Your scheduled lesson time is the time at which your training session starts. To maximize your training time, you and your horse should to be ready to rock and roll at that time. Leading up to your lesson, you may want to arrive to the barn 45 minutes before the start of your lesson to allow yourself ample time to properly prepare yourself and your horse for the lesson.
The process of properly grooming and tacking your horse up takes solidly a half an hour. In this time, you will potentially bring your horse in from the paddock and allow 5 minutes in their stall to have time to urinate and drink fresh water. While he is in his stall, this may be a good time to lay out your tack and equipment. The grooming process will take a solid 15 minutes as you will need to pick his hooves, give him a good currying all over his whole body, brush him with the stiff brush and then either the soft brush or rub him down with a towel, brush his mane, pick the shavings from his tail, and wipe out his eyes and nostrils with a towel. This is something that should be done calmly and methodically as it is a time to check in with your horse and establish the tone for your interaction for the day. This is also an important time to check your horse over for lumps, bumps, swellings, wounds and skin crud. Most skin and hoof infections and sores are simply a result of poor hygiene.
Putting tack on your horse may take you another 5-10 minutes, depending on how complicated your tack is and whether or not your horse wears boots, etc. Remember to take you time with polo wraps and boots as inappropriately applied boots and polos can actually damage your horse’s tendons and ligaments, as well as cause uncomfortable rubs. If you are not confident in your abilities – ask someone for assistance. Be gentle when putting on your tack, only tighten the girth one hole at a time, and be sure that it is not too tight so that your horse doesn’t become “girthy”. If your horse tries to bite you when you tighten the girth, it is usually a reaction to discomfort.
Many people need a few minutes between tacking up and getting on to use the rest room, put on their helmet, boots, spurs, etc. Please be sure that you attire is neat, well-fitted and appropriate. Appropriate attire includes breeches with tall boots or paddock boots and half-chaps, a belt, a well fitted shirt and a helmet with long hair either braided or under your helmet. Please no hooded sweatshirts, tank tops or big baggy clothing as it can be difficult to see the rider’s position.
You and your horse should head into the ring 10-15 minutes early. It takes a few minutes to tighten your girth, adjust your stirrups, do a final check of your horse’s tack to make any minor adjustments that may be needed and get on. Once you are on, please start walking your horse on a loose rein 10 minutes before the start of your lesson - this is so important for the health of your horse and your long-term success with him. Ten minutes of walking at the beginning of your ride, is needed for your horse to warm-up properly. In that ten minutes, his muscles will create heat which allows for more flexibility. His joints with have a chance to spread lubrication around, allowing them greater mobility and reducing risk of long-term damage. There will be increased blood flow to tendons and ligaments, which along with the muscles, will start to slowly stretch out increasing flexibility and thus reducing risk of strains and tears. So many soft-tissue injuries in horses are caused by some combination of improper warm-up and a lack of fitness and fatigue. These are all issues that are preventable with proper care and maintenance, including 10 minutes of loose walking at the start of your ride.
There may be lessons backed up on either side of your lesson, so when you enter the ring, please watch for what the previous lesson is doing so that you can get on your horse without getting in their way or impeding the trainer’s view. Arriving to your lesson on time and prepared allows ample time for your training session and for the person in the lesson after to also be on time. Be sure to also bring to your lesson a positive attitude and an open mind. Trainers are often excited to answer questions, but they are usually best reserved for the end of the lesson.
After your lesson, plan to take another 10-minute walk to cool your horse out properly. Muscles, tendons and ligaments need to cool down slowly to lessen stiffness and the horse’s breathing needs to return to normal. When you return to the barn, your horse should not go into his stall until he is cooled off and breathing normally so that he doesn’t drink too much and colic. It may take another half an hour or so to clean up your horse and put him away. In warmer weather he may have a shower, have his legs toweled and then grazed or walked until he is well on his way to being dry. In colder weather he needs to be allowed to dry with an Irish knit or cooler and then curried and brushed until all of his sweat marks are gone. Crunchy sweaty hair doesn’t insulate very well and makes your horse more susceptible to skin irritations and rashes. Horses can even develop blistered skin from sweat irritation so putting you horse away clean and dry is absolutely as important as bringing him out for his ride that way. No matter whether your horse is groomed or showered, he also will need his feet picked and painted with Effol before he goes bed. Now is a great time to apply treatments to any thrush, scratches, wounds or skin crud. He will need whatever blankets are appropriate for the weather and be put in his stall or paddock with hay and water.
After your horse is away, or while you are waiting for him to dry, that would be a good time to clean you tack and give it a quick check for cracks, wear and dryness. Finally, put all of your tack away, check that any laundry, blankets, brushes etc. that you used are away, and sweep up after yourself in the aisle. For your half-hour or forty-five-minute ride, you can easily spend 45 minutes at either end preparing and caring for your horse. Taking the time to go through this process will ensure that you and your horse are safe, healthy, happy and get the most out of your training sessions.