As winter is in full swing, I thought I would do my best to give you a few tips to stop both you and your horse from going crazy. This is going to be more relevant for my North American readers as the weather in the UK doesn’t get nearly as bad.
If you’re lucky enough to have an indoor then first be grateful for that because even at the coldest of temperatures I bet your surface hasn’t frozen.
You have to try to keep your horse and yourself interested and challenged over the long winter and I would start off by making a program that is flexible and has variety. Before I go into this I would also like to point out that I personally think all horses with a job, be it a riding school or competition horse should get a holiday and the winter months are a good time to give 6 weeks off. Why keep them in all winter when you have nothing to get ready for? So please pick a few weeks and give your horse some time off. I promise they will come back better for it.
Let’s talk about your flexible program. Why Flexible? Well because with the weather it might not be safe to get out to the barn or it might just be too cold. This way if you miss a day it’s not a big deal, so if I was planning, I would give 2-3 days off per week if need be. Two days for sure because as I said you’re not getting ready for anything in December/January. The other 4-5 days in the week I would hack, lunge, jump, school and do cavaletti.
Below are a few examples of what some of my weeks might look like:
Hacking- I know the roads can get bad but if they happen to be okay and the weather (remember that drivers need to be able to see you so don’t go down the road if visibility is bad. Wear a high vis vest or jacket!) is good I would always skip going in the school to go for a hack. Your horse will appreciate it so much! Interesting fact, North America doesn’t do nearly as much road work with their horses as riders do in the UK. I would say that’s something to think about, if it’s too muddy to hack in the fields because it’s just rained, and your school is still frozen well go for a nice little trot down the road. Wear a neck strap just in case. I don’t need anyone blaming me for any unplanned dismounts.
Cavaletti- a great way to keep you both sharp and interested in your work. There are so
many different exercises you can do with varying levels of difficulty. I would think you could keep yourself busy for a while just trying to master picking up canter on a circle after a set of raised trot cavaletti.
*give your cavalettis a fresh paint to brighten things up. If anything, it will give your horse something to look at for the first week. *
Jumping- It’s a great time of year to go back to the basics instead of focusing on height. A few examples would be to work on straightness, balance, rhythm, accuracy, sharpness and position. Check out if there are any winter series around your area, could be something fun to do and give you something to work towards instead of counting the day till Spring. If there isn’t, perhaps you could arrange something. If there is enough interest and people willing to help I bet you could find someone willing to hold indoor dressage, cross country or show jumping, or maybe even a combined test!
Schooling- print yourself off a test or two of the level you want to move up to in the coming season, ride through it and see what you need to work on. Break it down and work on those bits separately.
Lunging- there are so many different options when it comes to lunging. With or without equipment, over poles, over a jump or even free jumping. With all these options you have the ability to give your horse a lot of variety.
The last thing, for all your work done under saddle in the school I would keep it short. You don’t need to drill your horse for an hour. 30-40 minutes is long enough.
I recently came across an article that talked about horses that did regular groundwork being better under saddle. It is a great way to build a horse and rider relationship. It is also a good thing to do if turnout is limited and your horse is on holiday or it’s one of their normal days off. It’ll be something different to keep them interested and curious. Try thinking outside the box to keep their attention. Use tarps, bags, blankets, buckets setting up all sorts of obstacle courses while also making your horse a little better behaved and willing to trust you on the ground.
This can be a hard one because you’re not always allowed to choose when your horse can and cannot go out at boarding facilities. If you have the choice get them outside for a few hours daily, weather and footing permitted. If the fields are a no go then maybe a walk around the drive could be arranged. If anything, this gets them out of the stable and moving, otherwise they are stood in what is hopefully at least a 10x10 stable for what 22-23 hours of the day.
In the stable
It’s hard to come up with things for your horse to do if they end up standing in the stable all day. I only have two things to offer you here, toys and a radio. If your horse is playful then they might enjoy a toy. Try it with the grumpy ones as well, it might just be what they need to turn their frown upside down. I always like having the radio on in the barn, I think it gives the horses something to listen to. Do they actually enjoy it? I’m not too sure about that, but I know I like it.
For you the rider, good luck this winter. I know it can be a challenge to keep it interesting so get those creative juices flowing.
Last thing! Get a riding buddy, sometimes it is nice to go for a hack with company or have a set of eyes in the school!