Fighting the Winter Training Stall
Your horse: Tense. Frustrated.
Head tossing. Pinned ears. Kicking out. Sticky feet.
You: Tense. Frustrated. Kicking. Pulling. Endless repetition.
Surely, we can all relate to these symptoms of horse and rider being bored and sour, and it would be fair to say that the middle of winter is the prime opportunity for these issues to come up. I call this the “winter training stall,” as often, in winter, we are relegated to an indoor arena or short windows of time to ride while the weather is decent. Most agree that is important to keep both horse and rider fresh so that progress can be made and both can remain safe. It is good for your horse’s mind and body for you to work in a mindset where you are thinking outside of riding circles and riding the rail at the three basic gaits of walk, trot and canter.
Here are some ideas to keep your horse in a renewed mindset and to make the most of your winter rides. Focus on maintaining a free, swinging back through all gaits- never push your horse into doing something that changes this. If there is tension, there will be frustration. Use the following exercises to your advantage- try working on your two point position while you let his back stretch as he moves forward in a swinging frame. In correlation with this, practice keeping him in front of your leg- when you say go, he must go right now. Make sure your aids are clear and that any needed correction is quick and justified.
A cool exercise to incorporate these ideas is to ride what I call "point to point." Lay down a single pole here, a couple of trot poles there, and a unique set up of poles your horse isn’t used to in another corner of the arena. If you like to jump, throw in a few cross rails or fun gymnastic sets. Ride from one to the next in random order, in varying gaits. You can also ride them from different sides and angles to mix it up.
Finally, it is important to play with the variations within each gait; you should practice exercises such as riding working trot to extended trot to working trot and so on. The quickness of the transitions within the gait can liven up your horse immensely. Always come back to something easy for your horse when he shows the slightest effort at a new exercise.
These tips can be incorporated into your rides to brighten your ride and keep the training process interesting for you both. Evaluate your goals and the progress you are (or are not) making on a regular basis so that you can alter your training and make changes that will promote keeping a happy and willing partner.