Check out the following tips to stay sane throughout the winter months!
Feeling the winter blues? Not all riders can afford to winter in Florida, but don’t be too disappointed if you have to stay behind! There are several reasons dealing with the arctic temperatures of the north can help you and your horse.
Proper Off Season
Horses need a proper off season after a lengthy competition season, and so do their human counterparts. Those that travel south during the winter to continue training and competing don’t always get a long enough off season. It’s good to take a few weeks off and let your horses relax in the paddock and enjoy life. Riders also need to take a break and do things away from the barn. Take a vacation, pick up a new hobby, or spend time with your family and friends!
Not Just About Riding
In some states, there will be days (or weeks) when it will be too cold to ride. Instead of staying home because you can’t ride, spend some extra time grooming and caring for your horses. Remember, the horses could care less about being ridden and shown; it’s the riders that care. They enjoy being around us, being groomed and given treats. During competition season, riders often don’t have extra time to “hang out” with their horses, but in the winter it’s much easier.
We can also use this time to work on the never-ending list of projects that we never have time to get to. Maybe the barn can use some updates, or you can finally fix the stall door that sticks. As a perfectionist, I have a need for things to be organized. Winter has always been a great time for me to find homes for the random items that somehow end up in my trailer. I pitch things that are old or unusable, and then make a list to replace what I need. I also start a new training diary, where I record information about my horses. It’s not just training sessions I write about; I also keep track of their weight, feed and overall health. This is extremely important so that I can start planning for the new season.
Back to Basics
With it being so cold in the northern states, riders may have to limit strenuous training sessions to keep their horses healthy. Look at this as an opportunity instead of a blocker. Go back to basics and do some groundwork with your horses. When you’re ready to start riding again, spend a few weeks doing walk work. Walking builds muscle without the constant concussion that results from the other gaits. Practice rhythm and regularity at the walk, and make sure it is purposeful and powerful. A lazy walk won’t accomplish anything! In order to strengthen the hooves and tendons in the legs, it’s important to walk on all kinds of ground: concrete, pavement, grass, mud, and even snow! If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that gets several inches of snow, take advantage of it. Walk and trot work in the snow will give you and your horses a great workout. You can also spend time doing hill work; walking up a hill strengthens your horses’ hindquarters and is especially beneficial to the stifles. Cavaletti at the walk also helps to build up the same muscles, so if you don’t have a hill or it’s too cold outside, set up some poles! Assuming your horse is accustomed to walking over several poles in a row, start with the Cavaletti a few inches off the ground. Raise them every few training sessions until the height of the Cavaletti is just below your horse’s knees.
Even after your horses are back in full-time training, it’s important to keep up the walk work. During a conditioning ride, I spend more time walking than I do trotting. I still like the trot work because it helps me to strengthen my position, but I don’t think it’s necessary to keep your horses in shape. Jim Wofford suggests a half-hour of walking in addition to every training session for the lower levels and up to two hours of walking for the upper levels. Although he is focused on Eventing, I think all of this walk work is great for Dressage as well.
You may not be able to work your horses a lot in the winter, but you can certainly get a workout yourself by riding without stirrups! No-stirrup work is a great way to strengthen your seat, especially at the trot. Make sure to check with your trainer first if you’ve never ridden without stirrups before.
Work on You
The winter is also a great time to work on yourself! Fitness and Mental Health are extremely important to an athlete. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in training and catering to our horse’s needs that we forget about our own. While your horses are in limited training, spend that extra time exercising, meditating, or visiting your doctor. Get yourself into a good frame of mind and prepare your body for the upcoming competition season.
With COVID-19 changing our way of life, there are easy ways to learn something new via Zoom. Besides caring for yourself, take advantage of this opportunity and find a lecture to watch about something you’re interested in. Whether it’s about horses or something unrelated, expand your mind and gain some knowledge!
However you choose to spend the cold winter months, stay positive! There’s plenty to do and lots to learn. And if that isn’t enough, just remember that spring will be here soon!