Sometimes riding just isn’t an option. Perhaps you or the horse are recovering from surgery or an injury. Maybe you are working to overcome anxiety or confidence issues after a fall. Perhaps the horse is too young or too old to carry a rider.
Regardless of the reasons why there are luckily so many things to do with and for your horse when you can’t ride. I hope this can inspire you and give you some new ideas of things to do out of the saddle.
The tips have been divided into the following sections so you can easily browse the ones that interest you.
- Tidying & Organizing
- Learning & Development
- Just for Fun
When riding is off-limits it frees up your time to do other types of training that you perhaps never found the time for or maybe haven’t even thought of. I am certainly guilty of focusing so much on riding and developing skills in the arena that I can forget that horses are curious and playful beings and there are many other activities we can do with them and other areas to develop in. Here are just a few to get you started.
1. Lunge Your Horse
Lunging is a great way to allow your horse to expend some of his energy without having to ride him. A 15-20-minute session is usually a good duration, splitting the time between the two directions. Lunging helps the horse to loosen up, aids the development of balance and rhythm and also makes it easier for you to tell if the horse is lame or has any issues with his gaits or mobility in general. If you are new to lunging, we have included a helpful step by step video tutorial below.
2. Teach Your Horse to Stay
I don’t know about your horse, but mine can be pretty distracted and restless and does not always stand still when I want her to. If you’re quietly nodding your head and rolling your eyes right now, how about spending some time in the field with your horse and train her to stand still without any aids (besides treats of course)? Do that every day for a while and she should start getting the picture.
How amazing wouldn’t it be if, when you do get back in the saddle, you have a horse that stands still as you get onto the mounting block or when you open the paddock gate? Time well spent if you ask me!
3. Teach Your Horse to Lower His Head
There are many ways of teaching horses manners, but lowering the head is one of my favorites because it makes interacting with them so much easier, in particular, larger horses. A raised head can often be a sign of nervousness or tension where the horse is trying to avoid something scary or uncomfortable – a little bit like when humans have raised shoulders. A lowered head indicates calm and trust.
You can teach your horse to lower his head by gently placing your hand at the top of his head and reward him every time he lowers it, even just slightly. Below is an excellent video from CRK training (I just love their content!) teaching a horse to lower her head using clicker training technique.
4. Experiment with Clicker Training
Speaking of clicker training. If you have never heard of it before, it is a technique used to train animals (especially dogs) to learn certain behaviors, and this method is also commonly used on horses. The principle is using a cue for the desired behavior and click with the clicker each time the horse does as he is asked. Then immediately follow up with positive reinforcement, usually a treat.
Over time, the horse learns to associate the cue to the click and the click with something positive, encouraging him to perform the requested action more easily.
5. Intentionally Train to Get Rid of a Specific Bad Habit
Does your horse have a bad habit that drives you mad, but that you have ended up just learning to live with or found ways to circumvent? Perhaps it’s jerking his head away to make it difficult for you to put on the bridle (if so, did you read tip #3?!), maybe it’s walking ahead of you when he is on the lead rope, perhaps its refusing to get into the horse trailer whenever you are going somewhere.
Now is your chance to change that.
Depending on how much time you will have out of the saddle, pick one or two things you’d like to tackle and make a plan for how to do it. Do a bit of online research, watch a few Youtube videos or ask some equestrian friends for advice Try to make it a fun exercise and use lots of positive reinforcement (read: treats) as soon as just a hint of progress is made.
6. Accustom Your Horse to Something Spooky
Is there something that, without fail, will spook your horse regardless of how many times he has seen it, heard it or smelled it in the past? For my horse it’s a specific roadblock we pass every time we go hacking out. And umbrellas. She HATES umbrellas.
Depending on the object, either bring it to your horse, or the horse to it. For instance, place an umbrella in the paddock and leave it there. Don’t force anything but allow the horse to spend time around it. As he gets used to it, you can pick it up and carry it as you would in the rain just walking around the paddock. The next step could be opening and closing the umbrella while walking at a distance and then progressively closer and closer. It is helpful to be two during this training so that while one person is holding the spooky object, the other can be closer to the horse and give positive reinforcements for his ‘acts of bravery’
7. Prepare Your Horse for Health Checkups
Just like for children, going to the doctor or the dentist can be a little scary for a horse. As these encounters are (hopefully!) relatively infrequent and sometimes connected to pain or illness, it’s no wonder they find it a bit uncomfortable.
Taking the time to accustom your horse to the typical examinations a vet, dentist or farrier would perform, will definitely make these visits a more positive experience for all parties, and maybe even save you a few pennies if it makes things go faster.
Train your horse to allow you to do things like opening his mouth and feeding him through a syringe, touching his teeth, taking his temperature and lifting his feet on command.
8. Find Ways for Your Horse to Stay Active both Physically and Mentally
If your horse will not get much exercise for a while, try to find other ways that we can stay active. Leave a few small jumps or cavaletti in the field or paddock where he spends his day. Get a toy for him to play with or find ways to slow down his eating so the feed lasts longer.
The relationship you have with your horse affects all the interaction you have with him. From fetching him in the paddock to riding in the arena. The level of mutual trust, respect and friendship will to a large degree determine how much you enjoy spending time together. This is why bonding activities are so important and really should be an integral part of the regular interaction we have with our horses. Here are just a few ways you can work on the relationship with your horse right now.
9. Give Your Horse a Massage
Massaging your horse is an excellent way to bond with him and to relieve him of stress and tension. Just like for humans there are different types of massage and doing this requires some knowledge of the horse anatomy. This is something I haven’t ever found the time to get into but think would be great for my horse, so I will be looking more into it in the coming months. We found this free online e-book during our research that could be helpful if you would like to immerse yourself in the topic.
10. Walk or Jog with Your Horse
Need to get in some exercise? Why not take your horse along? Stick to quiet paths and roads and have a different outing together. Walking next to a horse is quite a different experience than sitting on him and you’ll be able to communicate differently with each other.
11. Spend Time with Your Horse in the Field or Paddock with No Agenda
Friends hang out together, so if you want to bond with your horse – go hang out with him on his turf without asking anything in return. Being together in a space where he is relaxed and happy will help him associate you with those positive feelings.
Bring a book, practice some meditation or just relax in the meadow with the sun on your face. In winter, build a snowman or make snow angels.
12. Find a Toy or Game Your Horse Likes
Perhaps your horse has a little Maradona in his belly? Try gently kicking a ball around the paddock and see if he wants to play. Teach him to come to you, play fetch by picking an object off the ground and giving it to you or teach him to give you a hug (insert the appropriate audience ‘aaaawwww’ here).
13. Teach Your Horse a Trick
Here are a few tricks, you can try to teach a horse:
- Picking up an object from the ground
- Opening a gate (NOT the paddock or stall gate!)
- Lifting his leg and placing it on an object
- for the more motivated or advanced, you can apparently even teach your horse to hokey-pokey..
14. Bathe Your Horse
Has it been a while since the last scrub down, is it balming hot or perhaps you just know your horse loves a good bath? All of these are good reasons to give him one.
15. Let Your Horse Go for a Swim
Does your horse like water? If the weather is warm and you live in a place with access to water, take a stroll together and bring your lunge line. Let him wade and swim to his heart’s content. He’ll have a ball and you will have plenty of entertainment – win-win!
16. Groom Your Horse
Grooming is something that has several benefits for the horse and that most enjoy. In our article how to grom a horse, we talk more about exactly why grooming is good for horses and give you a step-by-step guide to horse grooming.
Why not make it extra special and use some massage gloves? That way you can use both hands and better stimulate the blood circulation as well as those itchy spots.
17. Practice Braiding the Mane and Tail
Avoid all the pre-show stress of mane braiding by practicing. After competing quite a lot over the past couple of years, I finally feel like I now have got my technique down, but if you are still a bit unsure, the below tutorial shows you one way to braid the mane only using rubber bands.
18. Find Your Horse’s Itchy Spot
If you haven’t located it yet, try to find the itchy spot on your horse. Or maybe he has several? Lip growing long and eyes glazing over will be your tell-tell signs you have succeeded in your search!
19. Test Horse Treat Recipes and Discover Your Horse’s Favorite
Get busy in the kitchen and experiment with different kinds of treats. Your horse will definitely love you for it and probably his buddies too! If you don’t know what ingredients to use, you can check out our article on what horses can and can’t eat OR check out our Pinterest board full of horse treat recipes and inspiration.
Tidying and Organization
Remember those chores you put off because you just couldn’t find the time to get to them? Now’s the time! Few of us love tidying, cleaning, and organizing but wow, it does make life so much easier and takes a weight off our shoulders once it’s done, doesn’t it? Let’s all channel our inner Marie Kondo and get to work. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the fairest tack room of them all?
20. Clean Your Tack and Equipment
No, it isn’t fun, but now you have some time. Make this chore into something more enjoyable by listening to a podcast or audiobook, turn on some music or invite others at the barn for a social tack cleaning event. Back in the day, when I competed on my leased horse, a bunch of us would meet at the barn the night before a show to clean all our equipment and boost each other’s morale. It was a great opportunity to get to know the other girls better and made the chore into an (almost) pleasurable event.
21. Take the Time to Repair Things That Need Fixing
Remember that hole in your right riding glove that always gets caught when you tighten the girth? Or the rim on the indoor rug that is starting to come loose? How about that feeding bucket where the handle keeps slipping out the latch on one side causing you to spill feed, forcing you to carry it with both hands and needing to take an extra turn to the feed room? Or am I alone here? Anyhow, you catch my drift. Take this opportunity to fix (or have fixed) the things that just haven’t been prioritized until now.
22. Set Your Intentions
If your break from riding will last for a longer period of time, set goals for what you want to achieve by the time you get back in the saddle and make a plan for how to get there. Setting intentions and tracking your progress is incredibly powerful for maintaining motivation and keeping you focused.
The Passion Planner is on my wish list once I finish my current one. I love how it is structured yet still customizable and leaves space for lots of creativity and colors.
Learning and Development
How about taking this little time out to learn something new? Gain a new perspective? We often get so caught up in our lives and routine that we forget the endless learning opportunities that exist out there. If you are curious about something – why not seize this opportunity to get started!
23. Read Books for Self-Development
Do you cringe a bit at the term self-development? I used to as well, but not so much anymore. Getting ideas and inspiration for ways to improve my life and learning how it has changed others, has opened my mind to new possibilities and opportunities for growth. It has helped me tune down the negative self-talk that so many of us are guilty of and tap into the belief that I deserve happiness and success, just like everyone else.
Self-development doesn’t have to be directly related to your riding, because anything that helps you improve physically or mentally will ultimately improve your mindset and energy and indirectly your riding (or so I believe anyway).
If, for instance, you decide to take up daily meditation and find it calms you and makes you more patient, well guess what, you are probably going to be calmer and more patient as a rider and with your horse, which may very well improve your progress as well as the relationship with him.
24. Take a Course
Is there a particular skill you would like to learn in order to reach a specific goal, or maybe just for fun? Why not take a course? In this day and age, the online space is flooded with free or inexpensive courses that can make you a master knitter, powerlifter, or Instagram hotshot in 5 days or less…
Yes, the sales pitches are sometimes pretty ridiculous, but if all you have to do is give up one of your email addresses (and later unsubscribe if you don’t like what they have to offer), what do you really have to lose? Youtube is also an amazing source of information and may very well be enough of a learning platform depending on the goal you have in mind.
Personally, I have decided this year is the year I will do a handstand! Stay tuned..
25. Become Familiar with Your Horse’s Vital Signs
Over a 2-week period, check the pulse and temperature of your horse, so you can more easily recognize when he is sick, or something is wrong. This will be very useful information for the veterinarian as well to gauge his condition. Make sure you do it at the same time of day (preferably in the morning) as these indicators will vary with feeding, activity and temperature changes.
26. Volunteer Your Time
How about using some of the time you would otherwise spend in the arena to help out with local shows or competitions, at therapeutic riding facilities, horse shelters or other equestrian communities that need a helping hand. Not only are you contributing to the equine community, but you will have the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things and feel good about the effort you put in for others.
Just for Fun
Sometimes, it good to forget all about competitions and training and just have some fun with horses. Here are a few ways we thought of, but we’d love to know how you have fun with your horse.
27. Have a Photoshoot with Your Horse
Have you seen those dreamy Pinterest images of horses and their owners out in nature, in perfect lighting, taken at the perfect moment where she looks relaxed and happy and the horse is (for once) keeping his ears pointing forward? Why not get one of those for yourself?
Recruit a local photographer. Perhaps you have a friend who is an amateur photographer or maybe you want to go all out and hire someone professional. In either case, those images can make such a lovely memory and you can FINALLY get a photo you are proud of developed, framed and hung in your home for everyone to admire.
Helpful tip: recruit a little helper for the shoot that can hold gear, help make sure your hair is looking great and gently rustle the bag of treats behind the camera to get the full attention of your horse for that one-in-a-million shot!
28. Make an Equine Calendar
If you are not keen on the idea of your own photoshoot, put on your photographer hat and snap some good shots or your horse to create a calendar for the next year. Or you could even take snaps of the barn and its horses and offer the calendar for purchase to its regular clients and horse owners. There are plenty of sites online where you can upload your photos and order custom calendars. Perhaps include a citation for each month or highlight an achievement by someone at the barn. Use your imagination and make it something unique.
If you need some inspiration for your shoot, check out our Horse Photography Board on Pinterest!
29. Make a Fun GIF of Your Horse
Capture something funny your horse does on camera and make a gif out of it. If you don’t know how to create one, below is a great tutorial, however, an easier (yet less refined) way is to simply record a video within Whatsapp and select GIF once you’re done. I have used it a few times and it always makes me laugh when others send funny gifs to me.
Now share with equine friends and on social media for a good laugh!
30. Recruit Newbies
Do you have a friend or family member who has always been intrigued by horses, but never really tried riding? How about introducing him or her to the equestrian world? Perhaps it’s just showing them around the barn, bringing them along to the night feeding or introducing them to a horse, but it could also be giving them their first riding experience.
We hope this has inspired you to look at your time when you can’t ride as an opportunity to train and bond with your horse, organize your barn life and learn new things! Hopefully, you get back in the saddle soon, but try to make sure the journey back is fun and stimulating both for you and your horse!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute diagnosis, prognosis, treatment or any type of medical advice for humans or horses. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.