Bo has been in very inconsistent work over this past year but we are now at a point where I have more time to dedicate to him and so I have decided to bring him back into a decent level of work.
However, this is not as simple as just throwing the saddle on and trotting off. There is a lot to think about to get to where you want to be.
For Bo and I, I would like us to be at a reasonable fitness, to be working at prelim level dressage (as a minimum) and to gain some control over our jumping as Bo likes to play the speed demon at all times.
To get there, I like to have a plan in place to loosely follow. I say loosely because as I sit writing this I can hear the gale force winds and pouring rain outside which has messed up my schooling plans for today- welcome to Scotland, where you can count on the rain to ruin your day!
Anyway, these are the 3 phases I like to incorporate to get Bo back into work. They would span over 6-8 weeks. I don’t do it as stages, rather I like to intertwine these within reason and with respect to Bo’s abilities and strengths. Obviously, you can work through these as three separate stages but it largely depends on your horse, their ability, the fitness level you are starting at. This will be different for all horses depending on your reasoning, I would always say do what is right for your horse. If your horse is coming back from an injury or you are starting a young horse you would most likely go at a much slower pace than one who has just become a bit of a potato (see Bo’s picture above).
Phase 1: Lunge/ Groundwork
I like to use lunging and groundwork as a way to increase Bo’s fitness levels as it eliminates the rider so gives them a break from carrying weight while trying to get fit. If you were at the gym for example, you wouldn’t use weights all the time for all exercises, you would chop and change and that’s my reasoning for doing this.
On the lunge I like to give Bo a big circle as he is not fit and I don’t tend to lunge for long. A good riding instructor once told me that lunging for 10 minutes is the equivalent of riding for 30. I’m not sure how true that is, but the point is, working consistently on a circle is hard work for a horse so I am just conscious not to overdo it.
I tend to get Bo working through walk and trot mostly, I don’t do much canter on the lunge in the beginning, I wait until we are a bit fitter to try that. I will also set out poles and raised poles to keep it interesting and to help with engaging core muscles and adding a little extra workout. Again, I would only do this for a short time.
In respect to groundwork, I usually do this as a way of relationship building more so than fitness work however you could use it for both. Loose schooling over poles and really getting the horse to listen will help a lot when it comes to riding, and it’s a bit of fun!
Phase 2: Basic Riding
Riding wise when it comes to getting Bo back into work, I like to switch it up. I will mostly do quite a bit of hacking, or trail riding depending where you’re from, with a little bit of schooling. My hacks will mostly be in walk for a decent distance and I will gradually build up the paces and increase the difficulty levels, for example including more hills or steps when he is ready.
As for the school, while we are still trying to get fit I like to work on small things such as on softness in transitions, accuracy, shapes and bending. I don’t like to do too much and I start off working in walk and trot for a good few weeks before I introduce canter work.
Phase 3: Define
When I feel our fitness level is at a good level and Bo is handling the work well, that’s when I would introduce some canter work which leads onto things like ridden pole work, jumping and specific dressage movements. So really, you start to work on the things you need to improve to reach your goals, whatever they may be. I’d like to do a few dressage competitions (online ones) so I would start working through the test movements, I’d also like to get a little more control in jumping so I would start working on improving that too.
What do you do to get your horse back into work?