We caught up with Dodson & Horrell Ambassador and International event rider Willa Newton to ask her about her winter routine with her horses and what she gets up to in the off season.

What is your winter routine for your horses?
It really depends on the horse and what it has done that season and how it looks at the end of the season for instance. The older horses have a break after they’ve finished competing normally for about 4/6 weeks.

This winter Moonlight Dance S’s break saw her stay in and just go out in the field during the day for about four weeks or so, whereas Cock a Doodle Doo has had six weeks completely out in the field.

Moonlight Dance S is a bit older now and therefore I think with the rain we’ve had it was better for her to come in every day. I also wanted her to benefit from being fed properly, to keep her looking well through the winter months.

Do they wear rugs out in the field?
They all wear turn out rugs in the field with necks on them. It has been very cold and wet this winter so we have wanted to keep them warm and dry so they put on condition and can let themselves down well.

Are they fed?
Again it depends on the horse, but we have been feeding Cock a Doodle Doo in the field this winter. We want him to put on weight so his body is in good shape when he starts working again.

We are always trying to put more condition on this particular horse, he also gets a mash when the weather is really cold or wet, he loves it!

Do you take their shoes off?
Again, it really depends on the horse — some have their shoes left on whereas some have them taken off to encourage foot growth.

We always take the hind shoes off so they can go in a field with other horses without being worried about them kicking one another.

Do you ride them at all during their break?
When they are on a break they do not get ridden at all. They have a long, hard season right through to October, so I think it’s important that the horse’s bodies and minds get time to rest and relax.

I find it helps them start the next season ready and raring to go.

Do all your horses have a break over the winter period or are some treated differently?
Normally they will all have some sort of break, but it can sometimes be at different times. For instance, the young horses will often finish at the end of August or early September and then have September and October in the field when the weather is often better.

They will then start work again in November when have more time for them, while the older horses are enjoying their holidays.

The only time horses might not get a break is if they have had time off earlier in the year and need to catch up on the work they have missed.

In this case their bodies have had a break and we use the winter to get them back to where they should be in their training.

Feeding needs to be managed carefully during this time as they can get fresh and difficult, their rehab needs to be managed carefully as you can be limited as to what you can do and we don’t want them getting sharp and naughty.

When do you start getting them back into work?
The older horses will normally start beginning of December or end of November and then we have enough time to do some strength and conditioning work.

They normally do a month of hacking, walking to start with and then building up to trotting and then some lunging and light schooling later on in the month.

This gives them time to get stronger in the correct way before we start further schooling and jumping in the New Year ready for the start of the eventing season.

Why is it important that your horses have a break over the winter months?
I think it’s important for the younger horses to have a break as it gives them time to think about what they have done.

They normally come back much better for it and it also allows them to grow naturally. For the older horses it is important their legs get a rest, personally I think it’s too much for them to be competing all year round and subsequently they will not stay sound for as long.

I also think that the summer period is intense for them and I believe that their minds also need a break so that they come back to work fresher and happier.

It can help keep them in a competitive career for longer and prevents the horses from getting sour and fed up with their job which will subsequently cause them to be less competitive.

What are you busy with while the horses are on their holidays?
We are busy producing the next generation while the older horses are out in the field. It allows us to spend time taking them off the yard to various different shows as well as training facilities.

We also sell some younger horses during this time and I’m busy teaching as well as trying to source more superstar horses for the future.

I think the days where event horses have two/three months off has become less and less. Sadly, the weather during the eventing off season does not encourage horses to be turned out completely as they used to be.

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