What to do with your ponies when winter blows!

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Another beautiful, snowy day out, with the promise of colder weather on the horizon 😦

As anyone who knows me will attest, I hate the cold. This winter, we’ve experienced some desperately cold temperatures, which have derailed training plans and limited riding opportunities significantly.

While I know there is a school of thought that suggests that “if you might be competing in it, you should school in it,” I am not a huge fan of working the horses too hard when it’s bitterly cold out.  I wouldn’t run in the cold because it’s hard on my body and my lungs, and I believe this to be true for the horses as well. With winter coats, sweating causes chills, and it’s impossible for horses to dry out in this weather.

And of course, I hate the cold.

Rather than be frustrated by a climate that I cannot change, I make up for time not spent in the saddle, and:

1. Bundle up and spend some quality time with the horses.

My horses are out 24/7 and they have access to shelter, heated water, and excellent hay. When it gets bitterly cold, and the wind blows incessantly, I put on my polar gear and trek out to the barn to bring them in for a break from the  elements. These times are usually quiet at the barn, and a great opportunity to give Chaos and Dayo a warm mash, take off their blankets to ruff up their hair. Sometimes I’ll do maintenance – main pulling, fetlock trimming, other times a thorough and leisurely grooming. Sometimes it’s just cuddles, and they take advantage of the peace and quiet to wander around the barn, visiting other horses, and exploring that world.

2. Develop detailed training plans.
I’m a professional event planner, and a firm believer that success lies in the details. When it comes to the horses, I am no different. Coupled with this is the fact that Dayo, Chaos and I all seem to get bored rather easily. And so, each of my horses has a training plan, and when it’s too cold to ride, I use the time to project, set milestones, goals (horse shows and classes) and develop strategies to make sure every ride counts.

3. Get better!
Cold weather means sitting indoors, snuggled under a blanket – a great time to explore training ideas for the horses, to look up new ground work exercises, and to plan out lessons with jumps and poles. I’m a HUGE fan of poles – you can do almost anything with them – and they constantly offer the opportunity to challenge the horses. An added benefit for me, because I have time constraints at the barn, is the fact that pole exercises can be adjusted for Dayo, who is quite green, or amped up for Chaos, for is fairly advanced.   One of my favourites to build on is 4 Poles, 7 Exercises. A google search will give you many more!

4. Get better – part 2!
Study the habits and skills of really good riders. There is so much information out there, and so many great riders to emulate! I watch hours and hours of video – jumper classes, schooling videos, and read books. Some of my favourite videos come from the Bay Area Equestrian Network, and from the pros like Bernie Traurig, Tim Stockdale, George Morris, Denny Emerson, and Jim Wofford. I’m also reading Denny Emerson’s book, How Good Riders Get Good, and looking forward to reading Bill Steinkraus’ Riding and Jumping.  A friend recently turned me on to the De Nemethy method. I get caught up on the Grand Prix action, zooming in to see how the riders use their hands, their seats, and how they approach the courses. One of my favourite vids features Margie Gayford and Stuntman – there’s a part where you can actually see her fingers talking to the horse.

5. Get Better – part 3!
Winter is also the time to hit the exercise ball, the yoga studio, the gym and the pool to build core strength, improve flexibility, and get in shape to ride! I’m not saying I’m as dedicated to the non-horsey fitness pursuits as I should be, but a girl has to do something besides hide under a blanket when she’s not in the saddle!

6. Do some ground work.
Ground work is invaluable for horses, and particularly for Chaos, who can be, well, pushy sometimes. When the barn is quiet, it’s nice to take advantage of the long wide aisle to work on some basics, and re-establish connection. My daughter Emma is a huge fan of this, and much better at it than I am, so ground work time is also daughter teaching mum time. More bonding time for ponies and  people!

7. Keep the faith!
Spring is just around the corner, and there will be much fun in putting plans into action.

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Dayo… my leap of faith :)

Meet Dayo (“Joy Arrives”). Formerly Ebony / Home By Dark, she is an eight year old OTTB, one of three mare whose owners have fallen on hard times. For three years, I’ve looked and looked at horses, donated money to rescues. Of course, I have Chaos <3. Who knows why one horse speaks to you, or why your soul suddenly says: “Enough. It’s time to take that leap of faith, and be the difference.”
Stay tuned for stories as we get to know each other; for photos as she fills out, and becomes the awesome mare she is going to be!

Take a deep breath and just relax!

Winter is a time to work through schooling issues, to develop balance, hone flatwork skills, and prep for the upcoming show season. This year, it has also been a season of working through frustrations and behaviours (largely associated with a long winter, too much ice, restrictions about riding in the sand ring, and poor turnout). It’s easy to get frustrated, to over-think, and to worry about what’s happening and why. Not surprisingly, when I stress about a situation, Chaos’ behaviour magnifies it one hundredfold.

So we have been working on relaxing. Whether it’s an issue in the cross ties, a refusal to stand still at the mounting block, a general friskiness due to restricted turnout, a piece of equipment that “wasn’t there the last time”, or a small drift of snow that has blown in through a crack in the east end of the arena wall (something Chaos feels is so evil that it has to be approached from the left, the right, and the centre with incredible trepidation, much snorting, balking and, if possible, flight), I have found that a deep, heavy and loud sigh, followed by audible chewing on my part, can help us both refocus, and relax.

The minute his body tells me something is not quite right, I stop what I’m doing. I take a heavy, deep and loud sigh, and I chew (think cows chewing their cud). If Chaos doesn’t relax, I repeat the process until I get hear a heavy sigh from him, followed by chewing. His reaction is followed by a release of tension, his head comes down, his eyes soften. No frustration. No argument. Just a peaceful way to refocus him, to regain his attention. It also relaxes me, refocuses my energies, and helps me to problem solve for a positive outcome, rather than a reactive one.

Relaxing is a win-win. It eases tension and stress, it reassures, it helps us succeed in the task at hand. It builds trust and confidence. It centers us both, and enhances our ability to communicate.

A deep breath. It’s the difference between this…
… and this

So the next time you ride, or you find yourself face to face with an evil snowdrift, take a deep breath and relax. Your horse will thank you, and your body will too.