January 2, 2015

Training the Young Horse in Winter

Now that my horse lives at home and I do not have an indoor arena, winter riding has taken on a new meaning and a new feeling.

Our first real ride in the deep snow. We didn't do it much, but trotting was FUN!

At first I was initially glum thinking to myself that I wouldn't get to ride again until March. Having never been without an indoor arena in the winter, this was a fair novice assumption. However, as winter arrived, I found that I could still ride once or twice a week given the right weather conditions. What the term "ride" meant to me has morphed though. Instead of working on specific contact or rhythm issues in an arena, we are going on walking trail rides down the gravel road to pick up the morning newspaper. That may not sound like much, but when you stop and think about it, a young horse gains a lot of training from these simple rides.

You are probably thinking, "yeah right". Let me break it down for you.

Tacking Up

Horse learns that it is okay to be out of sight of pasture buddy (and vice versa).
Learning to stand quietly in cross-ties (or tied) for grooming and saddling. 
If horse starts pawing, do not allow it. Horse learns not to paw.
If horse shows signs of tension/anxiety by impersonating a giraffe, work on lowering head from pole pressure.

The Ride

Horse learns to stand quietly at mounting block, despite neurotic pasture mate displaying attachment disorder drama.
Work on walk cues, moving off leg.
Work on steering cues, moving away from leg pressure.
Work on stretching "long and low".
Work on halting from the seat aid.
Work on turn on forehand/hind when ponying up to the mailbox.
Horse learns that standing still at the mailbox is no biggy.
Horse learns that mailboxes and my weight shifting off the side of the saddle to get mail and newspaper is no biggy.
Horse learns that other horses, dogs, snowmobiles, and four wheelers are no biggy on a trail ride.

Post Ride

This is mostly the same items as tacking up. 
Additional post-ride cross-tie items include, tack-cleaning, main pulling, and trimming.
Soon I plan to add horse vacuum cleaner to the list.

In Conclusion

When you break down a simple ride into these things, you see that there is actually a lot of training going on and they are all individually things to be worked on. Most of these items tend to get put on the back burner during the "regular riding season". Each and everything on this list can and should be worked on with a young horse. As such there is SO much training that can go on during the winter. Even if the weather is not great for riding, all of the tacking up and post ride items can still be worked on in as little 15 minutes a day and in the long run will provide you with a better trained horse come spring.

The riding item that is in the forefront of the list is Gentry's halt. It is just about as bad as Rose's used to be before I spent the winter I was pregnant working on it. This is because, halting is not something that most baby/green horses instinctively know/care to do (with the exception of when you quickly  throw your weight off balance over the shoulder). After that winter, Rose was a halting rock star and soon Gentry will be too!

Happy trails and swooshing tails!


  1. There is a huge amount to be said for miles and consistency. I think your training points for rides like these are hugely important and not to be dismissed as some people do.

  2. There are a lot of options for those without arenas! Plus I think we have more fun because we have to be more creative!

  3. Added bonus: falling off into the snow hurts A LOT less!

  4. I've been riding outside this winter and honestly I'm so happy to be outside (I'm a desk jockey all day). It's cold but if you dress for it the winter is so beautiful.

  5. Also lifting feet out of snow adds additional leg workout for both of you right? Sounds kinda low-key and awesome.

  6. love this - and agree 100%! routine means EVERYTHING to my horse - so even if i just tack her up, hand walk her, then untack her, it still definitely counts for something, like mental engagement



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