The cool down is a vital period of time in any ride. This is where you get to unwind, easing down to a walk so there’s less that your brain has to concentrate on and letting your body come down from a workout. Take this time to process your ride: what went wrong, what went right, what you could’ve done better, what you did well, and what you need to work on. It’s a lot! It’s important to take the time to go over all of this—a lot of the time this is what’s going to help you become the best rider you can be. Cooling down doesn’t always have to be about picking apart your ride; you should take time to relax and enjoy some time with your horse as well.
I’ve seen a lot of riders over the years finish a ride and drop their reins, whatever they’re doing. They then proceed to let the horse walk around until they’re cool and dry. That’s certainly one way to do it, but wouldn’t it be better to take advantage of time in the saddle? Use your cool down to be productive while still allowing your horse’s body (and yours) to relax and stretch. Riders that don’t get to be in the saddle as often or have less riding time know how important every second on the horse is, especially when it comes to being able to fine-tune the little things.
Cooling down will be the last thing you do in the saddle. Depending on how long and difficult your ride was, the length of your cool down will vary. Sometimes hand walking is needed but you should cool down in the saddle as well, especially after a hard workout. The cool down really starts as soon as you do your last downward transition—don’t assume it’s just walking. You should start thinking about cooling down as soon as you do your last canter-to-trot transition, and work from there. Your horse should be relaxing at each gait before you transition down again; this will help make the standard walking cool down more productive.
Take this opportunity to work on little things like leg steering on a loose rein or walk-to-halt and halt-to-walk transitions. Do a few serpentines before letting your horse just walk around the wall. This will help relax them if you have a hot horse so you can actually get them to cool down. Every horse and rider situation is different, so work with your trainer to tailor a program that includes a more specific cool down routine.
Bottom line, cooling down is and can be a lot more than just cooling off after a ride. Using your time in the saddle wisely will greatly benefit both you as a rider and training your horse. Don’t always push yourself to be constantly working; it’s very important to enjoy the time that you have with your horse, even when it’s training. For a more relaxing cool down, take the saddle off and cool down bareback. You might end up covered in horse sweat and hair, but it’ll be fun!