If you find yourself making one too many excuses for staying out of the saddle at the moment, you may well be suffering from a mid-winter motivation slump. Sound familiar? Then it’s time to inject some energy into your winter routine. Here we offer up four ideas that really work when time, light and inspiration are running low.
1. Canter poles
If you don't have have the luxury an indoor school (and let's be honest, not many of us do!) the key to a happy schooling session in winter is to keep your horse moving using gymnastic exercises to liven up sessions and to build agility.
- Set out five canter poles on the ground, each placed three of your own paces apart (the distance can be adjusted until your horse can bounce happily through in a relaxed canter).
- The nest step is to raise the first, third and fifth poles, by a couple of inches at first but later by up to a foot..
- To ask more questions of your horse you can raise the second and fourth too.
2. Head for the hills!
Hacking your horse up hills can provide great strengthening and conditioning work - especially useful if you need to build up your horse's fitness. If the fields are too wet, you can do a little work on the roads and trot slowly up hills (be sure to kit yourself and your horse out in hi-viz so it's easy for other road user to see you). Heading outdoors like this will also prevent your horse getting bored in the school.
3. Play with poles
When time is of the essence, make the most of a short schooling session with this simple pole workout idea.
- Lay four poles equidistant on a 20m circle to make a star shape, then canter around them on both reins, making the work-out as easy or as difficult as you like.
- Canter around the outer edge of the poles for longer, more relaxed strides, or work nearer the centre for shorter distances and a more demanding session.
Twenty minutes of this will work your horse well and hard, developing his rhythm, balance and turning ability. You’ll also be able to concentrate on your position – it’s a winner on many levels!
Take hacks to the max
Hacking out can bring a welcome breath of fresh, wintry air, especially for a stabled horse and there are plenty of ways that you can make your outings more productive. Here's how:
- Be sure to maintain a good rein connection throughout.
- Focus on keeping your horse's walk swinging along and use a few half-halts to keep the trot balanced and rhythmical.
- Try a little leg yielding and shoulder-in, too, moving the horse around with your legs to make sure he’s listening.
- Shallow loops are a great way to keep your horse's mind occupied and to keep him listening as you hack. They'll also help to improve his flexibility. Try weaving in and out of bushes and trees along a bridleway. To weave in and out, ask for a bend as you would when schooling. Collect your horse with a half-halt, put your weight into your right leg (if you're bending to the right) so it wraps around your horse, and nudge your right seat bone slightly forward so your inside leg can ask for bend.