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12Dec 14

Winter blues

Although still not terribly cold, winter has definitely brought all the wet and the dark which makes it not so motivating to get tacked up and face up to the elements with a straight back and relaxed seat and all else needed in order to improve our dressage achievements. Often a hack between the hedgerows is a better option as trying to soften your horse on both reins in horizontal rain is a near impossible task. Also, when working full time one is limited to the weekends which adds another challenge to horse training.

Some years ago a pupil of mine had a horrific accident when hacking out on a crisp and sunny winters day. It was triggered of by the sudden appearance of some ferociously barking dogs storming for the horses legs. However, it did not help that the horse was more frisky than usual, not only because of the freezing temperatures but also because of a forecast for quite a major gale.

I am convinced of the fact that horses still have an instinctive sense of what is to come and are far more alert to the point of sharp when there is rough weather around the corner. If they were living in the wild they would have to look for shelter so naturally more adrenaline kicks in which creates the energy needed to take on that task.

Also, twilight seems to frighten them more so as that would be when the animals of prey would be out to look for their meals. In the winter when I am teaching in artificially lit outdoor arena's I prefer to teach when it is completely dark if the lessons are later on in the day for that very reason. 

Twilight is not the time to be hacking around the dark lanes either as for cars it is virtually impossible to identify what is coming towards them. No matter how fluorescent we make ourselves, it is a confusing picture for drivers and doesn't necessarily cause the correct response. 

All this needs to be taken into consideration before we decide to hop on our  horse during winter time. Unless your horse lives out with possibly a shelter the restriction of their stable for most of the time might influence their temperament. You have to know your horse before you decide to go for a hack on a Saturday when your horse has not worked through the week and is stabled as well. Not just for the chances of getting yourself in trouble but also think of its muscles and realise that your horses condition will deteriorate when not worked or out regularly.

Clipped horses should be covered up until the rider gets on and maybe even be worked with a quarter sheet. The cold will make them restless and stiff. Anybody who refuses to accept that should be made to brush their horse in their underpants and see what that feels like.

Lunging or hacking are sometimes better options than training on top as rough weather can really turn a horse of the job which it otherwise likes doing.

And last but not least, additional feeding needs to be sensible. Horses get fit from riding, not from high energy feeds. The best hay or sufficiently dried haylage is often enough for the horse limited to weekend riding. Overfeeding is just as dangerous as underfeeding. The main thing is to assess your horse's condition daily in order to pick up on the small changes. For the well-being  and safety of both of you! 



So very true! Love the photo, is that 'Marie'?
liz Read, 19th December 2014

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.