Leave It at the Door

It is an exciting (and scary) time. Some therapeutic riding centers are re-opening while others continue to find ways to offer services virtually and stay connected online. My current center is fortunate to be able to get back to lessons, but we are back with new restrictions and safety regulations to keep our clients, volunteers, and staff healthy. It has been difficult to stay motivated and make plans with the world on edge.

However, there have been a few silver linings! One is the health and happiness of our horses. Our horses have gotten regular exercise with balanced, experienced riders. They have less people touching them and their ground manners have vastly improved. Our staff has discussed how to keep our horses happy as the activity at the barn picks up.

Most horses are single owner horses. They are used to being touched by a handful of people each week, not tens of people. Therapeutic riding horses, however, need to be able to handle a lot of activity. They become accustomed to many people touching them each day. This can be stressful for any horse and we have certainly seen the stress level of our horses lighten with fewer people in and out of their space. We want to do our best to keep that stress level low as we return to lessons.

We are teaching volunteers new steps to go through when getting their horse ready, starting with entering the stall. Horses are extremely in tune with their environment. They pick up on the energy around them so it is important to emit a calm, relaxed energy. We need to do that by first calming ourselves.

Before even entering the barn, stop and take three deep breaths. Deep breathing has been proven to slow the heart rate and relax the mind. Focus on the belly and follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. This will get you ready to approach the horses. If necessary, take a few more breaths before entering the stall.

When you reach the stall, greet the horse. Tell the horse the plan for the day – who the rider is, what you are going to do, and what the horse needs to do that day. For example, “hey Thunder, today you have Susie. Susie needs you to really listen to her today because she wants to ride independently. Okay, let’s get you ready. Are you ready to work?”

Make sure the horse is looking at you or at least aware of your presence before entering. Staying relaxed and including the horse in the lesson plan sets the horse up for success. After several weeks or months away from lessons, we need to remember that our horses do not know what changed. They don’t know why there are fewer people around or why they haven’t had many riders. By introducing the lesson plan, it makes the horse a partner in the lesson.

Was this helpful? If you are getting back to lessons, how are you feeling? If you are not yet in lessons, how are you staying connected to clients? Comment below! I would love to hear from you.

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