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Written by: Jenna Tranter
Published on: 01/17/2022
The hot days of summer are gone and the snow has flown in many places across North America. No more lush pasture, endless trail rides and outdoor arenas. Many owners have found themselves ‘back in the box’ of their indoor riding arena repeating what seems like the same rides over and over. So how can you jazz up your winter routine and keep things new and fresh for you and your horse? Regardless of what discipline you ride there are tons of ways you can keep you and your horse busy all winter while sharpening your skills.
There’s nothing more ‘dry’ than getting on your horse in the arena and repeating the same routine day in and day out. This zaps the fun out of the ride for both you and your horse. An easy way to manage this is to make sure that while you're reviewing your ‘homework’ from your lessons with your coach, you are also giving yourself and your horse some time to just enjoy the ride. Adding some simple patterns to help get you off the rail and engage your horse's brain can sometimes be a simple way to break up your ride. For those of you who are more adventurous there is a plethora of pole based activities that can be found online that range from using a couple poles to 20+ poles. These activities are great for your horse's hind end and back as the poles ensure your horse is really lifting all four legs and engaging their body in the work. Even just walking the pole patterns with your horse either while riding or on the ground is super beneficial- When your horse is walking the poles they have to work their muscles more than at faster gaits as they don’t have the momentum to ‘push’ them through them. Everyone loves to throw the term topline around and poles combined with patterns are an easy way to start some basic work on your own horse's topline.
Even if it’s cold, try and get out of the box from time to time- if it's a decent day and the weather is cooperative there is nothing more refreshing for riders and horses brains than a good hack or trail ride. Even better is if you have access to gentle rolling hills and the footing is good! Hills also can work wonders on topline without you or your horse really having to think too hard about the exercise. Outdoor hacking does come with some risks like ice however so it’s best to know the area you are venturing into and what hazards there may be, especially if you know an area can be particularly wet or may be icy.
We don’t have to always ride our horses to engage their brains and bodies. There are so many groundwork activities that add value to your horses program. Simple activities like stretches are excellent- I often use baby carrots to encourage stretches. You can ask them to bring their necks down towards the ground and between their front legs, as well as curling their necks and heads around towards their pelvis/stifle. Simple belly lifts are also another way to engage, you guessed it, your horse’s topline. Never force these movements and only work within the horse’s comfort zone. You can also introduce new or different items to your horse- like a stuffed animal, tarp or umbrella. Setting these items up in your arena and encouraging your horse to investigate them without ‘flooding’ or ‘scaring’ them is beneficial down the road. These types of activities encourage confidence in your horse long term-you never know what obstacles you might encounter at a show ground or simply out on the trails.
Most importantly- Love your horse! Some days when your motivation or energy is low and riding feels more like a chore than something fun, a good hour in the barn just brushing and fussing over your horse is just what the proverbial doctor ordered. It’s -20C in my neighbourhood today and I’m headed to the barn to give our ‘seniors’ a spa day. Don’t worry- in no time we will all be back out of the box in the sunshine again!
Jenna is a lifelong equestrian and lover of all animals big and small. She has both studied and worked within the industry for 20+ years in both the feed sector as well as being a coach and hunter/jumper facility owner with time spent in the UK and Canada. She holds a number of equine certifications from universities in both countries. She also has completed numerous courses in equine body work, including equi-bow, but is not a practitioner at this time due to there just not being enough time in the day! Jenna lives on her farm in Ontario, Canada with her husband, 19 horses, 2 goats, a flock of ducks, a flock of chickens, her barn cats and her 3 loyal dogs, Bosco, Evaa & Eeyore.