Winter Tune-Ups, by Monty Bruce
Our horses are getting long-haired and wooly, putting on their winter coats and I’m digging out heavier and heavier coats, insulated riding boots, warm chaps, and dreaming about Texas this time of year.
It’s Winter Again! What do we do with our horses? Do we put them away until we can ride outside again? If you do they will be out of shape and unresponsive, and it will take a month to get them back into shape. If we have access to an indoor arena most of them are small. What can we get done in that small of a pen? Years ago I spent a couple of winters in a very small indoor and trained several horses over the winter in a pen that was only 45 x 50. I will say, to get a lot done you have to be creative.
We have spent all summer trail riding, showing, competing, and having fun on our horse, now, since we can’t be out side and do some of their events we can really concentrate on some training over the winter. We can work on more softness and control on the body parts of our horse; getting his face, flexing, bending, and getting him to brake at the pole. Sometimes I think it can help us if we think about just playing with our horses, rather than training, keep everything laid back and relax. Just play a game with your horse”¦like, how far can I get your head down or how responsive can I get you off my leg, or how smooth and fast can I get you to back up, by just barely picking up on the reins?
We can set up some simple obstacles to help keep our horse’s attention. It gives the horse a reason for doing something. For example:
1.) Lay a log (or pole) on the floor and ask your horse to side pass directly over it, and try not to touch it with his front or rear feet. As he gets better increase the level of difficulty.
2.) Make a pole path in the shape of an L or with a 90 degree turn in it. Now try to back your horse through the path without hitting his feet on either side. This increases hip control; you must move his hip over to make the corner.
3.) Set several logs in a row. Trot over them and then back over it. Get creative setting up your trail or obstacles coarse. All of these “˜games’ keep the horse and us thinking. It also gives us something fun and specific to accomplish and is a low stress way to get our horse more responsive. Each time we ask our horse to do any of these games; remember to keep our hands softer and smoother.
4.) You can spend a lot of time working on your stops. Just at a trot. Trotting my horse in a cir- cle keeps him guessing and listening to me. Set down first, pick up the reins and if he does- n’t stop”¦.send him off again. Then ask him again; Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, until you get a good one.
5.) Work on neck reining you horses around the pen, this way and that. Lay the rein on his neck and give him a moment to respond. If he doesn’t pull him with the inside rein and bump him with the outside leg.
If you are in a small pen we can keep all these exercises very small, which will help keep our hands soft and slow and make our horses quiet and relaxed. Even if we only have 15 minutes a day in a very small space to ride, we can do our horses a lot of good. We can keep them thinking and responsive, and improve their training if we get a little creative.
Good luck and God Bless
[Written by Monty Bruce & published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 1.]
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