Not too many people truly enjoy Winter. Most would rather be enjoying the warmth and sunshine of the spring and summer months. As equestrians we may feel even stronger about this, because winter means limited riding time, frozen water buckets, frozen ground, blanketing, and lots of cold days. However here at Horses with Hope, life goes on in the winter. We are very fortunate to have a great crew that makes this possible, along with a beautiful indoor that allows us to keep our horses in full work. We know that many people aren’t as fortunate, so we wanted to share some fun tips to keep things going for you and your horse this winter.
One of the most important things we do here is groundwork, and groundwork is a great skill to practice during the winter months. Even if the footing isn’t good enough to ride, there is still plenty to do from the ground. Some things you can work on include moving the horse’s shoulders, haunches, side passing, lowering the head, and having them soften throughout their body. All these things are helpful tools to get your horse soft, relaxed, and engaged, even though the conditions might not be ideal for riding.
Another great winter project is obstacle work. We love to use obstacles here to help prepare our horses for anything they may encounter in their new homes. Obstacles can range from walking over logs, working with a tarp, stepping up onto a platform or bridge, pool noodles, etc. They can be a lot of fun and can help build trust between horse and rider.
If you are looking for something else to try you could introduce clicker training or trick training to your horse. This is another fun way to keep your horse interested and engaged. If the conditions don’t allow for a lot of physical exercise, then you can work on mental exercise by introducing a clicker and eventually some tricks. For example you could teach your horse to bow, come when called, step up onto a mounting block, pick up objects with their mouth, or even smile to name a few. This can be enjoyable for both horse and human and keeps the horse mentally engaged. One thing to note is that trick training is a reward based training system, and often uses treats, and some tricks even promote the horse using its mouth to pick up or touch items. With this in mind we use this system sparingly on our riding horses, as we do not want to encourage mouthy behavior.
Lastly, there are a few activities where snow can actually work to your advantage. Depending on the conditions, and if the snow is at a good depth and not too slippery or crunchy you can ride or lunge your horse through the snow. This is often a lot of fun for horse and rider, plus moving through the deeper footing can be great conditioning for the horse.
It is very important that if you are working your horse in the cold winter months that you allow them extra time to warm up and cool down before and after a ride. Often in the cold weather horses don’t move around as much, so they can get very stiff. Allowing the horse extra time to slowly warm up their muscles is crucial to preventing injuries and helping them perform to the best of their best abilities. If a horse gets sweaty after a ride, you should give them extra time to cool off and dry before putting them back outside or putting a blanket back on. It is often a good idea to use a cooler to help absorb some of the sweat and keep them from getting a chill.
We know that winter sometimes seems to stretch on forever. Despite that, winter can be extremely beautiful, and it is up to us to make the most of it. Anything you are able do with your horse, no matter how small can make a huge difference. Even something as simple as brushing them everyday, or doing some stretches will help strengthen the bond between horse and rider. Not only that, but putting these practices to good use can help you and your horse come out even stronger when Spring arrives. Hopefully these ideas and tips inspire you to get out there and enjoy the winter season with your equine partner!