We were asked “what do you do in winter to keep the horses fit?” That is a very important question. We get winter ice and snow but we don’t have an indoor arena on the farm. We need to come up with creative ways to keep horses and riders in training. Here are 10 of our favorite solutions:
- Keep an area free of snow and ice. This can be about the size of a typical roundpen (60′ diameter). This assures a place with safe footing (the most vital concern). We shy away from any speed work in its close confines but it is sufficient to train new skills reaffirm foundation work, and practice valuable equitation excercises for the riders.
- Hillwork! Our driveway loops back and forth across a good-sized hill, and slow hillwork is perfect fitness training!
- Ride in the snow. It’s great fun! Plus, the snow has the same fitness-building effect as running on a sandy beach (a nice thing to think about in the middle of winter!)
- Transitions between the gaits (example, walk-halt-walk or walk-trot-walk) build fitness and obedience in your horse.
- Transitions with a wider spread, such as walk-canter-walk or back up-canter-halt to increase the challenge–and the results.
- Cavaletti spaced correctly are valuable fitness building tools.
- Backing up has the the same beneficial effects on horses’ bodies as sit-ups do on ours when the horse is backing softly with his hind end engaged.
- Lateral work is a fantastic fitness builder. Start with the basics of turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches and build up to leg-yields, side passes, shoulders-in, and more!
- Think of a new exercise you want to teach your horse. Chunk that down into smaller, step by step pieces. Many of those pieces can be taught in the shed, the barn aisle or your horse’s stall!
- Learn safe stretches for your horse. A simple example is “carrot stretches” for their neck and shoulders. Over time, consistent stretching will bring great results. Remember to do your stretches as well!
- Teach your horse a new trick such as bowing or Spanish walk. This will work different muscles and challenge his mind in new ways. Your’s too!
I know we promised 10 but we love bonuses! Have fun, be safe, and spend winter improving with your horse!