The end of show season is coming up fast; it’s hard to believe my last show is only two weeks away! The beautiful fall weather is calling to me more and more, and I find myself looking forward to getting a break from the routine of “show” training. My horse will get his shoes pulled and start going outside more, and although he’ll stay working through the winter, it won’t be 6x a week like it is during show season. I’ll work him 3 days a week, but on the other days, I want to do something else. Less intense. Not necessarily more fun, since I love working a show horse, but just… different. But what, exactly, can we do? Well, all kinds of things!
I just read a great article about how horses who do groundwork are more relaxed under saddle. Normally I think of ground work as long lining, but it can also be work in hand. Some things I want to teach my horse this winter:
- Side passing
- Pivot on front and hind foot
- Improve backing in a straight line (he backs like a drunken sailor)
- Teach him to bow
- Improve responsiveness to transition cues
Working in hand will also serve a second purpose – it will teach my horse to keep his attention on me. His mind normally doesn’t wander; he’s a pretty focused guy, but keeping his mind sharp isn’t a bad thing!
A book I highly recommend: Horse Training In-Hand. Check it out!
This is one of my favorite things to do in the fall, when the bugs are gone but the sun is still warm. Trainer Renae Wesenberg posted an article on this blog about training your show horse for trail riding, so I won’t go too deep into that aspect of it.
You don’t have to limit trail riding to just riding. You can long line, drive, even hand walk your horse on trails. If your horse isn’t experienced with trails, lining or hand walking might be a good way to introduce them to it, although I find that most show horses take to it like ducks to water.
Do a quick search on Facebook for trail groups in your area. You’ll probably find a few, especially if you’re near a state or county park that allows trail riding. And if you don’t have a trailer, you might find someone nearby that can pick you up on their way!
I have a good friend who spends a lot of time in the winter doing games with her horse, and it really makes for a well rounded animal and can strengthen your communication with each other. Some things to try:
- Tarp training. There are lots of things you can do with a tarp. The horse can go over it. The horse can go under it. You can carry it while you ride. The horse can drag it. The horse can even be draped in it! Of course it goes without saying to start slow and easy, and don’t overwhelm the horse or scare it. Baby steps go a lot further than trying to do it all at once.
- Obstacles. I love doing obstacle work with my horse. Use hay bales or ground poles to make an L or a T and practice going through them forwards and backwards. Hang some pool noodles from the doorway and teach your horse to calmly walk through them. Put a bucket on one barrel and a ball on another – while riding, pick up the ball on one barrel and drop it in the bucket on the other barrel. Practice opening and closing gates from horseback. Don’t have a gate? Just tie a rope between two posts and work on untying it on one end and walking it over to the other end. You can make obstacles out of a lot of things, and if you’re handy, you can even build a bridge or platform. And obstacles can be done in hand, lining, driving or riding!
- Stretches. I stretch my horse a bit almost every day, but winter is a good time to work on getting deeper stretches. You can make this into a game for the horse, and then once show season rolls back around, you’ll have a whole new arsenal of ways to keep your horse supple! One of my favorite books is Stretch Exercises for Your Horse. It’s spiral bound so you can lay it flat.
Cavaletti and Jumping
If you’ve taken off your horse’s show shoes, you might want to try incorporating some jumps or ground poles into your winter work. Ground poles are great for working all the horse’s joints and extending their stride. I start with the poles on the ground, and as the horse gets more comfortable going through them, I’ll raise them up a bit to make things more challenging. I love using Rail Razers. They are about 3″ off the ground, and you can stack them to get up to 6″ high poles.
Jumping is also very beneficial for the horse. It provides a great hind end workout and teaches the horse to pay attention to their stride and speed. Not up to riding a jumper? No worries – you can long line or lunge a horse over jumps, and even set up free jumps!
New and Improved Skills
There are always things we can improve on, and always new things to learn. Winter is a good time to sharpen up some of the things that might not be 100% during show season, as well as teach your horse something new. This is the time when trainers break colts, gait young horses, refine a canter, equitate a prospect – use your time off for training! It’s also a good opportunity to experiment with things like shoeing and bits, or practice the airhead-moments we all have in the show ring. For some reason I struggle with switching my whip, so I’ll be practicing that a lot this winter!
What are some of the things you like to do in the off season?
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