4 Ways to improve your horsemanship without riding

Too cold/wet/snowy to ride? Callie Rae King shares some ideas for getting a leg up on spring without stepping foot in a stirrup.

From Callie:

The holidays are well behind us now, but most of us still have several months of cold, snowy, wintry weather to contend with. It is easy to lose motivation to keep working with your horse, and some days riding isn’t even possible unless you have an indoor. That’s why I wanted to take a few moments and share some things that you can do during the winter (or any rainy day that you don’t feel like riding) to improve your horsemanship skills and further your horse’s training without leaving the barn.

1. Education – For this first one, you don’t even have to go to the barn! I find that long evenings and snow days provide the perfect opportunity to catch up on my reading and watch a few new horse training videos. When it comes to horses, there is always something new to learn, and hearing about new training ideas or riding tips can boost your motivation to go to the barn and try them out. There are many good books out there, but if you are not sure where to start, here are a few of my favorites: Centered Riding by Sally Swift, My Horses My Teachers by Alois Podhajsky, and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. (This last one is not just about horses, but is a great book on fundamentals of behavior and training.)

2. Groundwork in the Barn – I believe that groundwork is very important for any horse’s training, but it can be easy to overlook when the weather is nice and you just want to get in the saddle. Use the temptation to stay inside the barn to your advantage and practice softening your horse to the bridle, moving his hindquarters and shoulders from the ground, start some basic in-hand work up and down the barn aisle, or any other exercise you can do from the ground.

3. Teach your horse a trick – This may sound silly and not so practical, but I have actually found “trick training” to help me in other ways. First off, you are still practicing essential horsemanship skills like timing of release and reward. Also, because most trick training methods are reward based, this kind of work can be a great way to get your horse more interested in training, and strengthen your bond. You can teach your horse simple things like picking something up, or doing a bow, or you could train a more practical “trick” like ground tying or lowering his head from a touch at the poll.

4. Fix bad habits – Does your horse have a bad habit or an area that needs work that you tend to ignore? Perhaps he is hard to bridle or doesn’t pick up his feet very easily. Maybe he could use some more desensitization for the clippers or spray bottle. (As long as your sprays aren’t frozen like mine are right now!) Sometimes we just deal with these things when we are looking forward to just going out for a ride, but bad weather and being stuck in the barn can actually provide an excellent opportunity to spend the time it takes to work through problems.

About Callie: I own and operate a small boarding and training facility in Chester County, Pa., where I love working with young horses and so-called “problem horses.” I enjoy learning from every horse I get to work with and always finding better ways to train and to teach my students. Writing is another passion for me, and I write two blogs. The first is CRK Training Blog, where I feature riding and training tips and interview other trainers and horse industry experts. The second blog is Happy Horse Reviews, where I share my thoughts on a variety of equestrian products. Thanks for taking the time to read my article!

Callie King


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