Winter means that our riding time is often curtailed, either by daylight or through weather conditions, but instead of letting contact time slip or become less meaningful, we’ve put together some top tips on winter care for horses and ways you can bond with your horse this season:
Have some down time together
In the summer it’s easy to spend lots of time together. You get all that time on those long walks to and from the field, lots of time in the saddle, and when you’re not training or competing, you can enjoy relaxed hacks. In the winter it can be very easy – and tempting – to let contact time reduce to just the essential “work” time. Take time out to just be together, without chores or lessons, just to be with your horse in winter. Wrap up, and then take some time to scratch his ears (or wherever he loves it!), let him breathe on your skin and just love being with him despite the cold!
The happy coincidence of summer is that we want to ride more, and luckily, due to often dry conditions, our horses don’t get too dirty (ok, we admit there are a few exceptions!). In winter there is mud aplenty, but due to the shorter days, as long as you have electric lights, you can groom your horse in winter to your hearts content! Take a negative (mud) and turn it into a positive (bonding)! Also, grooming is a natural way for horses to bond with each other, so by you taking your time over this task and getting to all the places they can’t reach on their own, they’ll feel happy and so will you!
Stretching exercises are great to practice in the winter months after you have ridden. You can work on a number of different stretching exercises to help improve suppleness and give your horses a great cool down after work. Check out our blog on how to make the most of stretching exercises here.
Create good habits
A further benefit to some winter-induced in-depth grooming time is that by practicing everyday things, such as picking out hooves, your horse will get more and more used to the procedures. If he gets used to picking up his feet (and even in a certain order) some horses will know what’s expected of them and will do most of the hard work for you! Work on helping him accept things like grooming in sensitive areas, clipping horses in winter, getting used to noises such trimmers and practicing having things like wearing boots, winter horse shoes and bandages can stand you in great stead for the forthcoming season.
We appreciate our horses with our eyes, but how often do we commit this to paper, or another creative medium? If you’re a dab hand with pencil or paint, depict your steed on paper! A festive photo shoot could yield some great material for greetings cards or a 2016 calendar, and means more time with your best friend! These mementoes are great fun to create, and will be special to cherish for a long time afterwards, too.
Caring for your horse in winter is the ideal time to expand your skill set, and equine massage is probably one of the most direct ways that you can bond with your horse. Not only will you get to know the individual contours of your equine, but he will come to be even more relaxed with your touch and will trust you. Knowing the nuances of your horse’s physicality will benefit you all year round – if he picks up an injury later in the year, or starts to shift and hold his weight differently, you’ll notice and will be able to analyse and react to what you’re seeing and feeling.
Whilst summer is often taken up with show preparation, travelling and performing, winter is where the hard work to improve skill takes place! Now is the time to get the trotting poles, the cones, jumps and old dressage tests out. Tackling challenges with your horse in winter creates bonds and these challenges don’t always have to be for rosettes! Setting yourself a test and doing drills over and over will reinforce the team that is just you and your steed. In fact, not having an audience increases the intimacy and ensures that you can clearly read your horse’s movements and signals, and he can hear, see and feel yours.
Ok, so he can’t literally talk back, but having your horse get to know your voice is no bad thing. The more familiar your horse is with your voice, and the different tones and volumes, is key to your partnership. Praise while you groom, give commands when you ride, and get your horse accustomed to your voice. It’s all part of becoming a dream duo – and it won’t be long before he whinnies to your call!
How do you bond with your horse over the winter months and care for your horse in winter? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook, and we will share our favourite ones on our page!