Winter training can be a challenge for many reasons, you might work full time and only get to ride weekends, you may not have an area to ride in, your horse/pony may be fresher than usual and for anxious riders this can mean they don’t want to ride, and clearly any horse owner will understand the financial implications of keeping them over winter with extra feed, bedding, etc, a lack of motivation to even go outside when its blowing a gale and you are soaked before you even finish mucking out! Amongst a million other reasons!
Let’s face it, Winter is a season when we all want to hibernate! And who can blame us?!
BUT, lets just break this down, and TRY and find some positives…
Well, firstly, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the lack of flies annoying the horses (and us!) !!
Winter is the perfect time to review the goals you set at the beginning of the year, and I mean REALLY review, pull everything apart and get to the bottom of every goal, did you achieve it? How did you achieve it? Were the goals “easy” or did you find them challenging? If there were goals which were not quite achieved, then why?
If you can start with this mindset going into winter, then you should have a fairly clear idea of which goals – or their component parts – need your attention, and this is where your winter training plays a starring role.
For example, you wanted to be competitive at Elementary level, you had a few good scores and a few less good scores, if the less good scores were always for a certain movement, then this is your motivation to improve them over the 12 (ish) weeks we suffer the winter for, I am aware 12 weeks of winter seems unreal, but in reality we are looking at this sort of timescale. And in 12 weeks, we can do a heck of a lot of improvements with our riding, yes really! In 12 weeks the horses muscles change, so you can either look at 12 weeks of muscle wasting away, or an addition 12 weeks of muscle improvement, just like us, we need exercise to maintain ourselves, so do the horses.
“But I can’t ride in winter because my field isn’t suitable/my arena is frozen/my blah blah blah… “ I hear you now shouting at me!
If you can’t, and I genuinely mean YOU CAN’T ride for 12 (ish) weeks, when spring starts to appear, and the years goal setting comes around, will be tailored to this “break” but always remembering that it will take a few weeks of fitness training to get you going again and you can’t simply “shelve” your training and pick it up exactly where you left off! I have had riders take this approach in the past and it’s not only very difficult for the horse but I feel unfair on the horse to suddenly drag him out of the field/box and say “right, remember the medium work we were doing in November, well I expect you to do that, now you’ve had a “holiday” you should be better at it. Yes, I have witnessed this chaos unfold!
I just want to clarify something here, all horses deserve a break/holiday, BUT this should be planned, not just because its raining! Back in the day a hunter would get the summer to just be a horse, or an eventer would get the winter off when the season ended but a strict fittening programme was always followed prior to their discipline beginning again. Now we have varying competitions all year round we seem to expect our horses to perform 12 months of the year. This I am definitely not a fan of.
Horses are athletes and thrive on movement, so your horse might had had a fabulous winter holiday turned out 24/7 for 12(ish) weeks and mentally be 100% and raring to go, but physically he will have lost some muscle tone, so please make sure you do your fitness training before asking him to go straight back in the school and do endless training.
For those who CAN RIDE but struggle to find the motivation, let’s face it we all do at some point, this is where a mental mindset and clever planning can be the winning combination.
To highlight the points I always look at:
1) Do you have a goal set, and I mean for 12 months, not just 12 hours!
2) What were your goals for the past year? Did you achieve them?
3) Have you pulled the bones out of the past year’s goals?
4) What areas of your training need an extra boost?
5) Remind yourself that in 12weeks the horse’s muscles will change, you choose that end point!
6) Remind yourself YOUR muscles change in 12weeks!
7) ALWAYS find something positive about the training session, if it was blowing a gale, but your horse managed to stay “with you” then that’s a win-win, one day you could be at a championship competition and those weather conditions may be what you face…
8) Be adjustable to the days which you have earmarked for riding, a frozen arena might mean a hack down the road instead, rather than “oh well I will not ride”.
9) Look at arena hires with friends, when motivation is really low, just riding round with a friend, not schooling, just riding and having a chat, means your horses muscles will be working just to support your weight, so that’s a days “work” for some of the muscle groups.
10) Hacking, if you can, is an excellent addition to your work. Even of you are on a long rein, our horse will still be carrying you (note number 9 above) and if you can find some hills, even better!
11) Clothing. If you can, buy yourself some weatherproof clothing. It might mean splashing out, but believe me, whether I’m riding or coaching, if my clothing is right, my motivation follows suit!
12) Plan ahead as much as you can, WRITE down on a calendar or in a diary on a whiteboard, anything which makes you notice it, what your intentions are THAT WEEK, mostly we can judge the weather forecast for a week ahead, so look and plan ahead and share your plans with others. Sounds strange writing and sharing, but if you THINK IN INK there is a commitment to the weeks work. Trust me on this!
13) For the financially challenged owners, I would say the shared arena hires and group lessons, work incredibly well, not all riders “like” group lessons but believe me as a coach a group lesson DOES leave you with homework, its also less strenuous as other riders share the session, so if you can only manage to ride 3 days a week, then your horse will benefit from a little break in the session. Any coach worth their salt will leave you with a sense of achievement in a group setting.
14) Ask for Gift Vouchers from your coach for xmas if they offer them, or some money towards lessons, winter does have xmas involved so a fine time to ask for help from family!
I could list a further 10 at least, things which I apply to myself to keep me going over winter, but the ones noted are my fail safes.
Winter is a truly hideous time for any animal person, 4 horses, out walking dogs, keeping chickens I have it all, but with a CLEAR plan I can ensure my motivation is kept up and therefore when spring comes, I am ready for the competitions to arrive, and if my winter training has gone well, then a new level should be within reach….
So, this winter, lets embrace it and all it throws at us, its not here forever after all despite what it feels like!!
I am now going to review this past years work with corrie, I need to be motivated…..
What are your thoughts on winter?