Especially now that the “winter blahs” are taking hold, it’s so important to keep things fun and fresh for your four-legged friend!
When the snow and ice make it too dangerous to ride outside, it becomes extra important to make sure that the inside of the arena doesn’t become the chamber of monotony. Here are some favourites to keep the blahs at bay.
Whether your horse jumps or not, it is a great time to utilize trot poles either by themselves, in pairs (four foot spacing for your average horse, less for ponies), or make patterns around the arena like a mock course. It is a great way to get your horse to pay attention and pick up his feet, and offers a little extra excitement that’s still simple and safe for all experience levels.
While going around and around and around and around in circles can get pretty tedious if you do it everyday, it is a way to break up your riding with a “light” day for your horse. It can also prove to be a quick or simple way to stretch your horse’s legs when the weather is so gross they’re stuck inside, or simply choose not to stray from the hay pile in the snow. Whether you lunge them just at the walk/trot or decide to strap on a surcingle and work them into properly-fitted side reins for more of a workout is up to you and your horse’s experience level and personality. You can also lay down a pole at one of the points of the circle to get them lifting their feet a little. Mix it up and have some fun!
Free-lunging or “Playing” at Liberty
This is my absolute favourite thing to do: that is let them free in the arena and practice body language. If you are less experienced or are working a strange horse, I would recommend lunging until you get to know them or working in a smaller space, but if this is your “pet”, free-lunging is a fun way to exercise both you and your horse while testing and reinforcing your relationship. At their side, ask them to back up while backing up yourself, or move sideways or spin, and see if you can influence their movement with only your body language. If they take off, that’s okay too. Ask them to change directions, change gaits, using your body language and your voice. When you’re done, see if they’ll walk right back to you. If not, don’t fret, you can prompt them to walk on and “draw” them towards you while backing up a few steps. Maybe drop a few poles here and there or set up a small jump. Try jumping it yourself. See if they’ll trot beside you when you run. Experiment. Play! That’s the point. Make it fun, but be safe about it!
Go for a Trail Ride
If you’re lucky enough to catch the breaks from ice and freezing rain, hit the trails or hack around the field for a little fresh air and some wide open spaces. Just walk if the footing is inconsistent, trot if it’s safe if you want, but the point is simply to go out and clear the head space with that big open sky. It’s a wonderful break from schooling indoors and often gets your horse feeling refreshed for the next time you’re stuck inside.
Variety is the spice of life! (For horses too!)