Fall is the perfect season to introduce your horse to a new discipline. There are usually a few bigger shows still to go, but often times we show through the summer months, and take fall and winter off. To keep both you and your horse from getting bored of your routine, why not try something new?
I know we like to protect our valuable show horses at all costs, but they need fresh air! Allowing them to be horses instead of performance machines from time to time is so good for their minds and bodies. They’re no different than us, we can’t sit in an office day in and day out without getting bored. We take walks and trips and do things to freshen our minds, horses need it too. Trail rides are the easiest way to clear out the cobwebs and let them enjoy themselves a little, and the fall is a beautiful time of year to explore. I’m not saying take them on a “Man from Snowy River” type gallop down the side of a hill. If you don’t have trails to access, try riding them in open fields. Anything to take them and their minds out of the pen will give your horse a new attitude.
Horses are thinkers and like to have jobs. Giving them new things to think about makes them happier because they feel busy and pleasing to you. Another easy transition is teaching your riding horses a little showmanship, or take your halter/showmanship horses for a ride. You don’t have to perfect any new skill, but teaching a horse good ground manners isn’t a bad idea, and it’s good for them to think in new ways.
A discipline I think every riding horse can benefit from is basic Dressage. You don’t need a new saddle or an arena with markers for this, it can be done anywhere or in any equipment. Some simple Dressage elements can be used to encourage flexibility and soften your horse, and work well as warm up and cool down exercises.
If you don’t want to stray too far from your chosen discipline, you can still liven up your routines with small changes. Take your flat hunt seat horse and try some low crossrails at a trot and canter. If they’re quiet enough, consider driving them. It’s a fun way to make use of the gaits you’re already comfortable with, in a different perspective.
Maybe you have a performance horse for Reining or Western Riding. Show them some actual livestock for something different. You likely know someone with a field of cattle that wouldn’t mind you and your horse taking a stroll among. I’m not saying dig too deep and try Cutting or Roping on day one, but let them see new animals and interact with them. The opportunity to engage in movements they’re used to, with actual purpose, could help make them better performers in the show pen.
Obviously, the point here is not to do anything that will put you or your horse in immediate danger, just to consider what else they might like to think about, that can still tie in to your current program. Use their curiosity and desire to please to your advantage, think outside the arena a little. You might even have fun!