invite distractions that can cause setbacks but what it actually does is heighten your horse’s awareness. Waking up their senses by changing the environment is one of the best ways to prevent burnout. You may not make the most progress in the new space but you will likely find that going back to the old routine after taking an adventure gives you a horse that is more interested and confident in their work.
Do your homework off the horse
Imagine how much your horse would appreciate it everytime you got on you were clear-headed, mentally focused, emotionally grounded, and physically light & flexible. I can’t tell you how many horses I see that are frustrated by their scatterbrained, tense riders passing out a hodgepodge of misguided cues. Not sure what you need to work on? After your next couple of rides take notes about the things your horse struggles with, areas that the two of you are frustrated, and activities that are exhausting. Use that list to guide you to improving skills that are required from you as a rider.
Increase motivation with positive reinforcement
If you aren’t already doing positive reinforcement training with your horse now is a great time to start. I know some people get worried they will somehow mess up the traditional training they are doing by introducing the concept of working for rewards. You need to give your horse more credit, they are plenty smart enough to follow multiple training styles at once. Even if you have one of those horses that turns into a treat-seeking cookie monster the second he knows you have goodies, you can still use positive reinforcement to complement your other training methods.
Working with horses using positive reinforcement outside the arena can make them more excited about going to work. For example, teaching your horse that it can earn treats by stretching or by picking its feet up patiently, gives them the ability to choose to work for something they actually want and feel more respect from you as their partner. With positive reinforcement it doesn’t have to be perfect so don’t sweat it if your horse isn’t doing everything exactly the way you want just reward the good. All roads lead to Rome.
Take a break
The best progress that I have seen horses make has come when the exercises have had a chance to marinate a bit. It’s easy to think you have to hunker down before a big show or goal deadline drilling exercises for hours in an effort to get them perfect. The flaw in this thinking comes in when there is no recovery time for the horse to rest up physically or decompress mentally. I like to think of the football teams that come back after a bye-week raring to go, rested and full of tenacity