Saddle up and get out there!
At last, at last — spring has sprung! Birds are chirping, blankets are getting lighter and you are ready to saddle up and get a move on before summer kicks in and knocks you out with a heat wave. So how do you ramp back into a heavy work schedule after little or no riding during the winter? We hope we have some suggestions that can help!
Easy Does It
You (and most likely your horse) are probably excited to get back into work after a winter off, but don’t forget that you both probably need some break in time to get back into work. Have an “onboarding” program that helps properly reintroduce the two of you into a routine before piling on a workload. If you participate in performance events (jumping, eventing, barrel racing, etc) and have had the whole winter off, bringing your horse along at a controlled pace will prevent potential injuries brought on by an overload.
Controlled flat work, especially lots of trotting, is a great way to recondition a horse into a program. Working on hills is great as well, especially for building strength and stamina. Know the limits you need to stick to — there is a healthy amount of push that you can ask of yourself and your horse, but there is always a stopping point you need to abide by to keep you both in top shape.
If you have had most of the winter off as well, your body will most likely dislike you after your first few rides back. Get yourself back into shape with supplemental workout plans. I am a huge fan of riding my bike in the morning and my horse in the evening. Bike riding builds stamina and strength and like riding horses is a great stress relief!
A Clean Slate
The great thing about returning from some time off is that you can take this opportunity to address prior issues that you might have fought with before your winter break. For example, Joey and I are using a lot of our warmer weather time to readdress contact issues with the bit and utilizing some new exercises to encourage contact with the bit rather than force it.
Sometimes a break from what is frustrating you is a good thing: treat your return to work like a much-needed break. Do your research, find what the professionals you admire are doing to adjust behaviors that are less than desirable or even correct their own riding shortcomings.
Now is a great time to implement a stirrupless routine into your riding. Yes, nobody likes that thought, but riding without stirrups builds strength throughout your entire body. Coming back from some time off gives you time to retrain that muscle memory, and what better way to find the best place for your position than to ride without stirrups?
Enjoy the Ride
Most importantly, it is very easy to come back into riding after a period off with so much ambition that you lose a little bit of that loving feeling. Especially for competitive riders who have a goal they want to meet by a specific deadline, the loss of ability to ride through the winter months can make you feel pressured to make a certain amount of progress in a short period of time.
As we all know, timeline-based goals can be difficult when working with horses. Sure, sometimes they go according to plan but for the most part they do not. We are working with an animal here, with instincts and feelings and a mind of their own. Unlike baseball or football, it isn’t always as easy as drilling and drilling and drilling a play until you have it perfectly memorized, because there will be new factors each time you practice. Your position can alter the way a horse can perform, or maybe something looks a hair spooky and throws the horse off his game.
Take your time. Have a goal, because that is important, but don’t suck all of the fun out of what you and your horse are doing in an attempt to obtain that goal. Make it fun, switch it up, and every now and then ditch your plans and go for a nice hack and just get to know your horse a little better. Riding for sport is a thrill and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it, but you can’t just throw your love for the horse out the window.
So as the snow melts and the first week of spring springs upon us, saddle up and go riding!