Winter Training Strategies

Baby it's cold outside... and dang near impossible to ride! Talk about cabin fever - just as I was beginning to feel like it may be terminal, I have discovered the antidote to the winter riding struggle.

I get it. Winter is the most difficult time to ride. Limited daylight, freezing cold temperatures, furry, filthy horses, and rock hard dirt buried under 15 inches of snow. If you are like me and not blessed with a private, heated, indoor arena, you are at the mercy of a public city arena battling availability, a plethora of riders of varying disciplines and knowledge of public arena courtesy, as well as terrain that is more jagged than a rock-faced cliff.

It would be easy to say you are just going to lay your horse off for three months, after all, he's earned it. You put him through a rigorous season last summer. Yep, he deserves a looooong vacation and you will start thinking about getting back in the saddle when things thaw out a bit, right? Yeah right, and Selina Gomez pigs out on fried chicken until a week before the Grammys.

That is NOT what champions do.

Champions train hard all year long, especially when it is difficult. I completely understand that those of us without a heated indoor arena are simply out of luck on bad weather days and cannot ride, but here are some tips that I have implemented into my training regime, for both Stryker and myself.

Not every workout requires you to make a run at full speed. In fact, frozen ground has forced me to focus more on "dry work", as Sherry Cervi calls it, flexing, bending, and responsiveness drills. In less than ideal ground conditions, these are drills that can be performed at a trot or slower. If you spend 40 minutes increasing your horse's suppleness three times a week, you will have a completely different horse by spring.

Who needs an arena anyway!? Every horse could benefit from a trail ride every now and again. A simple ride around the property or neighborhood will help them stretch their legs and desensitize them. Rodeo grounds can be a terrifying place for a hot blooded, hard charging horse so this is a great way to prepare them to stand before the gates of hell (also known as an alleyway). Clinton Anderson always says, "heart attacks are free, give your horse one."

Picture this, a crackling fireplace, a fur throw, a mug of hot chocolate topped with fluffy marshmallows, and the most recent copy of Barrel Horse News. Sounds like heaven. Dreary winter days were made for personal education - YouTube videos, training DVDs, blogs, articles, etc. There is a lot of information out there and I can't think of a better time to take it all in than a dark, cold, winter evening.

We require our horses to be in peak physical condition, so why shouldn't we hold ourselves to the same standard? Working on personal fitness is a great way to shake off the winter doldrums and step up our gym game.

Renae´ Cowley