For many Adult Amateur riders who spend long days behind computer screens, sitting through stressful meetings, hitting the books or making sure the needs of their kids and family are met, long afternoons and evenings at the barn seem to be more of a luxury than a regular occurrence. At the Dressage Today editorial offices, we’re all too familiar with juggling a desk-job professional life with family and social commitments and a passion for riding.
As much as horse ownership can be a real privilege, sometimes it’s just downright difficult to find time to squeeze it into an already full day. We really salute the efforts of those riders who, despite all the chaos of everyday life, still battle the daily grind to keep progressing in their dressage journeys. To keep that drive alive, we offer the following tried-and-true tips and tricks we’ve learned to help make time for horses possible even in the midst of a jam-packed schedule.
Plan Ahead and Be Prepared
• Keep a set of riding clothes in your car at all times so that if you find yourself with an unexpected block of free time in your schedule, you can be ready to ride almost immediately.
• Store your boots and helmet at the barn so that they’ll always be right there when you need them. There’s nothing quite like getting to the barn and realizing that you left a critical piece of gear at home.
• If possible, pack your riding clothes and a snack the night before and bring them to work. That way, there’s no need to return home to change clothes between work and the barn. Heading directly to the barn from work will eliminate additional travel time and the possibility of getting caught with distractions at home.
• If your workplace allows, change into your riding clothes an hour before you leave the office. This will keep you focused on getting to the barn and riding, rather than getting sidetracked by errands after work, or just opting to go the next day instead.
• Needing to get a meal on the table for your family but still want to ride? Utilize a slow cooker with a timer so dinner can cook while you’re at the barn and be ready right when you get home. Larger-scale meal prep during the week can also be a lifesaver.
• If you’re particularly tight on time, ride when your barn is most quiet and there is the least amount of traffic. If there are fewer people around, you’ll have fewer distractions and the cross-tie area and wash stalls will be less congested.
Maximize Efficiency in the Barn and Arena
• Put your phone away at the barn. You don’t need to be answering emails or texting while you’re tacking up your horse. The time away from your phone should also clear your head, and your horse deserves your full attention anyway. Even if you ride with it for safety purposes, silence it so that you won’t be distracted by notifications.
• When tacking up, make as few trips down the barn aisle as possible and have all of your gear in one place before you fetch your horse from his field or stall. This will spare you from retracing your steps.
• Really in a crunch for time? Buy a watch with a count-down timer and alarm and set it for the maximum amount of time you want to spend tacking up or in the saddle. Or, if possible, create a playlist of songs to listen to that will help keep you on track. For example, if you know that by the time “Let It Go” comes on you should be heading out to the ring, and when you hear “Under Pressure” you should start wrapping up your ride, you can pace yourself accordingly.
• Remember that a light 20-minute ride can be better than no ride at all. Don’t have time for a full work session, but still want things to be productive? Maybe focus only on work at the walk or go for a trail ride. The varied terrain and change of scenery will be good for your horse’s mind and body and he shouldn’t work up too much of a sweat, reducing cool-out and grooming time.
• Be realistic about your goals, especially during any ride where time is of the essence. If you know you have only half an hour to ride, don’t work on the things your horse struggles with. Instead, stick with what keeps him happy and working well. If your horse enjoys riding long and low with big sweeping circles but hates schooling lateral work, save the lateral work for a day when you have more time to devote to it. Your horse will also appreciate a low-pressure ride every once in a while. Beware that if you go in the ring ready to pick on the problem areas, you might create more issues than you are able to solve in your allotted time.
• In the winter, clip your horse and blanket appropriately. Not only will he feel more comfortable, it will save you loads of time waiting for him to dry after your rides.
• If possible, opt for boots over polo wraps. Velcro boots go on and off much quicker and you won’t have to spend time rerolling them.
• If you do use polos, launder them in mesh lingerie bags to prevent them from tangling in the wash.
• Often get caught up talking to a chatty group of barn pals? Be honest with them on the days you’re in a rush. Kindly but firmly saying that you’d love to chat more but you have to keep moving should give them the message.
• Have a piece of tack that desperately needs to be cleaned but you need to get home to your family? Store leather cleaner, an old towel and a sponge at home and bring your tack with you so you can clean your bridle while still spending time with your family.
• Need your bit to be sparkling clean? Put it in the dishwasher (you can also do the same with stirrup irons, spurs or any other metal goods). Or, after every ride, be sure to immediately soak the bit in warm water to remove any grunge. That will save you from having to scrub off dry, caked-on debris later.
• When you have a greater amount of time on your hands, take advantage of it to keep your tack trunk, grooming box and/or tack locker clean. Although it might initially take more time to tidy up, knowing where all of your items are is critical to moving efficiently during your regular routine.
• Utilize clear plastic containers for storing things like clippers and blades, braiding supplies or small trinkets like leather keepers or small medical supplies. Having your tools highly visible helps you locate the things you need more quickly.
• Minimize the number of items you keep in your daily grooming tote. Keep only the absolute necessities—Do you really need four different kinds of brushes, three different curries and a massager tool every day? Sort through and keep only one to two brushes, a curry comb and a hoof pick in your grooming box. If space allows, also store any boots or wraps, treats and fly spray in there to reduce additional trips down the barn aisle.
• Keep copies of your horse’s most important documents (such as a Coggins or insurance policy) on hand, organized in a binder or file folder and remember to make electronic copies to save on Google Drive or DropBox. That way, they will be available whenever you need them. They’re nearly impossible to lose and easy to forward to whomever might need them.
• Keep a small cosmetic bag in your tack trunk for personal needs in case you have to freshen up to go somewhere directly after the barn. Items like face wipes, ChapStick, body spray, dry shampoo, a small hair brush, extra pony tail holders and Tylenol are helpful things to have available. Keeping a baseball cap on hand also eliminates the worry over post-ride helmet hair.
• Invest in a few pieces of riding apparel that you feel comfortable wearing from stable to street. If you don’t have to change clothes or shower between the barn and wherever else life takes you, you’ll save yourself a huge amount of time.
Master Money Management
• If your finances allow, utilize the autopay function available through many online banking systems to pay for recurring expenses, such as your monthly board bills, lessons and farrier bills. As your payments are automatically sent, you’ll also avoid any late penalties.
• If possible, keep a checkbook in your tack trunk for easy access.
It Takes a Team
• If you’re really in a pinch and your barn has eager young riders, you might be able to find an extra set of hands for your super-busy days. A motivated younger rider wanting to earn extra money for lessons might be more than happy to groom and tack up your horse for a few extra dollars on days that would otherwise make riding impossible for you. You might also be able to find similar help for your tack-cleaning or horse-laundry needs.
• On days where you absolutely cannot make it to the barn, finding help to keep your horse fit with exercise rides during the week might be easier than you would think. Post a flyer on your barn’s bulletin board, write on a local Facebook group page or even reach out to the community around you. You might be pleasantly surprised to find many capable riders looking for free riding opportunities. You’ll be helping someone else while making sure your horse receives the exercise he needs.