Finding the time and enthusiasm to exercise your horse over the colder months can be tough, but with a little organisation and creativity, fitting work when it’s chilly and wet outside really is doable.
Heather Ridley is a riding school instructor who fits in exercising her two horses around her full-time job. Here she offers some winter exercising suggestions that will add variety and help keep your horse fit…
1. In hand work
If you’re short on time, pop on your horse’s headcollar and do some in-hand work in the arena, such as backing up, turning on the forehand and turning on the hindquarters. These are great for building core strength and keeping joints flexible. Make sure that you walk your horse around for five minutes first to warm up their muscles and joints.
Lungeing is another great way to exercise a horse when time is short, but bear in mind that going round on a constant circle puts a lot of pressure on the joints and can cause injury, so take it easy and don’t overdo it. Aim for one or two sessions maximum per week for 20 minutes at a time.
3. Long reining
Long reining is great for straightness and transitions. Make sure that your horse is working forwards to both walk and trot. You can also practise turns, shapes and transitions.
When the ground and weather allow, hacking will keep your horse fit and happy. Riding safely over varying terrain is great for proprioception (the sense of self-movement, force and body position), while riding up and down hills is brilliant strengthening work. Always wear high-vis clothing to ensure that you and your horse are visible to other road users.
5. Pole exercises
Incorporating poles either in lungeing, long reining or ridden work is another way to spice up your winter schooling regime. There are a million ways you can lay out the poles which can be raised to add an element of difficulty.
Whatever you choose to do with your horse, ensure that you spend plenty of time warming up and cooling down when it’s cold to keep their muscles, tendons and joints in good condition. While you warm up, consider using an exercise sheet over their quarters to help keep their back warm, especially if they are clipped.
When it isn’t safe to ride
On the flip side, although keeping our horses moving in the winter is vital, there are also occasions when it is simply not safe to venture out, and you could risk injury to yourself and your mount. It may sound obvious, but riding on icy and frozen ground/ roads, through thick fog, hail and blizzards, as well as severe gusty winds, should be avoided. Keep an eye on the weather forecast before you head out and if there’s weather warning in place, stay safe by staying home.
Don’t be a weekend warrior
It is easy to overdo it riding at the weekend when you have more time, but be aware that this kind of regime can put your horse at risk of injury. Small sessions of exercise daily are much safer and more beneficial than extensive and lengthy sessions or hacks on a Saturday, Sunday or both.