Winter has well and truly arrived in the UK this week, marked by a series of frosty mornings and the ever-darker evenings. The short days make life tricky for horse owners, particularly those without access to floodlights, indoor schools and all-weather canter tracks. Add into the mix the mud which defines countryside life during a British winter and it’s easy to get a little demotivated. But if you have competitive aims for your horse this winter or you’re keen to do everything you can to keep them happy and healthy, there are ways to keep your mojo in the colder months! Here are some tips from the EquiAmi team to help you nail winter training this year:
Variety is the spice of life
If you can’t hack out Monday to Friday because it’s too dark before and after work, make sure you take the chance on the weekend to escape the school and head out into the countryside for a change of scenery. Horses aren’t able to tell us (other than by misbehaving!) when they are bored to tears by their training regime, so it’s up to you to change things up. If you’re using a school 5 days a week then why not lunge twice (with the EquiAmi, of course!), ride twice and then mix up the other day with loose schooling, learning to long rein or working on ground with them.
Turn them out every single day
We know the fields turn into quagmires in the winter but time out of the stable (separate from their exercise) every day is essential. Even if you ride them for a full hour, if they don’t get time in the field or turnout pen too then they will be in their stable for 23 hours a day. That’s not healthy for any horse or pony’s brain or body. Make turnout of some kind, even in a school, a non-negotiable in your stable management routine.
Feed according to work done
There are some days in winter when exercise is impossible for some horse owners. Ice on the roads or dangerous levels of wind can play havoc with a training plan and makes choosing not to ride the safer option. If that’s the case, don’t sweat the small stuff – still make sure to turn horses out on rotation (in schools or lunge pens if fields are dangerous) where at all possible and remember to adjust feed rations for those who miss exercise. If you still feed the same as you would when they are in medium or hard work, you’ll risk metabolic disorders such as azoturia.
Winter does make the simplest of tasks take a long time and no one wants to be hanging around the yard longer than necessary on a wet and windy night. If you’re pushed for time, then using the EquiAmi for just 20 minutes is an excellent way to give your horse a good workout in a short time. It provides a good workout for horses and allows their topline muscles to develop without the weight of rider and saddle. The unrestricted blood flow through these muscles to allow them to ‘pump-up’ and strengthen. This in turn supports the saddle and rider more effectively and lifts the saddle away from the spine when ridden. Now that is working smart, isn’t it?!
Motivation can drop when it’s cold and dark so plan your week of riding and schooling in advance. That means you’ll be far more likely to crack on, versus if you have to decide what to do after a long day at work. Make sure you have two exercise sheets for each horse, one warm and one waterproof, so that if the weather is wet or cold you can still get out. If you know the bridleways around you resemble a sea of mud by late November, why not plan a weekly or fortnightly trip to somewhere better for hacking? Or book some time at an all-weather gallop or cross-country schooling ground? A little bit of planning will make all the difference.