All of my training sessions with my performance horses are about 30 to 40 minutes in length and follow a general outline:
- Friendly time
- Friendly time and cool-down
When I say, “friendly time,” I’m referring to periods throughout the training session in which I let the horse walk on a big, loose rein around the arena, getting his air back. I don’t ask anything of him; I just want him to chill out and relax.
While the horse is walking around the arena, you can rub on him if you want, but the key is to let him walk on a big, loose rein and not do any sort of training whatsoever on him. Hold the middle of the reins in one hand and just let him be.
I used to do a lot more of it at the standstill, where I’d bring the horse to a stop, flex him left and right a few times and let him get his air back. I still do some of that, but over the past couple of years I’ve found that letting the horse keep his feet moving without asking him to do anything benefits him more.
You don’t want your horse to think that every time you ask him to move forward it means he’d better be getting ready for you to hustle his feet and ask him to work hard. This isn’t such a big deal with a cold-blooded, lazier type of horse—he’s going to want to move slowly no matter what and not anticipate your next cue—but it can be an issue with a sensitive, feely horse.
While I certainly want my horses moving forward with cadence in their feet, I don’t want them marching around getting anxious about what’s going to happen next.
The more you practice incorporating “friendly time” into your training sessions, the more relaxed and calmer your horse will get. It’s a simple concept, but it’s one that will make a world of difference in your horse’s overall mindset.