RIDING IN THE WINTER
Tips and Exercises to Keep You and Your Horse Active
By Mitzi Summers
Every fall it was always the same resolution for me-no matter how bad the winter was,I would not succumb to it’s vagaries and find myself merely feeding and grooming my horse all winter and giving him a vacation. No indeed, I would don my snowmobile suit, put ice caulks on my horse if necessary, and snow plow a track around my outdoor ring. Truth be told, however, when the temperature hovered around 17 degrees and the footing was less than perfect, I found myself more often than not inside my house READING about people riding while my horse not always so contentedly munched away on his hay.
Realistically, it is not just a case of “cowboying up” when rough weather comes. Conditions do change drastically for all animals, including the human type, in our Northeast, and we need to accommodate these changes while still trying to work with our equine partners. Some horse owners are quite content to wait out all of the bad weather and start again in the early spring, but for many of us, especially the riders who are dedicated to improving themselves and their horses, the change to severe weather can indeed be a bit troubling.
We will investigate the best case scenario first, (unless you and your horses winter in Florida), that you have access to an indoor ring. Indeed, many stables with indoor rings in our area find themselves on waiting lists every year for people wanting to board in the winter. If you have just moved into this area, be cautious about taking for granted that you will be able to do that-to board your horse at a less expensive stable in the spring, summer, and fall, and then move to a place that has indoor facilities in the winter. Many barns have full-time boarders for just that reason-so that they can save a spot for their horse when the inclement weather comes.
Of course with an indoor your riding is not limited to good weather. You may have to contend with a more crowded ring in which to ride, however, so be sure you check out any rules that that barn has about riding with others. There is usually a “left shoulder to left shoulder” rule when passing. Some barns post times when there are lessons, and boarders are not allowed to ride at those times. Many other stables, however, are more lenient, and will allow you to ride during lessons as long as you abide by their rules. These rules may be that you ride in the same direction of the lesson, that you cannot lunge your horse during a lesson, and that you ask permission before you canter or jump.
I once had the questionable authority to ask the world-famous Katie Monahan Prudent to leave the ring during the winter when she was riding her pony Milltown. She was schooling with just a halter bareback while one of my lessons was going on. Of course this GREATLY dates me, as she was a teenager. But even though the indoor ring was enormous, 150’x 250’, we had a rule in effect that during a lesson riders not in the group had to ride with a bridle and a saddle. It was for safety, as it is a bit more likely that if a rider has a problem, they will generally pose more of a safety risk if they are not using tack.
Lungeing can also present a safety problem. If the horse pulls away from the handler, then it is trailing a lunge line behind it if it runs. Also, people have a tendency to lunge their horses in cold weather to settle them. This is fine, but obviously must be done properly and with control, not as a means of chasing the horse about to “get the bucks out“.
In several dressage barns in Europe when I am over there teaching, lungeing in the indoor ring is prohibited. They take great care of the footing in their rings. They have many top level expensive horses there, and do not want to take a chance if someone lunges and allows the horse to make ruts or holes in the footing.
Proper etiquette is important. For example, you may want to practice a few runs on your barrel horse. You have already made certain that there are no lessons in the ring. But you must notice who else may be in the ring. If it is someone on a young or green horse, you will at the very least tell them what you have in mind and get their permission, or wait until they take a break and possibly bring their horse to a corner of the ring. I remember once riding a young Thoroughbred stallion off the racetrack for the first time in an indoor ring. I had heard a trailer pull up outside. All of a sudden three riders entered galloping, swinging ropes around, practicing for a gymkhana coming up. Let’s just say that the next ten minutes were very interesting for me! Of course, before entering the ring, they should have checked to be certain of the conditions inside. But these should be rules established by the owner of the stable, and management should make it clear that these rules are to be obeyed.
Another thing to be careful of is the use of your voice when riding. Some riders have acquired the annoying habit of ‘clucking “ to their horses almost constantly. This is not correct for several reasons; the first is safety. If someone is riding a nervous horse, the clucking noise may be enough to cause it to bolt. This is also true when riding in any ring including practice rings before a show. Another reason not to let this become a habit is that the horse will become accustomed to that particular sound and become desensitized. I like to save my “clucks” for more important occasions such as if your horse thinks of refusing at a fence, or not going across a stream, or is thinking of backing up or rearing.
In most stables, it is required for anyone entering the ring to ask permission. This is for several reasons, but it is a safety rule. Someone may be just about to go by the door, or there may be a nervous horse or rider having problems. The door opening may accelerate the situation. Someone may also be coming toward the door from a line of barrels or jumps. In many stables, before you enter, either with or without your horse, it is just necessary to shout “Door!” and wait for permission to enter. One barn where I recently taught had a pleasant- sounding doorbell installed. I liked this very much. It was always the same sound, and was easily heard.
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