A Survival Guide To Winter Riding – 7 Top Tips

If I had a euro for every time I heard an Equestrian say those dreaded lines, “the evenings are getting darker” or “Im not riding its raining” I would have myself a nice sum of money thats for sure!  Not many of us are fond of the winter weather, but unlike other hobbies us Equestrian put the head down and carry on with things no matter the consequence.

If Dante could mix his own feeds & exercise himself I’d let him at it…. But what if I told you there were a few tricks for some winter riding balance? Like getting the important things done but on a shorter schedule than normal..  

I have put together a list of 7 winter riding survival tips not only to shorten your time out in the cold but to also get some benefits to that dreaded winter riding….   

1. Lunging

When it comes to shortening up your evening in the yard one word comes to mind… LUNGING.

As much as we make ourselves think we want to ride 5 days a week in the Baltic weather conditions, who are we actually kidding? At least once a week I roll up to the yard forcing myself to brave the cold with Dante to only find myself hopping back in the car to go home!

Well this is your easy way out. If it’s just to stretch your horses legs or getting the freshness out of them after a few days off, lunging is simply perfect to implement into your winter riding routines. What better way to see progress than looking at your horse moving from the ground!

2. Variety

Most of us work 4-5 days a week. If you work any less than that and can still afford a horse please do look into giving me a job!! Daylight hours are so precious racing down to the yard on your day off to ride in normal light is a very rare occasion!

Recently I have tried to incorporate a weekly outing for Dante instead of running around the same arena we work in everyday. Why not try make it routine that you go out jumping in a winter league, or why not treat your horse to a walk on the beach?

Get yourself and your horse out of that yard (if you can!) it will only do you and your horse all the better, think of it as prep for all those spring summer shows, your horse will get used to travelling they will begin to enjoy the weekly treat of visiting somewhere new.

Make sure to also make use of every single indoor arena rental there is available to you!! God bless anyone with an indoor arena in this weather, spot the jealous Hun Over here…

3. Re-Evaluate your Training Schedule

There comes a time during the Winter, normally hits mid November when you start to think to yourself, why am I breaking my back trying to keep up with such a hardcore training session for my horse? Take a step back and think to yourself, are you competing regularly? Do U need to be training this hard?

I have decided to take a step back and cut my riding days down to 4 instead of 5. In doing this, I found that I put much more energy into getting good sessions over the 4 days rather than struggle to motivate myself over 5!

Don’t be hard on yourself, some weeks when I only ride twice & lunge twice, some weeks when I ride even less. But during each session I pick on one thing to focus on whether it be transitions on the lunge or having a consistent forward rhythmic canter on both reins whilst riding. These small things will make massive differences when you go to pick up a full routine in the Spring.

4. Make Use of What You Have

By this I don’t mean that you are limited to supplies whether it be wings poles or fillers etc. Who else hates pulling and dragging poles in the cold? GUILTY!

Just the other day I went to ride in the arena, when I arrived there was one pole. One pole laid out and yes I will admit I was way too lazy to get down, set something up and so on. The point in this is that I am pushing you to make do with what you have. Let your imagination run wild. Have fun in your training schedule, push the boundaries! Make winter a time to investigate the hidden talents your horse has!

Here’s a simple pole laid out in the arena, see below the many different exercises I done with it. See what I mean? Open your mind & start getting creative.

5. Give Your Horse A Break

Hands up who loves a winter city break? Well guess what…. if you deserve one, so does your horse. Give your horse a week off, a few days off here and there wont hurt either. Winter should be a time for them to recuperate, refresh & to evaluate what they have done and learned over the summer.

You would be surprised what a few days off can do to clear the head. You will have an eager, willing horse when they comes back into work.

This was taken back in September when rug weren’t needed!

6. Cooling Down your Horse Correctly

Its all fun and games riding that amazing training session, having your horse moving forward & working Fabulously only to realise that when you finish you don’t have the time to wait around for your horse too cool off correctly before rugging. Winter time also comes with the dreaded cooling off time…. never forget to schedule time for “THE SWEAT”!!!

Walking your horse around the arena after you ride helps cool them down quicker, a walker can also do this for you as you run around tidying up your bits! Be sure to put a cooler on your horse while there walking to avoid them getting a chill. When stabling be sure to remove the damp cooler and replace it with your heavy rug or stable rug when your putting your horse away for the night.

7. Dress Accordingly

Don’t be the hero. Or should I say don’t be that idiot roaming around in the next to nothing T-shirt in the -2 degrees frost bitten weather. I will not pity the cold or flu you get because going around not appropriately dressed to the weather is your own fault!!

Wearing my Zerofit Ultimate Base Layer

Grab your thermals, grab your base layers, winter is not pretty!! It’s hello rosy cheeks & numb fingers goooodbye bronzed skin & bingo wings… Wrap up well & look after yourself. Your limited enough when it comes to time in the saddle don’t let getting sick get in the way too! I always have a spare pair of gloves & socks at the yard incase I ever need them, be sure to do the same yourself, its a blessing in disguise!


And there you have it my 7 winter riding survival tips. Have I left out any important go to ones? Be sure to let me know.

We are based in Ireland, the temperate is currently 4degrees, with a non stop mixture rain or winds that are so cold they would cut you in half!

Do let us know your Winter tips in the comments below, I would love to hear about the fun secretive winter tricks you swear by in the winter aswell, the more the merrier!

As always, thanks you for reading & watch yourself in this weather, don’t be out there catching colds, Wrap up warm!!

Darielle

How Do I Long Rein/Drive My Horse?

As requested by you all,  read below all about how I long rein Dante, or as the majority of the world likes to call it “Driving your horse”.

You may have guessed that I am new to this, so what I have written below is a guide from what I have learned over the last few days, my perspective on how to do it.

I hope you enjoy, and take this as a warning, your arms will be like jelly afterwards! I am just about able to type. And yes incase you notice, the majority of the pictures you are correct I am wearing my pyjamas!! 

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Equipment Needed

2 x Lunge Ropes, a roller, padding under your roller if required, a bridle with a snaffle bit, & a saddle depending on your chosen lunging option & last but not least a lead rope. 

To long rein you horse, you can do it two different ways

Option 1 You can tack your horse up fully, bridle & saddle. Using your two lunge lines,Photo 16-08-2018, 22 56 40 thread them through your stirrups & attach them to the bit on either side.  To keep the stirrups secure,  tie your two stirrups together with a lead rope by threading it around one stirrup, put it under your horses stomach and looping it around the stirrup on the other side securing it with a knot. This stops your stirrups from flapping around or moving back & forward while you are long reining/driving. 

Photo 16-08-2018, 21 21 30Option 2 Just like above, except instead of tacking your horse up fully, put your horses bridle on, and instead of a saddle put your roller on. Using your two lunge lines again thread them through the bottom loop on either side of your roller (halfway between withers & your horses stomach) & attach them to the bit on either side.

Steps For Long Reining/Driving Your Horse

  1. Start of by tacking up with your chosen option as listed above.
  2. Hold the left lunge line in your left hand and your right lunge line in your right, start of by standing at least a horse & a half’s distance behind your horse. (Just incase he kicks!)
  3. As if you were lunging your horse, pick up a light but firm contact on the lunge lines & ask your horse to walk forward by telling them to “walk on” or a command that your horse is used to hearing. 
  4. Feed out the lunge lines as he moves forward still allowing a gentle but firm contact through both lunge lines.
  5. As you get the feel for your horse, don’t be afraid to start turning your horse getting them to bend and flex on both their left & right side. The more they do, the more flexible your horse will become.
  6. After mastering the walk, start to practice walk to Halt transitions. This will also keep your horse from anticipating their work. To do this, give your horse  a voice command he is used to, such as “whoa,”  & gently give a pull on both lunge lines at the same time, apply this pressure to the lines until he comes to a complete stop. Once he does, always make sure to Reward him by releasing the pressure and a voice command of “good boy”
  7. It is cruel to be kind sometimes, so don’t be afraid to give your horse a tap of one of the lines on the bum if they are hesitant to move forward! You want them working themselves not slumming around in a lazy walk.
  8. If you are feeling brave or should I say, if you trust your horse is capable of trotting try asking them to trot using the same technique as if you were asking your horse to walk on, be careful not to pull on their mouths too much as they take off. If you feel like running behind your horse is too much, you can use the lunge lines to circle your horse with you standing in the middle.
  9. Finishing up, direct your horse back to the yard or in my case the archway outside his stable. You should always make your horse stands still without him moving until he is untacked unless you instruct them to move otherwise. This is something that will benefit you massively with small things such as mounting & dismounting. 

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Additional Tips to go by:  

  • If your horse hasn’t done this before, I would recommend that you start with a quick lunge beforehand,  ease them into it. 
  •  Use your inside lunge line to give your horse directions & use the outside lunge line to push him forward
  •  Don’t be afraid to play around with the bit in your hands this will help soften their mouths
  • Keep an eye on your lunge lines, don’t let them drag behind you or loop too low, last thing you want is to trip over.  
  •  Use a snaffle bit ONLY. This exercise is all about softening your horses mouth, anything other than a snaffle will harden them
  •  If you are unsure have someone walk along side you on the ground, even better if it is someone with experience that can guide you through everything.


So there you have it, how you long rein or as most people like to call it drive your horse. It is a great basic exercise that can be done with any horse at any age, it is certainly not just for breakers.

Sometimes bringing your horse back a few steps or going back to basics will help fine tune them that bit more! The good thing about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere you wish, well within reason!

So go get out, walk around your yard, in your arena if you are allowed or out in the field, the benefits are massive, and don’t be to hard on yourself about technique either, always remember that practice makes perfect! I barely done this before and even at that I was helping or watching, so it is like a new learning curve even for myself.

I hope you enjoyed, if you have any tips or tricks you have of your own be sure to share them, I could do with them all! 

 Darielle 

Sustaining My Confidence ~ Coco Edition

Following on from Darielle’s post last week about how she’s managed to sustain her confidence with Dante, I thought it would be good to look at how I’ve kept mine with Coco.

In the last year that I’ve had Coco, I’ve really found my confidence to be tested. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of experience riding young, green or difficult horses but that was when I was 14 years old and long before my 2 year break from horse riding while I was in college. I knew once I got back into the swing of things I’d find my confidence again but when I started working with Coco, it definitely got knocked from time to time.

There were a number of key issues I faced when I got Coco. They’re all very common problems seen in a lot of young horses but I never really thought about how I would deal with them until I faced them with Coco.

Lunging an excitable horse

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As basic as it sounds, this was one thing that has really freaked me out in the past. My lack of confidence with lunging started almost 8 years ago while I was leasing a thoroughbred gelding. I had to lunge him most days before I could ride him and there were days where he just got completely out of control and I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I always had to call someone in to help me.

When it came to Coco, I found she could be very excitable on the lunge as well so I knew I had to just learn to deal with her when she got like that. I’ve had numerous incidents with Coco on the lunge, from simple bucking with excitement and doing laps of the lunge arena in a full blown gallop, to her throwing her legs through the fence resulting in injury. But most recently, I had an incident with Coco that really showed me how much my confidence has grown when dealing with her on the lunge. 

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As some of you may know from my recent post, Coco suffered an injury to one of her legs a few weeks ago. Last week I decided it was time to bring her back into work with a light lunging session. Since her accident in the lunge arena, I don’t exercise her in there anymore so I brought her to one of the riding arenas. I started her out on the left rein and she was oddly calm and quiet for a horse who hadn’t been in work for 2 weeks. I’ve recently started her on a magnesium supplement so I assumed this was the reason. 

When I put her onto the right rein however, she kicked off straight away, bunny hopping to the side and turning herself around so she could go the opposite direction. I instantly felt like I had lost control. This wasn’t the first time Coco had tried this trick so luckily I knew I had to keep calm and move myself around her to get back into a position of control. Once in position, I asked her to move forward again but she was having none of it. This time she started bunny-hopping backwards, running away from me and I suddenly became very aware that she had a full arena to drag me around if she wanted to. I knew I needed to get her onto a circle so I kept walking around to the side of her, trying to get myself in the centre of her body. I managed to get there and was able to get her moving on a tight circle.

She took off in canter for a while and I thought the battle was won. She would canter the freshness out of herself and we could get back to work…but this was not the case. She suddenly stopped dead, turned around to face me head on and started walking towards me trying to make herself as big as possible. I knew she was trying to be the dominant one and there was no way I could let her win so I threw my arms up and told her to get out. She spooked away and took off cantering so again I moved myself back to the position until she realised what I was doing and stopped to try the dominant thing once more. Again, I stood tall as she started walking towards me, stamping her feet so I decided to stamp back. She spooked away on her canter circle again, I moved myself back into position and finally she gave up. She cantered and cantered on her circle, throwing a few bucks here and there as I slowly moved us back to where we started in the arena. Once the fizz was gone I allowed her to trot for a few circles and then back to walk and I finished her there. 

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What helped me deal with that situation was remaining calm, remembering what I know about lunging. It also helps that I’ve learned to read Coco over the last year and I knew in this situation she was just trying to get her own way so I had to win this one. It’s very easy for things to get out of control when you’re working with horses on the ground though so if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere then you’re better off stopping and calming everything down (which I have also had to do with Coco in the past). Give your horse a minute to chill, walk up to them, give them a pat and maybe walk them in hand for a minute. When you feel they’ve relaxed, you can try again. It can be very intimidating working with horses on the ground as they are such big animals that can very easily run you down if they wanted to so safety is always the number one priority. 

Dealing with spooking

In my opinion, spooking is probably one of the most annoying things horses do. It comes out of nowhere and frightens the life out of you. Coco is definitely one of the spookiest horses I’ve ever ridden. She’ll jump anything but if there’s something that’s not quite right about a bush there’s no way she’ll go near it. It definitely knocked my confidence as I never knew if I was going to be able to make it the full way around the arena without my heart jumping into my mouth from her spooking. I was constantly on edge any time I rode and it became really difficult to school Coco properly because any time we got going, she would spook and I would be back to square one. 

So how have I dealt with her spooking? Well the first thing was learning to sit a spook. 9 times of out 10, your horse will spook inwards so one thing I was taught was to prepare your body for the spook by putting more weight into your inside stirrup. This way, when your horse spooks your body is already where its going to end up so you’ve got much less risk of falling. I was sceptical of this at first but it totally worked. 

Next, was stopping her from spooking. Everyone has different ways of dealing with a spooky horse, some will show the horse what they’re afraid of so they know to expect itSustaining My Confidence_post5 next time (doesn’t work on Coco), and some will tirelessly drive their horse closer and closer to what they’re spooking at until they stop spooking (also doesn’t work with Coco). The only thing that has worked with Coco is keeping her head bent to the inside so she doesn’t have a chance to look at what’s spooking her because she’s too focused on what I’m asking her to do. Apparently this is a trick used by the Mounted Unit of An Garda Siochana (Irish Police) when training their horses and it definitely works!

Once I knew how to deal with her spooking, I was able to relax and enjoy riding Coco much more.

Napping

I find horses who nap just plain rude. They belligerently ignore what you’re asking them to do and try to find the best way of getting what they want. I know they do it for generally understandable reasons but it’s still incredibly frustrating. In Coco’s case, she bunny hops. I remember the very first day I rode her after I had bought her. The minute I put her on a circle she straight away started trying to nap to the gate by bunny hopping. In doing this she flung her head back and hit me square in the face. It really hurt.

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And so started my fun journey of dealing with Coco’s napping. She was quite bad for it. Any time I rode with other horses in the arena should would just want to follow them and had no interest in what I wanted her to do. There were days that she was quite dangerous. Being as fiery as she was, she would sometimes take off to the side and bunny hop until she got what she wanted. She never went into a full blown rear but she did go up quite high at times. For a while I really started to get scared of what she would do if I got on her and she wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

As she’s young, I knew I had to find a way of working her out of her napping so I did something that I picked up from my earlier riding days, I faked confidence. It’s amazing how well this works. I in no way felt that I knew what I was doing or if I was even capable of dealing with Coco’s behaviour but I couldn’t let her know that so I would sit tall, boot her on, stick my arse to the saddle and push her until she moved forward!

However there were days when this just didn’t cut it, the minute I mounted up she just didn’t want to work, she would do everything in her power to avoid moving forward and just hop on the spot and throw her head around. She had too much energy so I needed to do something to get her focused and to channel that energy. So before every session I would set out some poles and if I found Coco to be in one of those moods, I would bring her to the poles. I would rarely actually trot her directly over them but instead work her around them in every direction I could. I would keep her steady, tight and bending in different directions so she couldn’t figure out what I was going to ask her to do next. Once I felt she had relaxed I would then bring her away from the poles and see how she was.

This was such a handy trick that I picked up in my time with Coco. I genuinely don’t think we’d have gotten where we are now without this tactic.

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Confidence can get knocked by any number of things but for me I’ve found what’s really knocked mine was not knowing how to deal with the issue that knocked it in the first place. Once I knew how to fix the behaviour issue, I felt I was able to keep control and handle the situation much better. And when I didn’t know what to do, the best thing I could do was fake it until I had a better solution. It might not be perfect but it’s gotten us this far!

How has your confidence been tested? And how have you managed to pick it back up again? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Thanks for reading

Orla

#NBW