Just about every horse owner dreams of long rides and countless hours of galloping through beautiful pastures. But once reality sets in, you have probably realized that riding everyday is not always possible or practical. We all get busy with life, work and family.
But that brings up a good question. Should you even ride your horse everyday? As a loving horse owner, you want your horse to be happy and healthy. So, is it bad to ride a horse everyday or worse to never ride them at all?
In general, a horse can be ridden every day as long as he is not being overworked to exhaustion. It’s even okay to go long stretches without riding assuming you have other forms of exercise and play available for your horse. The amount of riding a healthy horse needs depends greatly on the riding discipline you enjoy with your horse.
Fitness, health and happiness for every horse is different and our job as riders is to provide what they need. A properly conditioned horse will better help you achieve your riding goals so read on to see exactly how often you should be riding your horse.
Can you keep a horse without riding it
There isn’t a rule that says all horses must be ridden. In fact, some horses shouldn’t be ridden for various reasons.
One major reason is age. Older horses develop health issues just like their human companions. Joints go bad, hooves develop sensitivities and muscles get sore as your horse ages. Your weight on their back could cause serious discomfort which means you really shouldn’t ride them. In general, horses older than 20 years should not be ridden (of course there are always exceptions).
In addition, rescue horses that are pulled from abusive owners often refuse to let anyone saddle them up. I know several people that own rescue horses. They are often left as pasture pets and live out their lives happily without ever being ridden.
There is also the situation where you are no longer physically able to ride your horse. Something like a disability can keep you off your horse. That does not mean you need to get rid of your horse. He can go without being ridden or you can have a friend ride him occasionally to keep him exercised.
Finally, draft horses meant to pull farm equipment or carriages don’t need to be ridden. Although, they are often trained to be ridden as well but it’s not a requirement.
In each of the above scenarios, riding is not a requirement for ownership of a horse. Horses live happy lives without ever being ridden by people. Bear in mind though, they still need exercise, companions or play to prevent boredom and to remain healthy.
How long can you go without riding your horse
When you’ve spent years training and working a horse, you may not want to go too long without riding them.
Some horses loose their tolerance of having a rider on their back while others are more “bomb proof”. A horse that regresses ends up resisting a rider’s control when they go months between rides. So, it ends up feeling like you have to start all over every time.
Many horses, on the other hand, retain their tolerance and let you hop on anytime. Even if it has been months or years between rides.
As a rule of thumb, just about any horse can go several weeks between rides without loosing training or rider tolerance.
Ultimately, it is up to you to understand your horse’s behavior and tendencies when deciding if you can go without riding them for a long time.
Suggested riding frequency for all situations
The frequency of your riding depends on the particular equestrian discipline you do with your horse. Competitive riding demands regular training and almost daily riding to keep your horse in tip top shape. While casual riding entails, you guessed it, a more casual approach.
To give you a better idea of how often you should be riding your horse, take a look at this chart for reference.
|Riding Discipline||Training Frequency||Exercise Workload|
|English Show (Dressage, Jumping, Eventing)||4-5 days per week||Alternating days of intensive and light riding. 1-2 hours each day of training|
|Western (Roping, Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Show)||4-5 days per week||Alternating days of high intensity and light riding. 1-2 hours each day of training|
|Racing (Steeplechase, Flat racing, Endurance)||6 days per week||No more than 2 hours of intense training with at least 1 day of recuperation|
|Trail Riding||2-4 days per week||Increasing trail difficulty with light groundwork on non-trail days|
|Casual||Up to 7 days per week||Up to 30 minutes of groundwork and easy rides with some trotting and cantering/loping|
Keep in mind, this is only a suggested guide. Nobody knows your horse better than you do. This is based on the opinions of experts I know and my own experience with my horses. Every horse is different so adjust accordingly.
Know your horse’s fitness
Your horse’s fitness level plays a major role in deciding how often you should be riding him. Training an out of shape pasture horse to perform strenuous activities takes time. If you initiate an intense riding schedule all at once, you could harm your horse.
An out of shape horse needs to build up to higher levels of fitness slowly. Start with 1 to 2 days of slow walking each week. Incorporate a little trotting and some groundwork as needed.
Once your horse reaches a moderate level of fitness, you can introduce 2-4 days of more intense riding during the week. Remember to give your horse rest days for muscle recovery.
Equestrian activities that require top performing horses call for much more rigorous exercise regimens. Horses at the highest level of fitness can be worked and ridden 6 days a week with proper conditioning.
If all you want is to ride your horse casually or on a trail, you still need to condition your horse. Daily 20 minute rides around the paddock can be done everyday without harming your horse. On the other hand, a 15 mile trail ride could overwork an out of shape horse. Even fit horses should only be ridden hard on a trail 2 to 3 times a week.
How should you exercise a horse if you can’t ride regularly
Just because you can’t or don’t want to ride your horse daily doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise. Luckily, there are plenty of fun ways for you to work with your horse that don’t involve riding.
All equestrians should develop good ground working skills with their horse. Even if you don’t ride them, groundwork builds trust and re-enforces good behaviors. Groundwork involves things like lunging, lead exercises and circle work. Try various groundwork exercises at least 3 days a week. 20-30 minute sessions are usually enough to exercise and engage your horse.
A variation of groundwork, liberty training is another way to spend time with your horse. It builds a trusting relationship and provides healthy exercise for your horse. Liberty training differs from conventional groundwork in that you are directing your horse’s movements without the aid of a lead rope.
You may not plan to ride your horse but stretching can help them stay limber and avoid injuries from other kinds of training. There are good and bad ways for horses to stretch, so make sure you research instructions for safe stretches you can do several times a week.
Not all forms of exercise require a horse owner to be present. Pasture toys not only provide a fair bit of exercise, they also help alleviate boredom. Toys like Jolly Balls, hay feeder balls and treat balls are an enjoyable change of pace for any horse. As long as they are loaded with treats, horses will push these balls around for hours. Keep in mind, these are not a complete replacement for groundwork exercises and social exposure for your horse.
What is the maximum you should ride a horse
There are many factors that determine the maximum amount you should ride your horse. Riding intensity, horse fitness, caloric intake, weather and even rider fitness all factor into the equation.
As a general guide, you should always provide a recovery period for your horse after riding. Intense training should be limited to 3-5 days a week with rest days in between depending on the fitness of your horse. However, short casual rides are okay to do daily. Never ride a horse to exhaustion everyday and limit intense riding to an hour or less.
Just like people, muscle damage occurs on horses not given adequate rest periods between intense training sessions. Working muscles hard naturally causes damage to muscle fibers. Without time for repair, this damage leads to injuries that can be permanent.
I suggest limiting high intensity exercises like jumping, high speed maneuvers or intensely repetitive training to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day.
Again, it is a rider’s responsibility to recognize when their horse is being overworked. A 5 minute burst of intense maneuvering during a barrel race is enough to tire a horse. Provide rest before continuing and constantly asses your horse’s condition.
While your horse’s health and fitness is your top concern, personal circumstance and riding goals change. Maybe you used to ride daily but now you’re lucky to saddle up once a month. Or maybe you are looking to push your horse harder to enter more competitive equestrian sports.
In either case, don’t feel bound by strict rules that define how often you should ride your horse. At the end of the day, you own a horse so you can ride it. Certainly don’t overwork your horse but enjoy riding when you want. If you don’t want to or can’t ride your horse at all, that’s okay too. Remember, riding isn’t the only way to spend quality time with your horse.