Make Time to Ride
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
For many of us finding time to ride is a constant battle. The daily grind of earning a living, taking care of family and household are a constant cycle. Even those who train horses for a living, often struggle to find time to ride their own mounts. And for the riding instructor, their own needs usually come second to those of their clients.
In my early career I somehow managed to raise three children with my husband, run a horse breeding and import business, show on the dressage circuit both here and in Europe, and work a full time very high-pressure job that required a commute 85 miles away from home.
On weekends we would take off to horse shows with the twins and their older brother in tow, I would regularly fly to Europe to help clients select horses and to buy some horses for import for ourselves. There was also time to help develop our international breeding program in partnership with a friend in the U.K, where we bred and produced horses under our farm brand from sires such as Donnerhall. Looking back I have no idea how I managed it at all. Or perhaps I do. Here are some key ways to find time to ride in your busy schedule.
When you establish a particular timeline for your riding activity and put it in your calendar on the fridge or add it to your Google calendar and share it with your nearest and dearest, you are announcing your clear intent to be in the saddle at that time. If it is possible, try and keep it at the same time every day or on however many days you would like to ride. Be realistic and don’t overpromise yourself. If you are currently struggling to find time for a once a week ride, adding seven rides a week is going to a tough goal to achieve.
If it is viable ride at the beginning of the day before you head to work. The earlier in the day it is, the less cluttered your mind and less overwhelmed you are with issues that pop up in the day. You are hopefully rested from a good night’s sleep and full of focus.
In our early careers, my husband would take his FEI St George mount Mistral, an OTTB, out four out of five weekdays at 5:30 am. to train for competition. Back then we did not yet have our own arena, so for the use of an arena to practice his dressage tests for the weekends, it meant riding half a mile, cantering over the bottom of the grass lawn at the Elementary school, navigating a railroad track with dump trucks bellowing past on a winding country road through the village in Dutchess County, to the town recreation area. He’d jump the chain gate, ride in the arena and then head back home to shower and get ready for the 2 hour commute to work. Meantime I’d feed the horses and turn them out, muck stalls and set everything up for the evening, feed the kids and get them ready for school, and have breakfast ready for hubbie and be showered and ready to pack everyone in the car.
I think it would be safe to say we were a little ‘possessed’ with horses.
After Work Riding Time
Regardless of where you work and what you do, you can save time to ride after work by taking your riding gear with you and changing at work before heading directly to the barn.
When I first arrived in the U.S.A. and was working at J.F.K. airport, I used to live out on Long Island about a one hour drive to work without traffic. I boarded my horse at Caumsett State Park in Cold Spring Harbor, and never truly knew what time a working day might finish. However, I would stash my Steuben all purpose saddle on the back seat of the car, pack my breeches, helmet and boots in the trunk every Wednesday and then if work pressures allowed, change in the office and drive directly to the informal and highly fun quadrille practice at the barn.
Sometimes it didn’t work out and all I had time for was a quick hand graze for my horse and a hug and treat or two. Those mid-week rides and visits with my McCloud, would get me through a pressure filled week at work. So what if dinner was a quick sandwich on those evenings.
The livery barn was not en route to my place of work, indeed it was another 20 minutes in the other direction. If possible, try and board your horse en route to your commute. It saves a lot of time and gives you more opportunity to spend time with your horse.
Food for Thought
Many of us spend much time feeding the family and preparing and serving meals. If you need time during your busy week to ride, think about preparing meals in advance and having them in the freezer ready to go.
To avoid the additional expenses of eating out it is always a great idea to have readymade home produced sauces and meals handy. Crock pot cooking is also a great help for the busy equestrian.
I confess to being a bit of a foodie, and love dining on food prepared freshly for each meal. However, we can’t always find the time. Quick recipes abound online and in print to help you stay on track with always eating freshly prepared meals, so they are worth shopping for and checking out. Food delivery services can also be a valuable help if you have the dollars to spend and can save you the effort of shopping. Many supermarkets now offer and online shop, with a quick customer pick up drive through. Worth considering if you need to save time and know what you want.
Ironing & Household Tasks
I grew up in a very traditional British household where Mom would iron everything in sight from bedsheets to tea towels to dress shirts. Every evening after tea at 4:30, she would be found sitting at the ironing board at her daily task. I used to help iron the flat things like handkerchieves and pillowcases, but was never allowed to attempt to iron my father’s shirts, though my skill set improved once I was a teen.
I still iron on a regular basis, but I do appreciate that today this is not necessary with the myriad of no-iron fabrics available, even in dress shirts and blouses. So shop for your clothes and those of the rest of the family with a keen eye to washability and wearability too without the need to iron.
Other household tasks also take much time. If you create a rota of tasks and assign some of the simpler ones to other members of the family, you can significantly cut down the household chores you need to complete yourself every day.
When our kids hit their teenage years and wanted cars, but didn’t necessarily want to follow through with daily chores, we took the route of assigning a small dollar value to each task and kept those tasks strictly the responsibility of one particular kid so we could keep track, although they each had a chance to choose which chores they preferred.
Our daughter for example, preferred taking care of the dog walks and feedings, mucking stalls and grooming horses. Our youngest son was an ardent window cleaner and tack cleaner and loved to zoom about on the little ride on mower, and our eldest son would trudge the garbage bins down to the end of the driveway each week for pick up by the garbage truck, and strim the garden and rake leaves, although frankly many of my bulb plantings did fall victim to his enthusiasm!
All the children helped stack hay. Preparing for winter was very much a family affair, as were fencing projects and the like.
Each week they would present their ‘lists’ of tasks completed with the agreed value beside them and we would sign off on their completion. When it came time for a car they had their well-earned money ready to invest. Today all our kids have a great work ethic, and I believe this program gave them an appreciation for the value of money.
Organizing your time is key to finding extra time for riding. If you write a list out of all your weekly chores and schedule, and include time you spend sitting in front of the TV, chatting on the phone with friends, texting, and time you spend on social media you can probably find lots of time you could bank toward riding time.
Book a Lesson
If you book a lesson you will be much more likely to keep your appointment to ride.
Sometimes it is hard to find the motivation to switch gears and focus on riding when the day has gone sideways and your mind is filled with other ‘stuff.’
If you make a regular commitment at a set time every week to ride, you will most likely look forward to it and as an added bonus you will be improving your riding and progressing at a faster pace than if you simply doddle around on your horse alone. To get the most out of your lesson be certain to arrive early so you can warm up your horse, and not have warm up time be a part of your paid lesson time. Maximize your return on your investment in training time.
If you have a friend that rides and you can book time to go to the barn together, you will motivate each other to keep to the schedule and make time to ride. Rides shared on the trail are always very pleasurable, and it gives you a chance to unwind and help reciprocate the motivational message and engage with a like-minded horse person.
There is more time in the day than you may have perhaps thought, and when you prioritize your need to spend time with your horse and enjoy the benefits of the exercise and equine companionship, your nearest and dearest will probably enjoy your company even more than they do now, because you will be more content and relaxed.
Never rush a ride. If you are too pushed for time or simply not in the zone, spend the time grooming or hand grazing your horse. Map out a realistic riding plan and stick to it. Make short term goals and long term goals for your riding and then plan the simple steps that will attain them. You can do it!
About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is a professional freelance writer and content creator, who works with a variety of publications and manufacturers worldwide. She is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate Willowview Hill Farm, a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY. Please visit her website at https:/www.nikkialvinsmithstudio.com to learn more.