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Winter is Brutal, by Jennifer Lindgren

Winter has set in hard herjennifer_lindgren2e in the Midwest. Brutal cold along with ice and snow makes  traveling to the barn difficult for many. Once we  get there, we aren’t much warmer because few  of us can afford to heat a barn or an arena. Even true horsemen get discouraged on these  damp cold days.

Now is not the time to stay on  the couch or to leave your horse in the stall  bundled under blanket. Abandoning our mounts  until the snow melts is bad for both horse and  rider. Exercise, crucial to maintaining proper  circulation, respiration, and digestion, is more  critical to horses in the winter months than in the  summer. Horses can get the winter  blues too. Give them much needed  attention and boost your own spirits  by spending time out of the house.

You don’t want to bring your horse  to a sweat when it is brutally cold,  but you must get them out of the  stall and moving. Remove blankets  to brush the horse down and check  their coat for blanket rubs or  fungus patches.

Monitor your horse’s  water intake. Some horses dislike cold water. Encourage drinking with loose salt fed either  by hand or sprinkled in feed.

If you bring your  horses outside, clean snow packed hooves prior  to stalling.

Take extra time for your warm-ups and cool  downs. Warm-ups can  be in hand or under  saddle. If you have an  arena that is hazard  free, let your horse  loose to let off some  steam. Enjoy watching  him run, spin, dance  and snort. Let him be  a horse! If he is lazy,  encourage him with a  longe whip. This free  time is good for both his mind and body.

If you  can’t turn out indoors, longeing is a  good alternative. But, avoid standing  in a circle with the horse moving  mindlessly around you. Use the  whole arena and move along with  your horse, turning a boring longe  exercise into a team workout. Much  more fun than a health club!

Be creative under saddle. Riding  the rail is best left for the show ring. Spirals, serpentines, squares, and  diagonals are great ways to strengthen your  horse’s hindquarters and they spice up your  workout. Start the spiral with a large fast circle,  moving inward as you slowly decrease speed  and circle size. Try to make four circles prior  to spiraling back outward. Spiral in both directions. A serpentine is a series of half circles with  change of direction. Your goal is to have each  half circle match in size and speed. The number  of loops in the serpentine will depend upon your  arena length. If you have trouble with the loops,  set out cones to mark the change points. Riding  a square involves 4 straight lines with 90 º pivots  on the haunches at each corner. The pivots  will help to strengthen and engage your horse’s  hindquarters. Diagonal work focuses on controlling  your horse’s speed through your body  language. Set cones in the corners of the arena,  riding diagonally between them. Maintain his  speed until you approach the cone, then sit  deep in your seat, relax and ask for the halt. He  will catch on quickly.

Next, try to ride a straight  line and halt with your eyes closed. Focus on getting your horse to change speed  within the gait, on demand. Remember, you  should have three speeds at the walk, trot (jog),  and canter (lope).

If you have access to barrels  or poles, set them in various patterns and see if  you can bend your horse around them, hands  free.

Have you ever ridden the alphabet? Lower  case letters work best. First, picture the letter in  your mind, planning in the arena where you will  need to stop, turn, or back. Start with “a” at the  walk and move to the jog or trot as soon as you  feel confident enough. Don’t get discouraged,  this is very tough. At first your letters will look  like a preschooler learning to write. By the end  of the month, you should be loping the alphabet  with ease.

Cool downs are best done bareback. Pulling off  that saddle not only helps you feel your horse  better, it will improve your balance and timing. As  you walk around the arena, get in sync with his  rhythm, memorizing his footfall. Don’t worry  about a headset or collection, let him relax and  enjoy the ride too!  

Jennifer Lindgren has been an All-Breed  Judge since 1985. She is an experienced  competitor who has earned Regional and  National awards in Halter, Western Equitation  and Hunter. She loves all breeds of horses and  keeps her private collection in Grant Park, IL. Contact Jennifer at: JENLIND22MSN.COM

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 12.]

 

What is your favorite winter-related, non-horse activity?

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