Julie, I run a riding program in Bloomington, IL and am trying to get an idea of what is a reasonable amount of daily use for my school horses. I'm feeling like we may be overworking them but would like to know if there are any general recommendations or guidelines other riding facilities follow. Most of our lessons are beginners at the walk-trot stage however we do have several riders who do a fair amount of cantering. All lessons take place in either our indoor or outdoor arena. We would appreciate any feedback you have to offer.
Thanks for your question. Yes, there are specific standards for maximum work load for horses. It is six hours per day for arena horses and 8 hours max per day for trail horses. The six hours of arena time includes time between lessons that the horse remains in the arena to switch students; horses should have a restful lunch break (we like to untack and feed the school horses at lunch time). It is all right for the horses to remain tied or in standing stalls during rest periods, as long as they have shade and water. Although it is not specifically stated in our standards, CHA recommends that horses have at least one full day per week of rest, preferably pasture rest. We are looking at a way to include this in the standard, without being too restrictive on our programs. Many of our accredited programs use charts to track the work and rest time of each horse in the program and also to schedule which horses work when and where and which horses are on "vacation."
Six hours per day in the arena seems like an eternity to many lay people and even to instructors who are used to lighter student loads (private and semi-private instructors). Many CHA member facilities run hundreds of riders through lessons and trail rides every week on 25-150 head of school/trail horses. These large group programs must run like well-oiled machines and everyone, horse and human, works to their capacity. I know from my own experience in large programs, that horses can be well maintained on this schedule. If you don't already have it, you should purchase the "Standards for Group Riding Programs" from CHA (for only $10). This particular issue is addressed in standard M-7 on page 23. There are many other standards that may be helpful to you, ranging from the site (facility), the program, to the management.