How many times have I talked about pre-ride tests and safety? Maybe a thousand times... If you've been a part of my learning programs for a while now you've heard me talk about setting things up for success early, but I haven't talked a ton about how to enhance and preserve that success at the end. Hence this article.
After doing your exercise programs that either enhance the sensitivity of your horse, or if you've simply taken a ride from point A to point B it's time to cool off. This is usually as easy as walking around to ensure the joints stay fluid. You don't want a warm horse to get stiff. It's the same for people. The worst thing for your body is to go from a sprint to a lying down position. You want to decelerate, allowing your body the time to breathe and distribute blood flow without seizing up. So remember, after trotting or cantering exercises, walk about the arena or pasture.
Don't just get off and unsaddle when your horse is sweaty. Cooldown first. If you want or need to get off, it's okay, just don't rest right away. Walk about for a little while until the breathing is stable and the mind is calm.
There's another important element to this strategy that most people don't know about. Related to trail riding, if you simply ride at home and get off, you create a mental, "barn sour" issue with your horse. By walking around the barn area for just sixty seconds or so, you ensure your horse doesn't shut off and think you're done. Some horses will walk directly to the unsaddling station and say, "It's time for you to get off." You don't want this. You want a horse that's willing to go back out if you need or a least stay responsive to you as a partner until the moment you part ways in the paddock. A minute or two of walking and yielding to your legs and hands near the trailer or barn will ensure you have a true partner for life.
When it's time to get off, don't just get off. Check in with your horse. Reach to acknowledge the horse like you see me do in the picture below.
Getting off too quickly can cause an unintended brace in your horse. People get hurt often while dismounting and it's because they fail to tell the horse what they are about to do. Rub your legs on the sides of the horse. Bump and thump your hand a bit. Do a few simple things that could save your life on the way down, in case you accidentally bump with your knee, boot, or stirrup. Prepare properly for the dismount and notice how much happier your horse is.
Once you've dismounted, the next obvious thing is to unsaddle. Be sure to undo all the buckles and ties in the right order. In other words, don't undo the front cinch first just to find out later you left the back cinch buckled. This might cause your horse to lose his marbles. Take off the saddle smoothly and demand your horse stands quietly for the exercise. If he moves away or spooks from the saddle as it comes off, put it on again and pull it off. Repeat the on-off cycle until your horse is calm and happy about the experience.
Once you've unsaddled, you can,... at least I do, wash your horse. I like warm water, and guess what... so do horses! You can find outdoor, mobile water heaters for cheap on Walmart or Amazon. Ask your horse to stand still for the exercise. Don't allow drifting around or mental disconnection. The whole idea of post-ride priorities is to maintain the connection with your horse to the end. Don't finish your ride and forget about your horse's brain. He's supposed to stay engaged with you. That's the whole point. Too many people allow the horse to wrap up their day distracted and disconnected. Use your washing time to remind them or if you're not going to wash, then groom them, brushing off all the crusty parts. One benefit to washing, at least on a warm day, is the option to encourage rolling and lying down. If you want to teach it one day, at least your horse gets exposed to lying down with you in the area.
If you know about mastery horsemanship, you may have heard about the 50/50 rule. 50% percent of the time you spend with your horse should be training, so they make progress and learn. 50% should be bonding, so they always remember how much you care. I like to stack my bonding time into the post-ride time. I'll spend an extra thirty minutes or so grazing with my horse, hanging out, or even finding a great place to roll together and scratch those itchy spots. Where people go wrong here is they fail to stack on bonding time at the end and the next day the horse doesn't see any value in coming to meet you. Or they leave their horse to graze alone on the lawn while they clean their tack. That only makes your bond with your equipment stronger. For bonding to work you need proximity and relaxation time. It needs to be enjoyable for the horse. Once you feel your horse has not only cooled down physically but mentally too, it's time to let go and put him or her away in their paddock.
The biggest mistake by far, that I see people make in their post ride priorities list is the way they release their horse back into the paddock. Please, please, please, read this part twice. If your horse leaves you when you take the halter off, go catch them again. Do not let them leave you just because the halter is off. This is what creates the "hard to catch" horse. I always ask my horse to stay with me after the halter comes off. I leave my horse, not the other way around.
Ask your horse to bend toward you as you take the halter off, then wait a few seconds, give a treat if you like, and walk away when you feel he's willing to connect. Don't walk away when he wants to leave you. My horse will often come all the way to the gate with me after I take off the halter. One day, maybe your horse will too. That's a good sign your horse still likes you in spite of a long ride or tough training session.
Either walk around a bit at home before you get off or... get off before you get home and walk in. You don't want to create a "barn sour" horse. That means your horse is always in a hurry to back back to the trailer or back to the barn or back home, wherever home is. By getting off and walking the last hundred meters or so, you encourage your horse to wind down as he approaches home, rather than wind up.
Tell me how this article impacts the way you think about post ride priorities. If I get enough comments I'll post a video related to it. Would you like a video? Comment below. Thanks for reading.