Some weeks if I didn’t ride for just 20 minutes, I wouldn’t ride at all. In fact, I’m lucky the barn is only 5 minutes from my house (and directly on the route to school) or even those 20 minute rides might not happen.
It’s not my preference. Given a choice, my minimum ride would be at least an hour. That would give me time to warm up, work on a few things and cool down. However, life frequently gets in the way and I take what I can get. Short rides are certainly better than no rides for me and for Freedom. We both get cranky with too many days off.
The first benefit is mental. Sometimes I just need the break of going to the barn and focusing on Freedom. There’s something very “in the moment” about being with a horse. You really have to focus on what you are doing and that slowing of the brain is very calming. Freedom needs to stop focusing on the mares. Too much time off and he starts to believe that he’s actually in charge.
My rules for the 20 minute ride are simple: pick something that will not cause a battle, focus on stretching and relaxation, and ride movements that give maximum value for little effort.
So, some days we just hack. A 20 minute ride through the woods is always calming. Today was one of those days. The snow is still deep enough that everything was quiet and muffled. It was still slightly too deep for the dogs but they were pretty game about keeping up and they definitely got a work out. Even Freedom felt looser and more relaxed after the walk. I always get a few big releases from him after even the shortest ride (he gets a short massage most days).
Other days I’m more ambitious. I might try to get some of the sillies out of Freedom if he hasn’t been ridden much. That would be Tuesday. On Tuesday we went for a nice canter in the snow. Freedom was feeling very good and the snow slowed him down a bit. When I don’t have much time I often canter after a short warm up walk. I feel like it stretches his back out better than trotting and helps him relax. As a Thoroughbred, his canter is effortless, even in the snow. If he hasn’t been ridden much, staying in a canter (no bucking) may be all the concentration he can muster.
Other days we focus on stretching. On those rides I pick a few simple movements — 20 meter circles, some work in shoulder in and some leg yields, for example. Moving your horse laterally helps them loosen up and keeps their joints moving. During hunt season I try to include at least one work out like this every week because it’s too easy to focus on forward and forget about suppleness.
Then the are the days before a hunt. To get us both mentally prepared we do some short gallops with lots of changes within the gait. I want him to move out sharply, but also to come back nicely when I ask. I’ll jump a few fences and ask him to come right to the base of each one. No long spots when we practice.
As long as you make every minute count and go into each ride with a plan, 20 minutes can be well, sufficient — if not enough.