With images by StefanNeary.com - Everyone agrees it has been a long, harsh winter so far – lots of frigid temperatures and heavy snow from the Midwest to the Northeast. And for riders and their horses the simple truth is…we can’t all be snowbirds! Wellington Fl, is an amazing place for horses and riders to spend the winter, great weather, top competitions/clinics, great nightlife and of course, the Wellington parties! But, if you are like "the rest of us", the financial and logistic commitment of moving south for the winter is prohibitive and not always possible. Debra Wiedmaier's training business is located in Millbrook, NY, far away from the warmth and atmosphere of Wellington, Florida. This winter with the significant amounts of fresh snow and cold conditions, Wiedmaier became particularly inventive with her training tools to keep herself, clients and horses in tip top form, preparing mentally and physically to be ready for the seemingly distant Spring, and of course, the upcoming show season. Read on for Debra's training tips and to view Stefan Neary's beautiful photos.
So what are some good practices a dressage rider can put into action to help keep themselves and their horse motivated and moving in the right direction? No matter where your horse is currently is on the training scale, winter training can be so much more than just keeping your horse adequately exercised and preventing him from bouncing off their stall walls.
During the winter months, riding in an indoor arena is still fun and productive, however I ensure that my footing is consistent and properly groomed. This means preparing in the fall with regular grooming, edge raking and continuous manure removal, doing so will ensure that your footing is the correct depth for a nice fluffy cushion and has no contaminants that can freeze and become hard in the mix.
Keeping your horse interested and motivated should be a pleasure, not a chore.
Here are some basic thoroughness exercises that I use as part of my daily warm-up:
- Allow ample time for a complete warm-up, meaning at least 10 minutes of walking mounted. It’s important to keep your horses back warm with a warm quarter or cooler blanket.
- While doing this engage your horses mind with basic movements like shoulder –in, haunches-in, leg yields, half-passes, rein back, turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand.
- Ensure your horse is adjustable to a minimum amount of aids (I often train with no spurs) and that you can place your horse anywhere you wish.
- Then move into your trot and canter work. When working transitions within the gaits, use your half halts to help your horse understand what an elastic connection to the contact means.
- Its important to pay attention that the horse is not hanging on your outside rein.
- All the gymnastic exercise will help to assure that your horse doesn’t hang on your outside rein.
- Try to keep things simple and pay attention to details.
- Don’t be afraid to make a mistake as this is how you and your horse learn.
- Always have your comfort zone to go to (something you and your horse are secure in) when things don’t seem to fall into place and then go back to your exercise and repeat.
- Depending on the horse’s stage of development, you will vary the degree of your details (neck positioning, engagement, bending, tempo and angle of your movements, etc).
- Always ensure the horse is moving over their back, and getting that critically all-important thoroughness from hindquarters to rib cage and shoulders/withers to the bit.
Snow riding during the winter months is not a no-no. But it is easily double the work for your horse – so short sessions are recommended. Just make sure the footing is flat – so an outdoor ring surface would be ideal. Given the hardness of the bare ground, riding with a snow cover of at least 4-6 inches in depth, that is still fluffy, not frozen over, is key. Of coarse the temperature is always a concern as to when it is not healthy for your horse’s lungs. I personally don’t like to work my horse’s hard in temps less than 25 degrees. We have a heated indoor so this is not a problem for me in general.
As you can see from these photos we’ve been lucky this winter the conditions have been fantastic! NO ice! Responsibly managed horses can thrive in cold weather if they are well conditioned. Light trail riding outside is always a great way to provide a bit of variety in the winter program and help alleviate some cabin fever, but one must be very conscious of the ground, that its not icy. I find walking through the fresh snow on an established trail or outdoor arena is best, the horses enjoy it and fresh snow actually grips pretty well. Of coarse, it is extremely important that the horses are properly shod for the winter. Once you’re confident that there are no obvious dangers ask for a trot and canter, and even some movements depending on your horse’s training level and feel the exhilaration! And, most importantly, both of you are together having fun.
Another fun winter activity is to attend (or host) a clinic. I have also devoted time to providing clinics so that riders have eyes on the ground—critical for ensuring your efforts are correct and effective and are really building your horse’s physical capabilities. I have found my clinics are well attended by riders of all levels and disciplines. All are hungry for motivation, the right guidance and training tools to add to their repertoire.
If you want more information about hosting one of my clinics to help keep you motivated and focused. Contact me at dwdressage.com or (914) 673-4487. Enjoy your winter riding and have fun!