How do I keep my string of school horses from becoming sour and cranky?
Well that is a very good question, and like everything, variety is the spice of life. I ran a 35 horse riding/training barn in Jamaica from 1987 to 1992, and I have a few ideas that will really help you. This picture is of Pete, my 26 year old Arab/Percheron cross with a student at camp a few years ago.
- Get your horses outside as much as possible, even in winter and try to get them into fields for the summer as well. Spending too much time indoors causes horses to become depressed as they need their vitamin D like us for the immune system and they relax better outdoors. I was lucky in Jamaica, my horses lived in pasture all the time, but we are not so lucky here because of the rain. Horses up country are better off as it’s not as wet and they can cope with snow better than rain.
- Make sure your horses get 2 full days off per week, and only do about 4 lessons a day maximum, making sure that the lessons are a combination of beginner riders and those who can ride better, so the horse can have some fun. The quickest way to sour a horse is to make them have to cope with beginners too much, they just lose patience.
- Keep hay in front of your horses all the time, it keeps them busy and a full tummy is a happier horse, as it’s closer to their true nature.
- Make sure your lessons have a variety of things like trotting poles, games played with cones, maybe some ball work and definitely trail rides with the better riders. Horses that work in a ring all the time not only become sour, they become lame, as they need to get off the circles and tight turns that are so hard on their joints and do some distance and straight lines to maintain a healthy body.
- Get massage for your school horses – either learn to do it yourself, buy a horse massager or hire someone once a month or so to keep them in shape and stop them getting sore. The average school horse is worth their weight in gold, they will earn you way more money than a show horse unless you are Ian Miller jumping Big Ben so invest in the animal that pays your bills! This horse is my 27 year old Thoroughbred Albert babysitting a beginner rider in a lesson. He stayed sound and was ridable until his heart gave out at the age of almost 30.
- Use neck straps on the horses made of old stirrup leathers so the kids don’t pull on the horse’s mouth as they learn to trot and it helps them balance and keep their hands still. Nothing drives a horse crazier than a person with bouncing hands! They end up with no mouth and start to yank the reins out of the rider’s hands to escape the punishment of the bit.
- Make sure your students groom, pick the feet and reblanket their horses after a ride, no leaving sweaty horses in a stall to get damp and chilled. Good horsemanship should be taught as well as riding, and in the summer they need to make sure the horses are hosed down and have plenty of water to drink. Teach your students to care for the needs of the horse, not just the riding! Until next time- Ask Ann!
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