From the Long Island Horse Directory:
I don't feel like riding today
It is cold out, too hot, I am tired, my knee hurts, I am in a bad mood, my horse is in a bad mood, I do not have very much time, I just do not feel like riding..... I am sure you have heard yourself say one or more of these things at one time when you entered the barn. Could there be a problem between you or your horse? There could be. Maybe you are not as happy with your horse as you once were? It might be time to move on to different horse. Or are you just human? From time to time we really do not want to ride. Most horse owners feel guilty. They love their horses, they love the sport, yet there are times when they just do not want to ride. So, they tack up, hop on and ride anyway. Guilt relieved. If you are in competition, you need to ride, no excuse. This is something that you signed on for and you need to keep your end of the deal.
Now, what about the rest of us? Can you take time off from riding? Yes, of course you can. That doesn't mean you can't spend quality time with your horse. I think your horse would rather you not be on his back if you were having an off day.
Last month I spoke about bonding with your horse. Well, this is the time to do that. Spend time on building that mutual respect. Grooming, and grazing are nice, but ground working your horse would be nicer. Horses get bored also. Learning how to play games with your horse is priceless. Teach your horse something new. The Internet, bookstores, equine magazines and trainers can give you ideas on what you can do with your horse on down time. I bet if you looked through your horse books on the shelf, you might find something.
Many riders teach their horses to bow. This is quite a fairly easy thing to teach, as long as you make sure you do not reward the horse unless you ask him to bow. Otherwise, you are only teaching your horse to beg. Begging, leads to a pain in the neck horse. That is not our goal. Try teaching your horse to walk through a maze. (Linda Tellington is well know for these types of games). Use the ground poles to set up a maze. Walk your horse through it section by section. Stop on each turn of the maze. His feet can not touch or go over the poles. You start by leading him. Guide him through each turn. Repeat the maze a few times still leading him. Then, try having him go through with a very long lead. Make sure you reward him at each turn. Praise, praise, praise. When I first taught my horse the maze, I finished playing with him and left him loose in the indoor to relax. I came back a few minutes later to find him going through it himself! The same thing happened when I first introduced cross rails to him. No one can ever tell me horses don't want to play games.
I also believe in feeding a horse treats. Only after they have completed something that was asked of them. If your horse is one that nips with treats, find another way to reward. Just standing and getting a good rub does wonders. Use your voice. My horses have large vocabularies.
Teach your horse to move over using your fingers. and voice. We all do this without thinking about it while grooming. This time make a game of it. Take your horse in a different area. Place your fingers where your legs would go while mounted. Press slightly. The second your horse moves, remove your fingers. Instantly reward him, timing is key. Do you have a tall horse? Hard to reach his head to bridle? Teach him to lower his head on command. There are many ways to do this. One way is to place your arm over his neck and hold it there. As soon as you feel even the slightest lowering, release. Each time you do this you will find his head getting lower and lower. If you do this consistently, within a short time you will only have to place your hand on his neck and his head will lower.
One of my students has a wonderful older horse. One of those "one of kind" horses. He is a real gentleman, on him and off of him. We decide to start playing some games with him. We could see instantly that this was something that put the spark back into him.
So, you need to allow yourself not to feel guilty on the days you decide not to ride. Take time out and build your relationship with your horse. He might just decide your not such a bad person to be around. What are you waiting for?