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Six tips for working your horse during the winter months – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster
As the holidays wrap up, people and horses alike are trying to live up to their new year’s resolutions and get into shape for spring. Depending on how much time your horse has had off, getting them, and yourself, back into shape can be a tedious task. We all just want to go jump courses, and day after day of long and low flatwork around the indoor can begin to feel pretty unproductive. Bringing your horse back into work slowly and correctly is very important in order to set yourself up for a successful show season, so here are some pointers that can help you stay on track and come out of the winter with a healthy and happy horse.
1) Make sure that you give your horse enough of a break after their show season. Competition, especially at the upper levels, can be hard on a horse both mentally and physically. Each horse is different, and not everyone has access to the same facilities, but no matter what your situation is or what level you compete at be sure to set aside time to let them recover from the stress of competition. You may even find a break from riding will help you to appreciate it even more, but if you feel guilty for wasting precious learning time with no horse to ride, you can simply watch Burghley replays on youtube, inside, in the warm, which is really just as productive.
2) Don’t expect to pick up where you left off when you get back on your horse. It doesn’t matter if your horse feels the same as he did at the end of the season when you first get on, it is your job as the rider not to push them until they build up the muscling and fitness they lost while out of work. Many horses will come back into work and be fresh and spunky, which can fool us into thinking that they are fit; however, doing too much with your horse before they are ready can lead to problems such as muscle soreness and splints. It is better to take time bringing your horse back into work slowly than waste time letting them recover from a preventable injury. Shorter rides will also allow you to get back inside quickly so you can warm up with some hot chocolate while watching Badminton replays, which makes up for the lack of effort you put into improving your riding that day.
3) Ride according to the weather. This one is specific to those who live in colder regions and are trying to get their horses fit early, despite the three feet of snow on the ground. Working your horse too hard in cold temperatures is not only wildly uncomfortable but can also be dangerous to you and your horses well being. Don’t work your horse into a sweat if it is chilly out, and if it is cold enough that your fingers or toes start hurting, don’t risk getting frostbite because you feel like your horse needs to be ridden that day. If the temperatures drop below -30, you may even consider bringing your horse inside to warm up by the fire and watch Kentucky replays with you.
4) When you are bringing your horse back into work it is important to jump enough to strengthen those specific muscles, as well as to get you and your horse in tune with one another; however, you don’t want to do too much in one day. Rather than setting aside specific days for jumping, try doing a few fences at the end of every ride. Not only will this prevent you from doing too much in one day, and risk cutting into Pau replays, but it also gives you and your horse something to look forward to during your ride. Once your horse builds a solid base of fitness, you can begin splitting rides up and doing harder dressage or jump schools in preparation for the start of the competition season.
5) Winter can be a great opportunity to work on things that you have been trying to glaze over to avoid confrontation during the show season. Teach your horse how to do a correct rein back or flying changes, crack down on not allowing them to run at their fences, do tricky grid exercises, work on your position! You don’t have any dressage test to be practicing or event to be doing fitness for, so spent your time fixing the holes in your performance that you seem to never have time to work on during the competition season. In all your time of watching Adelaide replays did you see anyone doing simple changes in their show-jump rounds?
6) Try to have some fun with it! Winter riding can get really boring, especially if you are trapped in an indoor due to snow or rain, so try to find fun things to do! Take advantage of sunny days, if the snow is light enough you can ride outside, set up pole exercises in your arena, teach your horse a trick, go on a long hack, ride on the beach! Finding the motivation to ride in the winter can be hard, so try to have some fun! There isn’t any pressure to get ready for a specific competition, so do what you feel like or try something new! And if what you feel like doing is staying in your warm bed, watching Luhmuhlen replays, and keeping the feeling in all parts of you body, so be it!