If you do a lot of concentrated training with your horse, there is always a danger of burnout, particularly with younger horses. Even if you are careful not to drill your horse on the same thing over and over, many horses will still experience burnout at some point if all they do is train in an arena every ride.
In today’s market where so many young horses are churned out of training programs by the dozen and treated as little more than products on an assembly line, too many performance horses burnout before they’re even 10 years old. So, here are a few strategies for preventing burnout in your horse, be he a performance horse or a weekend warrior.
Prevent Burnout by Switching Up the Venue
I hear too many trainers balk at the idea of taking their expensive performance horses out on a trail where conditions might be less than ideal and they might get hurt. But horses weren’t made to lope around an arena all day. They naturally prefer rugged terrain. So many behavior problems come from boredom. How would you like it if you could only exercise in your backyard and were limited to doing the same exercise over and over? You’d probably experience burnout pretty quickly too.
Trail riding gets your horse used to different environments and a variety of obstacles. This is impossible to replicate in a controlled setting. If you have trails within riding distance of your farm, that’s great! Many people will have to trailer a short distance to find nice trails though. If you do not have access to trails, you can always ride on field lanes or long driveways, even in unused pastures.
Set Up an Obstacle Course
Obstacle courses are always fun and if you are an avid competitor you can even turn it into a new competition opportunity. There are Trail, Ranch Trail, and Cowboy Trail Challenge opportunities that are becoming increasing popular among competitors. These allow them to prevent burnout in their competition horses while racking up points toward various titles.
Obstacles like bridges, gates, balloons, fans, log drags, and mailboxes are just a few of the obstacles that grace many trail challenge arenas. Let your imagination go wild and challenge your horse–and yourself.
Spend Time Together Without Riding
Sometimes it’s nice to just have some quality time together without the pressure of riding. Bring you horse into the barn and just spend some time pampering him. Give him a nice long grooming session. Give him a bath, brush out his mane and tail, find some fun braiding techniques on Pinterest and try them out. If it’s the holidays dress him up in a fun holiday outfit. Take some selfies so you can publicly humiliate him all over the internet. If it’s not the holidays dress him up anyway because who doesn’t love publicly humiliating their pony on the internet? After all, that’s why they invented social media, right? Take him for a walk around the farm. Let him hand graze. Just spend some quiet time together.
Teach Your Horse Tricks
If your horse is teetering on the brink of burnout, it’s time to teach your horse something fun. The Spanish Walk is a fun one. It is a dressage move that over exaggerates the walk. A fun twist is doing it on the ground in time with your horse so it becomes like dance together. Teach your horse to side pass towards you and away from you and you can put together a little dance routine to impress friends and family.
Try a New Discipline to Avoid Burnout
Are you a barrel racer? Try popping over a few jumps. Are you a dressage rider? Try letting loose and running barrel pattern. You might find that all that dressage training gives you an edge over some barrel horses. Any western pleasure riders in the audience? Try a cowboy trail challenge! No matter what discipline you ride, find something that is the opposite of what you normally do. Your horse will thank you for the break from routine. When you return to your primary discipline you will often find that your horse is refreshed and ready to get back to work rather than teetering on the brink of burnout.
These are just a few ideas for preventing burnout in your horse. What strategies do you use for preventing burnout in your performance horse?