These days, with the change to daylight savings time, I feel as if I’m being held hostage by the dark. Out of necessity I’ve developed a routine of rushing home from work, quickly changing into breeches and boots, and heading for the farm. Even so, my rides are often limited to thirty minutes in length before it’s too dark to see. Without the luxury of a lighted, indoor arena, here’s how I’ve adapted:
Accessibility of riding clothes, tack, and equipment is key.
I make certain that my riding clothes are always ready to pick up and go at a moment’s notice. The same goes for my tack and other equipment. I save deep cleaning for days when I have more available time. Instead, I give my tack a quick going over and check for any necessary repairs post-ride when I have the benefit of light. I also keep it centrally located and ready to use whenever I need it.
Shorten grooming times.
I tend to save longer grooming sessions for those days when I have more daylight to burn such as weekends and holidays from work. Instead, I concentrate my efforts to those areas where tack or equipment will come in contact with my horse such the saddle and bridle. These areas receive a more thorough grooming than others where I will do a quick brush over. That said, before starting any ride, I always complete a thorough examination of my horse’s body to look for signs of injury or illness.
After rides, I give a very methodical grooming to those areas where she has worked up a sweat using a brush to separate matted hair to allow for a speedier cool down. I also make certain to budget in time to look for any injuries that may have occurred during the ride from inadvertent missteps or stumbles. Sometimes pre and post-ride routines can take as long as the ride itself so it’s important to have an established schedule.
Have a definite lesson plan.
I go into my rides knowing exactly what I want to accomplish for that session having made notes from previous rides. While this is always a good idea, it becomes even more important when you have limited time. If you have multiple goals you wish to accomplish, think about ranking them in order of importance and splitting them up into two or more sessions.
Just as you would when you have more time to ride, end on a positive note. If you discover an area that needs more work, leave it until the next ride and find an area of strength on which to end your ride. My riding instructor has long advised me to live by the adage that it is better to have a good short ride than a long bad one. Finally, since my lesson plans often involve the use of ground poles, cones, jumps, and sometimes cavaletti I will set each up such that it can be used several different ways or to accomplish different purposes. In this manner I save any necessary re-arranging for days when I have more time.
Warm up and cool down.
My horse lives outside twenty four/seven such that when I come to ride I’m not pulling her out of a stall. Because of this she’s been moving around, at least somewhat, during the day before my ride. If your horse is coming directly out of a stall you will have to adjust your schedule to allow for a longer warm up period.
Just as I do with my lesson plan, I know my horse’s weak spots. I know, for example, her stiffer side and areas where she is likely to need more stretching. I have developed a very specific set of warm up exercises for these sessions that incorporate stretching with short periods of walking, trotting, and cantering. When thinking about the cool down period, it is important to consider whether or not your horse has been clipped for the winter. Because mine hasn’t, I try not to have a session with her that is so strenuous that a lengthy cool down with limited day light will be involved.
Shortened daylight hours don’t have to mean an end to weekday riding. By discerning which chores can be completed with the help of barn lights or a flash light and those that can’t and incorporating the tips above I’ve so far successfully managed to maintain some semblance of fitness and training for both myself and my horse until the blessed return of spring.