EN Today: Winter Q&A – volume 6 with Doug Payne

Have questions about quarter sheets? Concerns about your cooped-up horse? Jenni Autry gets answers from a top event rider.

The Winter Q&A Series gives Eventing Nation readers a forum to ask their most burning winter-training questions. Panelists Katie Murphy, Doug Payne, Denny Emerson and Jennie Brannigan will answer reader-submitted questions through March, with their answers appearing each week on the blog. Have a question for our panelists? Submit it to [email protected]. Doug Payne is answering today’s questions.

Top photo: Manoir De Carneville enjoys a snowy hack. Photo courtesy of Meg Kep.

Q: My horse was laid up most of 2012 with an injury. She was cleared by the vet to begin light work — as in long, slow distance. For the next 2-3 months I’ll be limited to the outdoor ring and on some weekends, an indoor. What do you recommend for keeping a clever mare’s mind entertained while walking for most of 45 minutes, with limited options for ground poles and the like? (Submitted by EN reader Kathryn)

Doug: It’s always a challenge to keep their mind busy with limited options! I would want to speak with your vet to find out details about the injury. I think you’ve got to find out your limitations before going forward. Regardless of what competitions are on the horizon, be conservative; you’ll have a better horse for it in the end!

Find out from your vet if you’re able to include any or all of the following: ground poles, lateral work, how much trot or canter, jumping, etc. Once you have a complete idea of your horse’s capabilities and limitations, your goal should be to keep your horse constantly thinking and on his toes. Look over your dressage tests from the past year and try to pinpoint weaknesses that need improvement. The weakness may actually be a trait found in more than one particular movement. Maybe your horse is prone to get a bit crooked and fall onto the right shoulder consistently. Leg yields to the left, turns on the haunches, or half passes may help tremendously.

It’s also a great time to work on collecting and extending the walk with ground poles, or, better yet, work on that free walk. I would say stretching walk and trot are the two movements in tests that riders throw away the most points, and the walk is x2! Keep busy and come out of the injury ready to win.

Q: Quarter sheets — to use or not to use? My horse is fully clipped and everyone in my barn uses quarter sheets while warming up. But it seems like one more accessory I’m not sure I really need. As long as my horse isn’t visibly shivering, do I really need one? (Submitted by EN reader Kelly)

Doug: I do think they are beneficial, especially when the horses are working hard. If it’s below 45 degrees and fully clipped, our horses generally use them. They stay in place throughout the ride, and will keep their hindquarters working well. Often times it does not appear as if your horse is cold, but without insulation they can easily cramp. Would you want to go for a long run outdoors in a T-shirt?!

Quarter sheets can be very important with horses who have tied up in the past; keeping them warm will help dramatically. Regardless if your horse has a history or not, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Quarter sheets can also be very useful for longer walks/hacks outdoors in the cold and wind, although a full cooler to help keep YOU keep warm is preferable at times!

Q: It’s not even January and I’m already tired of riding in I can tell that my horse is also getting bored and generally uncooperative. I try to keep our rides different and interesting so she doesn’t lose interest, but I always find myself drifting back to working on the same things over and over — the things I know I need to work on. How can I keep my mare engaged while still working toward accomplishing my goals over winter? (Submitted by EN reader Jesse)

Doug: It’s best to check back with the past year’s competitions, as mentioned in Kathryn’s rehab question. Identify your weaknesses and do your best to devise exercises to improve them. I’ve always looked forward to the winter indoors; it’s a great chance to iron out all of the shortcomings you’ve been trying to hide from the judges all year.

Ground poles and cavaletti can be excellent. Use them to improve your horses strength in all three gaits, as well as a means to improve your ability to lengthen and shorten your horse’s stride. In addition to improvements to be made on the flat, use your time indoors to improve your horse’s quickness when jumping. Regardless of how small you indoor is, build gymnastics like they’re going out of style. Bounces and combinations can be set on straight lines as well as on circles and figure 8s. There are a number of great books out now, which have a wealth of exercises bound to spice up your dull winter indoor blues. Get creative and be ready to win when the ground finally thaws.

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