The Power of Routines


My home arena.

Routines fill my days as a classroom teacher. Depending upon the time of day it is I know exactly what I’ll be doing. In the mornings, for example, I’ll be planning where I tweak lesson plans I completed at the start of week, grade assignments, or perhaps make copies. My classroom environment is ruled by routines. I take the attendance first, perhaps teach a new skill, then assign a project.

My students thrive on these routines. They know to come in, be seated, to get prepared to learn. Even though the lessons taught change often I know the beginning and ending of each class period and when it’s time for lunch or for the regular school day to be over.

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Routines rule my personal life as well. I’m up early each morning for a workout followed by breakfast then getting dressed and out the door for school. My evenings usually consist of a short ride followed by farm chores and projects. After dinner I work on anything I may have brought home from school.

Routines can be great for us horse owners too. I have routines for feeding, grooming, and tacking up. My horse also thrives on these routines. She knows, with little variation, when she can expect to fed. She also knows what to expect as we prepare for and later end a ride.

My routines leave little to chance. In my pre-ride grooming routine I start at her head and work my way back and down then around her body I insure that my tack will not rub any unclean part of her or that no stone remains lodged in her hoof potentially resulting in a bruise during our ride. My tacking up routine insures that each strap is properly buckled and that the girth is correctly tightened to increase the chances that I do not have an equipment malfunction or worse, an accident, during our ride.

There is a point however when routines can become a little stale and actually inhibit our progress. During my ride this afternoon I noticed that, despite my best efforts, I had become a little to firmly entrenched in my comfort zone. It was with this thought in mind that I began to think about how I might change my riding routines so that I do not get stuck in one place and both of us do not become bored with our rides. Below are some tips that I implemented today, have implemented in the past, or plan to implement during my next ride:

Vary the direction in which you start your ride. If you are riding in an arena and always start your ride turning to the right instead begin by going to the left. If you have established warm up and cool down routines another good place to start might be varying the order in which you make your requests.

Change the location in which you ask your horse to perform certain tasks. If you always ask your horse to walk, trot, canter, change leads, halt, and back in the same order and location each time your horse may come to anticipate your cues. Instead, vary the order and consider not only changing where you ask for the task but also the level of difficulty. A good example would be asking for a canter depart on a straightaway rather than on a turn. If you normally work your horse mainly on the rail, consider throwing in some leg yeilds to the quarter line, serpentine from one end of your arena to the other and back, or come up with your own pattern of making circles around jumps or other obstacles.

Move around the elements in your lesson plan. Whether your horse is schooling for a trail class or over a course of jumps, think about making a new routine of regularly moving things around.

Move out of or into your arena. This tip is fraught with possibilities. If you don’t normally take your horse out on the trail consider doing so. Of do just the opposite, if you normally ride on the trail consider some arena work. Your horse can benefit from both.

In addition, do you find that you are always riding the same trails, or traveling to the same locations? Investigate new areas to ride. Ask a friend to join you. Think about asking permission to ride in a facility’s arena.  Even if traveling isn’t an option you can still change things up as you ride on your own property. Take small steps in the beginning by asking your horse to perform tasks on the trail that you might normally reserve for arena work.

“Think Outside the Box.” If your routine has become really stale, think about adding a new discipline to your resume. I’m a dedicated hunter rider but sometimes I like to throw in a little western or even sidesaddle riding. Even though I am an English rider, I live on a cattle farm so we’ve also always ridden fences, checked the cows, and helped bring in the herd for working or aided when they’ve breached the fence line all with an English saddle. It’s been super for breaking us out of our routine.

If your horse is of the right temperament, you might even consider training him or her for a parade. I’ve found that skills from one discipline can carry over and even improve others even if you aren’t seriously considering establishing another skill set. New skills also add to your horse’s value.

By implementing just a few of these tips my horse was fresher during today’s ride and I’m certain that with a little more effort on my part she will continue to be in the future.




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