This time of year it’s difficult, if not impossible, to work your horse unless you’re blessed with access to a covered pen or an extremely sandy arena. In most places the ground is covered in ice or deep mud to the point that a horse can barely stand up, let alone move around enough to get worked on a lungeline or under saddle.
Most people give their horses the winter off and then take a couple of months to get them legged back up and tuned. While it does a horse good to have a break, the winter doesn’t have to be a complete loss if the ground is too dangerous to ride. There are things you can do to keep your horse tuned throughout the winter that will also help to shorten conditioning time.
If you’re turning your horse out every day it’s an optimum time to work with your horse for just a few minutes. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a couple of minutes every day. The consistency of even small doses of work can add up over time and you’ll see a huge improvement in your horse.
When you’re turning your horse out, you can work on things like shoulder control or hip control. Just asking your horse to move their front end over a step or two every day will result in his being a lot lighter under saddle.
You can also ask your horse to move their hips to move over or work on things like side passing, half passes, and pivots as you’re heading to the turnout or before you turn your horse loose. By asking your horse to do maneuvers before he’s turned loose you’ll also help to minimize issues that are caused by anticipation such as pulling away when un-haltering or becoming too hot when going through the gate. Instead of relating turnout time with freedom, they learn to associate turnout time with work first which eliminates the anticipation.
Another opportunity that’s often over looked is feeding time. Some horses can get a little pushy when they’re not handled, especially while eating their feed. By asking them to move their hips, shoulders, or their whole body over while they’re eating works on attitude, trust and lightness.
A stall or any area that’s the same size with good footing can be a work area for your horse. Even though it’s a relatively small space, it’s ideal for working on things like bending and body control. You can ask your horse to walk a circle around you in this small area. Small close circles not only work on bending and flexibility but they also help with balance and impulsion if done correctly. Because you’re in close quarters, you have the opportunity to help you horse just as you would under saddle. You can also work on shoulder control and basic body control by making your circles smaller and bigger.
When doing these exercises with your horse, always strive to see how little effort it takes to accomplish what you’re asking, and to see just how precise your horse can be. As with all groundwork, the lighter and more precise your horse is on the ground, the lighter and more precise they’ll be under saddle.
You’ll still have to do some conditioning to do when the weather breaks. Think of these exercises as yoga for your horse. Just like yoga for people, these exercises may not get their heart rate up but just like regular yoga they will help with flexibility, balance, and strength which will shorten the time required to condition your horse.
What are some things that you need to work on with your horse? What are some small things that you can start doing now with your horse while the weather is bad to help improve those weaknesses?