Some very fortunate equestrians are able to ride year-round. Many more of us find ourselves needing to take a break from riding during the Winter. Maybe you don’t have an indoor arena or even suitable outdoor footing. Maybe your arthritis kicks in so much that riding in Winter is downright painful. Maybe the lack of daylight hours or the bad driving conditions prevents you from getting to the barn with any regularity. Due to whatever factors, you realize that consistent time in the saddle won’t happen again until Spring.
It is a frustrating and disappointing reality for those of us who love to ride. I, too, mourn the loss of riding time every Winter. While nothing can substitute for time on a horse’s back, that does not mean you can’t have a productive Winter. Here is what you can do during your down season to prepare for Spring riding:
1. Read, read, read
You know all those horse books and magazine articles that your riding instructor or best friend keeps telling you to review? Now is the time! I always read with an eye for how I can apply the book’s information to my own horse life. I take notes on specific philosophies and exercises that I might like to try with my horse come Spring. If you don’t already have a wish list of books in mind, go to www.horseandriderbooks.com for ideas.
2. Watch, watch, watch
So many training and riding videos are available online. Video-watching can be either a great substitute or a great compliment to book reading depending upon your learning preference. There are a lot of free clips online, but you can also purchase access to large collections of videos. For example, both Horse and Rider and Dressage Today have On-Demand video sections of their websites where you pay to view.
3. Maintain your physical fitness
It is hard enough to start riding again in the Spring after being on the ground all Winter. You will make it harder on yourself if you have spent most of the Winter at a standstill. Instead, get moving! You might particularly enjoy exploring fitness programs that are specially made for equestrians. FEI is a great resource for equestrian home workout ideas.
4. Rediscover the joy of spending time with your horse on the ground.
If we focus all our attention on riding, we can forget about the pleasures of spending time with our horses in other ways. Listening to them munch hay, watching them play with their friends in the pasture, taking them for a hand-walk to explore the freshly fallen snow, grooming, experimenting with tricks, games, and other types of groundwork. Spending time with our horses off their backs can enrich their lives and ours. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, check out this very nifty and free activity generator from Good Horse.
5. Clean out your barn/tack truck/closet/horse trailer
I don’t want to spend my Spring time cleaning and sorting. I would rather ride! So whenever possible, I try to do as much as I can to get organized during the Winter. I go through all my stuff while cleaning and tidying. I donate items I don’t use anymore to my local horse rescue. I make a list of items I think I might need come Spring and figure out how to acquire them. That way I am ready ride when the weather clears.
6. Make riding plans for Spring
The arrival of the Coronavirus in 2020 upended many of our horse plans. Lessons, clinics, shows and even trail rides were cancelled or severely modified. As we continue to deal with the virus and its effects, the outlook for the horse world in 2021 is still uncertain. I know it can be hard to make future plans in this environment, but some of us still want to have something to work towards.
Think outside the box. If you aren’t sure you can get to an event, could you explore entering an online horse show instead? What about if you can’t even go for that big trail ride? Are there riding skills you can work on at home during 2021 that will prepare you for group rides in 2022? The right combination of creative planning and flexibility can help you have a bright riding future even in uncertain times.
Mary Lynne Carpenter
Mary Lynne Carpenter is a backyard horse-owner who loves to ride and write. Her essays have appeared in Equus Magazine, The Horse Magazine, Horse Network, The Plaid Horse Blog, and Horse Nation. She invites you to follow her at “The Backyard Horse Blog- Living the Dream and the Reality of Keeping Horses At Home.”
Here in Spain we are fortunate to be able to ride horses almost all year round, if not all year round. But sometimes, especially if it rains a lot, we ride indoors.