pastureThere are so many things we want to do with our horses!

Some of us want to ride the trails. Some want to take lessons and progress in our skill levels. Others want to compete - in a manner of so many various disciplines that it is hard to list them all. Perhaps we want to work the horse from the ground, developing connection and communication at a level that is very different from human speech.

Regardless of what we want to do with our horses, our first responsibility is always to the horse. Before we can step into that stirrup, before we can work on developing that slide and before we ever can imagine heading to our local/regional/provincial (state)/national or international championships, we must be sure to meet the horse's needs.

The concept of "it depends" is the key to determining how much of what is necessary, how much is too little and how much is too much. One horse's "perfect" can be another horse's mental stress. What works for one doesn't work for another, and it does us well to learn to listen to our horses to develop an excellent management system that meets his particular needs.

Here are eight considerations to prepare your horse to be his best. Because all "performance" is based on the horse's health and mental well-being.

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1. Feed Program

While it is true that some horses can get by perfectly well on hay in the winter and grass in the summer, once we introduce a workload to their regular regiment, it becomes necessary to examine the nutritional content of the feed program.

What you feed your horse is probably one of the most critical concerns. The more competitive, or demanding, his work gets, the more attention you need to give to his feed program. How much hay does he need? What sort of nutrition is necessary for the type of work he is doing? Will the requirements change as his work becomes more challenging?

2. Turn In

When we want the horses to perform, we should be cognizant of how much rest the horse needs. While many horses can do just fine in a completely outdoor environment, once they  achieve a certain level of training, the horse needs more care and attention to perform at his best. Some horses will need to maintain a top level coat condition and grooming. Some activities will require a fully rested, energetic horse that was guaranteed his sleep the night before. Some horses will need to stay inside, out of the elements in order to maintain the soft, supple top line that is needed for them to do their best.

3. Turn Out 

Giving horses a chance to be out in the open air is as important as it is to give a horse inside time. Every horse benefits from time in the field or paddock, roaming free and having a chance to interact with his equine friends. Time outside stimulates the horse physically and mentally. It's always a balancing act that combines time inside as well as outside, as required by the discipline and level of activity. Trial and error and experience will help you discover what combination works the best for your horse at his current energy requirements.

4. Health Care - Worming, Feet, Teeth, Routine Medical Care

It goes without saying that a horse has to be healthy before he can perform at his best. When left to the wayside, any of the above considerations may impact the horse's level of achievement. At large boarding barns, the barn manager may maintain a regular schedule for all the horses. At smaller, more private environments, it falls to the owner to maintain regular shots, foot care, teeth floating and worming program.

5. Physical/Mental Stimulation

Over thousands of years, horses have lived their lives travelling, carrying, pulling and being ridden. Although horses can be quite content living out their lives in a pasture, most horses benefit physically and mentally from movement and stimulation. The more you challenge the horse, the better he may feel about his surroundings, his people and his life. Good movement feels good to the horse, and he will let you know!

6. Blanketing

Some people feel that blankets should never be used on horses. However, a blanket can be a horse's "portable shelter". When can a horse use a blanket? If the bugs are strong enough to bite welts into his skin, make him pace all day until dark, or lose half of his tail hairs from all that swishing.

Similarly, the horse that trembles in the cold rain or does not develop an adequate winter coat can benefit from additional covering during the winter months. Using a blanket might result in a distinct improvement in your horse's coat quality, enhancing cleanliness and overall sheen.

7. Feel Good Rides

Learn how to make your horse move well and you might be surprised at how much he enjoys his exercise! If you can make him happy, your horse will eagerly enjoy his riding sessions. 

8. Be the Best Rider/Trainer You Can Be

Well, you are part of the equation as well. If you continue to be a life-long learner, developing your skills over the long term, you can become a huge asset to any horse you ride. Take lessons in your area of choice, develop your skills and become an active and effective rider in the partnership with your horse.

Are there any other ways to help your horse be prepared to work to his potential? Please let us know how in the comments below.

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 How To Be An Active Horseback Rider (a.k.a. Riding With Intention): What do you do when your ride isn’t going as planned? How do you respond when your horse scoots out from under you, spooks at the horse-killing object, or flat out ignores you?

When “Good Enough” Just Isn’t Good Enough In Horseback RidingWe come up with all sorts of excuses to explain why we don’t want to or can’t get past the problem.

Ten Habits of Competent Riders: This is our most popular post by far. What do great riders have in common that makes them appealing to watch, steadily develop their riding skills and become role models for others to aspire to emulate?

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.

Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: A happy horse is a willing partner, and many horses will give everything they have if they feel your acknowledgement and generosity of spirit.


  1. You should also pay attention to the conditions in which you ride. Be sure footings aren’t too deep/hard. Have your horse properly shod (if needed) for rocky trails and other riding conditions. Make sure that both of you are in fit condition for the activities you choose to do, and if you aren’t, put a program in place to acquire that conditioning in a carefully thought out plan.

  2. Excellent article – one should never underestimate the value of ‘grooming’ – curry, brush, hoof pick = healthy coat, clean feet and an ‘all is good’ or something may need more attention. Not to mention the bond you create with your equine partner. Always amazes me how this time provides first-rate insight into your horse’s mindset – calm, uncomfortable, energetic – almost a precursor to how to set-up your ride/lesson.

  3. I like that your list includes turn in. A lot of people so strongly advocate 24/7 turnout, that they forget a working horse can enjoy shade, a place to lay down, and a fan for some time during the day or night 🙂

  4. I have found “Horse Listening” to be a valuable resource and always look forward to posts. I keep copies in my file for re-reading. My horse is being pasture boarded at a wonderful facility. He has a good run-in and is now blanketed. I was interested in your comments about the need for stalls to be used for rest, quality of sleep, etc. What are your thoughts on the con’s (as opposed by the pro’s) of pasture boarding? Another aspect is cost. Some of our better training/boarding facilities are just too expensive for stall boarding. Thanks. P.S. I am training my horse in dressage.

  5. I would Add ‘socialization’. When I bought my dream horse property and moved my two mares home, I had to rescue a third because one would have anxiety when the other left. And, none of my immediate neighbors have horses. I believe they are now craving socialization and are lonely,