For those of us that can’t pick up and head south, winter can be a period of compromises. Meagan DeLisle shares a few tips for making winter riding as productive as possible.
I hate winter. That is not an exaggeration. No, I don’t mean I dislike winter. I hate winter. I hate being cold, I hate never feeling like I have enough clothing on and I hate what winter does to my riding regime. Winter in the Midwest is not my friend.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the availability at this time to pack up and spend the winter in sunny Florida so instead I just drool over all of the Wellington photos on Instagram while I shove more Hot Hands in my boots. Creating a stable riding plan during the winter isn’t easy, but it can be done if you are brave and ready to be a little cold.
Step One: The lunge line/ring is your best friend
If you are lucky enough that you feel this does not apply to you, then I envy you. Sadly, it is not the best idea to hop straight onto my thin skinned, hot-headed, hates-the-cold OTTB this time of year. Trust me, I learned my lesson the other day. Bad. Idea.
Let’s face it, most of our four legged friends are a little friskier this time of year, especially if they spend a quantity of their time in a stall. It is natural for them to want to gallop and play to warm up, but I would rather that not happen while I am on Joey’s back.
A good amount of lunging pre-ride is definitely going to help you have a little more grasp on what type of horse you have today and will help your horse get himself prepared for the ride at hand. A lot of horses get cold-backed this time of year (my college roommate Kellie had a dream of a horse who completely shocked us one day when a team member hopped on and he proceeded to hop her off…) and lunging them in their tack gets them adjusted and ready for you to mount.
Step Two: Use your limitations to your advantage
I am very thankful that my barn has an indoor arena, but that being said sometimes I am unable to ride in it because of itty-bitty lessons that are going on. My sometimes goofy 17-hand horse surrounded by ponies with “drunk drivers’”(some of these newbies haven’t mastered the concept of steering yet!) is not a good idea.
So — to the outdoor it is. Lately our footing hasn’t been the best; an influx of wintery mix has just made the arena downright gross. With that in mind, we have been working a lot on our flat skills and doing a ton of trot work. I just watched an awesome video Denny Emerson posted that had you riding in your half seat for longer periods each day (ugh, it’s like No Stirrup November all over again) to work on building strength during the limitations of the winter months.
Find your weak points and pinpoint in on them all winter. For example, Joey hates corners and does this weird outer bend when we get to them. The majority of our rides have been working in small circles, working on bending at all gaits and our transitions. By the warmer months I expect to have a very adjustable horse who can lengthen without galloping away and shorten without stopping.
Step Three: Be ready to blanket — yourself or your horse!
Don’t ride in miserable weather, and read up on dangerous temperatures for the health of your horse. Some days you might just have to sacrifice a ride. Dress yourself appropriately and know the proper way to cool down your horse after a ride. If your horse is not clipped and does not blanket, he needs to be fully dry from his steamy, sweaty state before going back out in the cold. Clipped or blanketed horses also need to dry prior to throwing a blanket on and never turn a horse who has been blanketed out without his blanket in poor weather conditions. If the weather is really bad, a clipped horse would probably benefit from a quarter sheet while flatting!
Knowing the proper way to care for your equine friend after a winter workout will help keep his/her integrity through these cooler months. And take care of yourself as well! Coats, gloves, scarves — heck sometimes I feel like I even need a face mask to stay warm (geez… wouldn’t Joey love that). If you or your horse isn’t dressed properly for the weather outside, neither of you will gain much from your workout other than a hatred for what you are doing. Comfort is key. Bundle up and saddle up!
Winter is awful — to me at least — but it doesn’t last forever. There may not be the same amount of options for your winter rides as there are in the warmer months, but use this time to your advantage to cross your t’s and dot your i’s so to speak. One day the sun will come out again and we can toss those coats to the wayside, but for now grab some hot cocoa and get on the road. It’s time to ride!