Are you making the most of the off season?
How to make the most of the off season
What are your plans for the winter with your horse? Do you plan to give your horse a long holiday? Maybe you will give him a short break and then bring him back into work or will you keep him in full work?
Obviously, many factors will influence what you decide to do and each horse needs to be considered individually. However, current thinking is that horses benefit from not having long periods of time out of work. This doesn’t mean that your horse must be kept fully fit 12 months of the year, but that in quieter times that he is kept ticking over. Many riders are now keeping their horses in work over the winter and are finding that maintaining a level of fitness and muscle strength is proving beneficial especially in horses in their teens.
Consider the individual horse, any injuries, physical problems and psychological needs. Maybe for his brain, he needs to go in a field and be left alone for a couple of weeks. This can especially be true for young horses who are only becoming accustomed to being in work. However, outside of this, many horses will benefit from being kept at least ticking over during the off season. Find what suits your particular horse and what he is likely to benefit from. Consistent light exercise 4 days a week may be a happy medium between full work and a holiday and get benefits of both. Good quality hacking interspersed with days of schooling and polework or jumping will keep his body and mind in good shape.
Winter is also a great time to tackle all the problems that were put on the long finger during the busy competition season. Is there something that your horse particularly struggled with, was there something that prevented you from progressing or achieving your goals? Now is the time to tackle this.
Have you stood back and looked at your horse physically? Are there areas that could be improved? Sometimes a fresh set of eyes and an honest opinion can be really useful.
Maybe there is a physical reason why your horse is finding something difficult. Now is a good time for a full assessment of soundness and well being from vet and physiotherapist. Any issues identified can be treated and you then have time to carry out rehabilitation work before the season begins. You will then have set yourself up to succeed next season. There is little benefit to spending the winter working hard to improve something if you horse is unable to improve due to undiagnosed injury or physical issue. Do you feel there is an issue grumbling under the surface that is affecting performance? Why not tackle it now to improve performance and also prevent it becoming a serious problem. Even if you don’t suspect any issues, a full exam is a good idea as often riders do not notice changes or subtle issues when they are seeing the horse on a daily basis.
Have you considered the fit of your bridle and saddle? Many don’t consider the importance of bridle fit but there is now research showing the positive changes a correctly fitting bridle can make. Does your saddle still fit? Has it been fitted correctly and recently?
Also consider rider fitness- its an ideal time to take up Pilates or exercise that will help you as a rider. Have you considered you weaknesses and imbalances? You might be surprised by how much of a difference it makes to your riding and therefore your horse. Make use of the many well trained professionals who are available to assist you and your horse.
Take a step back and look at your routine and program. Could it be tweaked to improve it? What are others doing? Are you doing enough cross training or doing all your exercise in an arena? Are there different exercises you could be doing to improve your horse? Enquire and investigate- it might give you ideas. There is always lots to be learnt and new ideas to consider especially nowadays when so much information is easily available. It is of course important to consider the quality and validity of this information and the appropriateness of it to your situation. There is no need to change everything but just because you have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way! Be open minded! Even small changes can make a big difference.
Whatever you choose to do with your horse over the winter, ensure it is good use of time for him and you. A huge amount can be achieved in time used correctly and you will reap the benefits next season. Change doesn’t happen overnight- it requires thought and assessment to identify areas for improvement. This must be followed by creation and implementation of an appropriate plan to address these issues. Time and effort is then needed to implement and consolidate the changes. This is relevant at all levels whether you wish to be competitive or have your own specific goals to achieve.
Enjoy your winter of preparation and the successful season that follows! Why not set yourself up to achieve and succeed!