Winter is often a time where motivation dwindles and riders retreat into hibernation. What advice to some of our professional riders have to offer for keeping on track over the winter months?
Managing dressage horses during the winter – Hannah Biggs
“Depending on the year’s show schedule, I like to give the horses a couple of easy weeks at some point during the winter. But this just means a break from intensive training, they will still keep ticking over, hacking, ground work, even some fun pole and jumping work. The dressage season keeps going all year round, so as soon as the summer National Championships are done, we look forwards to qualifying for the Winter Championships in 6 months time. I have long term goals and programmes for the horses, which do have to be a little flexible during the winter. For those of us not blessed with an indoor school, we do have to work around the weather a bit. Even on icy days, a lot of constructive work can be done on the walk and halt improvements. The horses will need extra time to warm up their muscles properly on cold days and plenty of time to walk off and cool down slowly, so make sure you plan this into your daily schedule.”
Bringing event horses in from their Winter break – Line Andresen
“My event horses have about two months off in the field. They still get fed hard feed with balancer so they get all the essential vitamins and minerals. After their holiday they come back both fluffy and quite fresh! I start off slowly and do lots of hacking to build up their muscles again after a long holiday. I think it’s very important to give the horses time off both for their body and mind. But that also means you need to build up the horses slowly and I do a lot of hill work. When starting schooling the horses they are already relatively fit so I can crack on relatively quickly.
I use a lot of canter pole exercises during the whole year but especially after the horses winter break. Instead of starting jumping straight away I tend to do lots of canter poles and raised canter pole. One good exercise is to have four canter poles on a turn, it’s very important to keep the horse around your inside leg and not let the inside shoulder fall in. Another good exercise is to put out raised canter poles on a straight line. Have a pole on the ground on each side and alternate the raised poles. This really makes the horses work from behind and really improve their canter quality! It’s very important to keep the horses straight throughout all the exercises as that means they are pushing evenly from behind.”
Planning Winter training and the Season ahead – Imogen Murray and Anand Patel
Imogen – “I generally plan to ‘start the season running’ which means being well prepared. Starting the winter training and competing sessions early enough, then if there is a period of particularly bad weather in February it is slightly less of a panic if your homework is well in progress. It is also really important to plan training sessions will in advance while it’s not too cold and damp. Goals are often clearer at the end of the season while it’s all still fresh in the mind. Plus, make sure you take a bit of time out over the winter for yourself to see friends and family. It’s a long season, so start in the right place both physically and mentally.”
Anand – “Take time to plan with your trainer, both for the winter training and for the season ahead, whether this is for eventing or for dressage. Planning with someone else is also a great way to stay motivated. With a long cold winter, we can all lose focus, so motivation is key with the Spring shows just around the corner.”
Back to basics – Sarah Gairdner
“Winter is a great time to go back to basics and iron out the wrinkles from the summer. With the horses in lower levels of work it is a great opportunity to work on the fundamentals like walk, trot and transitions. A lot of our horses will also do a lot of hacking and hill work. Some will also enjoy some hunting as a great way to build fitness and bravery and to give them a chance to learn how to adapt to difference situations and surface. We find that the hunting often helps them develop a fifth leg.”