Horse Fitness During The Winter

Courtesy of Southern States 

When the weather outside is frightful what is the horseback rider to do? That fire may be delightful, but we can’t just sit inside and sing let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. It’s our responsibility to maintain a fitness program for both horse and rider during the winter months. Inclement weather can definitely put a damper in your riding plans, but there are still ways to keep both you and your horse fit during the winter.

Winter Exercises for Horses

Daily exercise is important for the health of your horse all year long. However as we all know when there is limited day light, frozen rings and dreary weather it’s hard to stick to the riding routine that is followed the rest of the year.

Using what you have

Indoors are great to have throughout the year, but they come in particularly handy in the winter when frozen rings can bring a halt to your riding. Unfortunately, indoor rings are out of reach for many barn owners and boarders. If you don’t have an indoor the next best thing is to have a round pen or turnout field available. This way you can¬†continue your exercise program regardless of the weather, by either getting your horse turned out, lunged or hopping on for a hack. Remember to evaluate the footing prior to turning out or hopping on to ensure that the footing isn’t too icy. Horses can be ridden in the snow; just keep in mind, riding or turnout in snow can be more fatiguing than footing without snow to move through. Another option is to try to winterize your outdoor ring to help it not freeze during the winter.

No Indoor? Plan B

If you don’t have an indoor do some research and see if there is a local facility that has an indoor you can rent. Many private and park/state owned facilities offer ring rental by the hour to “outside” renters. Another option is to contact facilities in your area that run winter indoor shows, find out if they offer schooling opportunities either before or after the show.You don’t have to compete in the show, but you may be able to school over jumps or simply ride in their arena. Ask around. The worst you can be told is no.

Back to Basics

Winter provides a good opportunity to put the focus back on basics when dealing with your horse on the ground. Just because it’s too brisk to ride, doesn’t mean you can’t have useful training sessions with your horse. Groundwork can help keep your horse working on under saddle concepts even when you aren’t astride. Exercises can be as simple as having your horse walk next to you without pulling on the lead rope and dragging you to lunging him or her on circle at the walk, trot and canter. When working on the lunge line it’s important to keep the horse as controlled as you would when you are on them. This is not the time to let them run wild and out of control, rather it should mimic the same pace and control you would expect of them while riding. Focusing on groundwork will enable you to refine your horse’s skills and keep your training on track when the weather doesn’t cooperate or when you are under the weather.

Can’t ride? Don’t skip barn time!

Just because the weather outside is not ideal for riding, it doesn’t mean you should just stay inside reading a book or catching up on your favorite TV show. Make a point of going out to the barn and visiting your horse. Even if you can’t ride because of a frozen ring or wind chills in the teens, doesn’t mean you can’t bundle up and go spend some time with your horse. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and your horse has to stay inside, he or she is likely to become bored. A good groom or walk around the barn will help your horse remain in good spirits and not develop vices such as pawing, weaving or wood chewing that can start as a result of boredom.