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Training Routine Changes - How To Keep It Fresh And Maintain Motivation

As we rapidly approach winter, with the weather changing and the dark mornings and evenings looming, our routines with the horses often need to be adjusted and changed.

I love a good routine and find it necessary to ensure Dee has a balanced and varied workload to suit her and to cater to the management of her kissing spine. However, like many of you I am sure, I do sometimes get a bit stuck in a rut or fed up with the monotony of a routine becoming too samey and suddenly it isn’t fun anymore.

Earlier this year we were in exactly that place; six months into Dee's rehab, we had fallen into a pattern of doing the same things, day in, day out, and were both bored of the repetitiveness. I was over invested in the seriousness of the situation and had lost the pleasure in just riding and spending time with my horse. It is so easy to do, without even realising it; we are all creatures of habit and we often don’t realise that we have slipped into a routine of doing the same things continuously. The problem with this is that after a while it becomes dull for both you and your horse, and suddenly you realise that your sessions are less and less productive, and you don’t seem to be moving forwards – in fact, you may even be getting some resistance to what you’re asking of them.

I know, for me, that I had been so totally focussed and wrapped up in following a strict rehab plan, and so determined to get it right, that I hadn’t spotted that it was actually boring the hell out of her and that we needed a more fluid routine to move with her progress, her strengths and weaknesses, and her personality. Dee is not a horse that loves to school – she very quickly becomes sour with it – and because she is intelligent and quick to learn, she needs her brain to be kept active and interested in order to engage her and see results.

Having realised that something needed to change – and after spending some time really looking at what works well for Dee and what doesn’t – I decided to change it up and refresh things for both of us. With a busy work life and limited time at the yard, especially during the week, I knew I had to have something mapped out. A plan, a focus. If I just left it to how I felt each day and just went with the flow, we would get nothing productive done, in reality, so I wanted a routine but one that didn’t leave us school sour or dizzy from circles at the end of it.

I nipped onto Amazon and ordered a little A4 whiteboard (best purchase ever!) and then drew a Monday to Sunday table onto it. I now fill this in weekly, adjusting where needed to cover days I cannot get to the yard or weather dependent activities, and it has been a game changer. Our routine over the last 6 months has been the best, most varied and most beneficial it has ever been for us both. The whiteboard planner just takes some of the on-the-spot thinking out of the equation and allows me to just arrive – already knowing what I want to do – and get on with it, therefore maximising the time I spend with Dee.

As I mentioned earlier, for me, the key was variety and keeping Dee interested. I knew that schooling was her least favourite activity and the thing that would make her sour and go backwards in progress if I overdid it, so we now only ride in the school once a week.

The rest of the week is split into two days lunging or long reining – nearly always with a pole layout, labyrinth or raised poles to keep it interesting and ensure she has to think about what she is doing – and then three to four days of hacking.

Dee loves to hack, it is her happy place, and so by increasing the amount of hacking she does in a week, I have seen a big change in her attitude towards work and found a compromise in changing the ‘where’. Schooling doesn’t have to be done in an arena.

It has worked beautifully and we have made huge steps forward this year so far, just by making some little adjustments that better suit Dee and myself and, most importantly, it has been FUN and ENJOYABLE, not a chore!

As we prepare for winter, I intend to re-evaluate again. I plan to make changes to our routine in line with the changing weather and hours of daylight, whilst also looking at what we can do better, what isn’t working as well as it could, and whether there are any ruts we have fallen into once again. I want Dee to enjoy her time with me, not see it as hard work or negative, and I also want to look forward to and be motivated by what I am choosing to do with her.

Every horse – and every person – is different and no one rule or plan will suit them all. Listen to your horse, watch how they respond to the what, where, how and when, factor in your lifestyle and available time, assess what they need and then plan accordingly. Most importantly – and my big lesson learnt – keep it fluid, keep it flexible and keep it enjoyable. One week to the next can and should look different.

You can follow Cara's journey with Dee on her blog, Devine Intervention, or follow her @seekingdevineintervention on Facebook or Instagram.

Cara Winter - Devine Intervention
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 12-10-2020
Cara is a horse rider and equine blogger based in Surrey where she also keeps her horse, Dee. She has many years of experience around horses, however, a five year hiatus from riding saw Cara’s return to the saddle marred by crippling nerves, and it has been a slow road back to confidence. Her blog, 'Devine Intervention', documents her journey with Dee to regaining her brave pants and has proven popular with many, and especially relatable to the everyday rider, due to the honesty, humour and down to earth way in which Cara writes. In recent months that has also included a diagnosis of Kissing Spine for Dee, along with the subsequent treatment and rehab on her road to recovery.