Winter isn’t everyone’s optimum riding time. For those who spend 9+ hours a day at the office, we’re left with dark, cold nights for training sessions. Even those who aren’t working all day outside of the barn are generally faced with chilly and uninviting weather. Lack of daylight and diminished vitamin D may even leave some equestrians feeling a little less perky than usual.
Still, there are several things we can do to help keep our riding skills and our horses in shape throughout the winter months.
Julie Tomlin, respected local trainer, riding instructor and accomplished competitor on the UAHA show circuit, recommends that show rookies seek out some of the fun schooling events that are held during the winter.
Rockin E Farms, located in West Bountiful, offers a winter show series (complete with fabulous prizes). Arrowhead Stables in Layton holds fun shows in the off-season as well. If you’ve thought of trying some speed events, take a look at the UTBRA’s winter barrel racing series. Races are held regularly in South Jordan and beginners are always welcome. There are even time only (practice run) slots offered at a very affordable price so you can try a timed run without ‘real race’ pressure.
Julie reminds new would-be competitors that these easy-going events are “a great way to get a feel for how to prep for showing.” She also states that riders who have horses with less-than-desirable habits (those that may get chargey, become anxious when other riders pass, etc.) can talk with show management and ask permission to just walk the rail while a class is going on. This type of practice allows your horse to get accustomed to the show ring environment, while listening to you rather than focusing too intently on the activity around him.
“For the show veterans, changing up the routine creates a great way to…break from the [usual] drill,” suggests Julie, “If your horse is a pleasure rail-type horse, start working obstacles or reining, or [offer] other work that would be different for the animal.”
Even for experienced riders, she recommends going back to basics. Tomlin advocates balance-enhancing lessons on the longe line. Incorporate exercise that let you ride with no hands, holding a cup of water, posting without stirrups; any practice that allows the equestrian to concentrate on their own skills without worrying about actively training and guiding the horse.
Julie adds, “There are lots of different types of exercises that can be done on horseback …that improve balance, flexibility…and get your horse used to you flapping around up there in all sorts of different positions.”
There are some fun and helpful books out on the market that offer exercises and training suggestions. Craig Cameron has both books and DVDs. The book “Whoa-ga” outlines relaxing horseback exercises that incorporate yoga-inspired stretches while riding.
Seek out articles pertaining to the Spanish Riding School; these often describe time-tested and well-proven longe line exercises that their riders must master before moving off the line to handling horses independently under saddle.
Tomlin reminds us that “a lot can be accomplished over the winter, even if it isn’t the most comfortable time of year [for riding]. Horses continue to need …exercise, and that helps alleviate colic and foot problems for them, as well as [maintain their] mental [and] emotional health.”
If you usually ride or train alone, try making plans with friends to ride or practice ground work together. This may also be a great time to enlist the help of a trainer to give your horses a tune-up, and to assist with a tune-up for your riding skills as well.
Work to implement, and maintain, good and consistent habits throughout the winter and you’re sure to see more positive results come show season.