A good rider evaluates the animal’s strengths and weaknesses in the first few minutes of work, then spends the rest of the session practicing specific exercises to improve the trouble spots. This is the only way you can get the most out of your riding time, for each day you should seek to improve the horse at least slightly in one of its weak areas. If all goes well, the flat session lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, including several two-minute breaks, which should be interspersed evenly throughout the session. If you are having difficulty, you can continue working the horse for up to another half hour, again including several breaks. Working longer than this becomes less and less productive. A horse that will not respond positively within an hour is either being ridden very poorly or is so excited and distracted that you should have taken the edge off by longeing beforehand.
Although you may have a specific exercise or two that you would like to practice that day, your general work plan should be formulated according to your horse’s response in the first few minutes of work. For example, if the horse is a little dull that day, choose lively exercises, such as lengthening at the gaits, or practice upward transitions to promote obedience to your legs. The basic problem of lack of pace needs to be solved before you attempt any lateral exercises, since lateral movements tend to slow the horse down. When you finally achieve the forward momentum you want, it might be so late in the training session that the horse is very tired. In this case, it would be better to end on a good note, having been successful in increasing the horse’s sensitivity to the leg, than to attempt a more difficult movement on a tired horse.
Occasionally, the reverse situation occurs, in which your horse starts out working much better than expected and you find you can introduce a more difficult movement earlier than you had planned. The work plan, then, should be devised each day as you ride, for if you have a preconceived plan and are inflexible, you will not get the best results from your horse.