Horses are like people; a weekend off helps them work better. I always give my horses one day off and a hack one day a week. The young ones I often have jump if I feel they like it. Again, like people, sometimes variety makes concentration easier.
Often if my horses are too heavy and can’t work harder to lose weight, or if they need to build more muscle, or, if like Idy [Idocus, her World Cup partner], they just enjoy a hack, I’ll have them be ridden up hills for a session in addition to their work three days a week. Hills are a good additional way to work without challenging the mind.
I also think it’s crucial for a students to ride on their own to make sure they’re independent and not relying on their instructor. My clients who are in full training get four lessons a week. The horse has one hack day, one day off and the client has one day to ride on her own. It’s one thing to be able to do something if you’re told to, and it’s another to recognize a problem on your own. That’s the difference between a good rider and a good trainer.
I also am a big believer in turnout for exercise as well as for chilling out, if horses like it. When I got Mythy [Harmony’s Mythilus, her 2008 Olympic partner] the previous trainer told me not to turn him out. I did anyway, and he just stood by the gate petrified. So he’s one of the few horses I never turned out.
I know turnout can be dangerous, so I do it as safely as possible in a small, not muddy paddock with the horse all booted up. Even with all these precautions in a paddock the size of a postage stamp, Rendezvous (a Grand Prix mare) broke her leg. I know some people aren’t willing to take the risk, and I don’t blame them. But we’re in the sport because we love horses, and turnout is the most similar to their natural environment, so I’m willing to take that risk. It’s hard. Every time I’d turn Idy out, he’d gallop joyfully around. He had a blast showing everyone how fast he could go. I was always terrified, but I’d prefer him to die like that, joyfully gallivanting, than be safe yet miserable in a stall.
Courtney King-Dye represented the United States in the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony’s Mythilus and at the 2007 and 2008 World Cups aboard Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist. For six years, she was assistant trainer to Olympic Lendon Gray. Her website is ckddressage.com.