It has been ages since I last wrote, but I have been having a fantastic busy winter! Instead of a run of the mill update, I thought I’d share a list of things I’ve done to beat the winter blues and make the harsh Alberta winters slightly more tolerable!
1. Hack Outside as Much as Possible
When we are stuck inside longing for the return of warm summer days and the oh so distant eventing season, a lot of times the last thing we want to do is bundle up and spend more time outside than we absolutely have to.
Hacking outside is great for both us and the horses, and I get out and about as much as the weather allows. I’ll generally hack if it’s -15 C/5 F or warmer and I always use a quarter sheet, and of course appropriate temperatures vary by area, so use common sense and your own discretion! We are pretty hardcore up here in Alberta!
A break and change in scenery from the flatwork and monotonous circles of the indoor arena is refreshing and helps keep my horses interested in their work. Walking is also key for fitness and conditioning so I always make sure I have a good marching walk to reap the maximum benefits.. Walking through the snow is great exercise as well, just be mindful of the footing. Avoid icy spots as well as snow with a thick crust, as the sharp edges can scrape and cut your horse’s legs.
2. Go Back to Basics
Winter is the perfect time to brush up on your flatwork and jumping/pole work. I have used this winter to introduce the double bridle to Sunny and we’ve been working hard to improve our dressage and especially the lateral work in anticipation of moving up to Intermediate this spring!
Because variety is the name of the game, I also love to pull out all those neat pole, grid, and jumping exercises that I always mean to do but just can’t seem to fit in during the busy summer months. One of my favorites is the Suicide X!
3. Sign Up for a Clinic
I find it very difficult to stay motivated through the long winter months unless I make goals or have specific things to work towards. A general winter plan of “prepare for next year’s eventing season” is far too broad for me, and I’m sure many others have the same problem! I’ve found that signing up for a mid-winter clinic keeps me motivated and focused, and I use it as a gauge to see where we are and what else we need to improve before the spring.
My clinic this winter is a bit special, Sunny and I got accepted to ride with WILLIAM FOX-PITT!!!! To say I am excited would be a bit of an understatement! We don’t get many “big name” clinicians up in western Canada, so this opportunity is doubly exciting as I don’t think you could find a bigger name than William at the moment!
The clinic is just over a week away now, and I and the other Alberta riders chosen have been busy in a flurry of preparation and planning as we all are making the long 11 hour trip to Chilliwack, BC for what is sure to be the experience of a lifetime!
4. Try Something New
I heard about the Calgary Hunt Club several years ago and although it was always something I’d wanted to try, life and other things always seemed to get in the way in the busy fall months when we were wrapping up the eventing season. Until this past fall! Mid October, an eventer friend and I bit the bullet and made the trek down to Millarville in southern Alberta to see what it was all about!
It was a blast!! Sunny was getting some well deserved time off, so I was fortunate to borrow my friends’ lovely gelding, who was a rock star considering it was his first hunt experience as well! After galloping over hill and dale, and meeting a ton of lovely people that were so friendly and welcoming, we headed home thinking that this was definitely something we would have to do again!
So if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, be it hunting, polocrosse, barrel racing, whatever! The off season is no better time to get out there and give it a go!
5. Experience a New Horse
The off season is the perfect time to cultivate that new partnership. Whether it’s a young horse or a project horse to ride and then flip, there’s no better time to get to know each other and put a good solid foundation on a horse than in the winter when we aren’t jetting off every weekend for an event or vacation. Even swapping rides with a barn friend once or twice a month can be a really great experience, as there is so much to be gained from different horses, and sitting on other horses makes one very aware of just what the heck we are doing up there!
In addition to picking up several horses around the barn to ride, I am very excited to share that I have added another horse to my team! Top It Up or “Twiggy” is a 16hh 2009 OTTB mare. She had a fairly successful racing career, 19 starts making over $46,000. She retired sound from racing in September 2013, spent the next 14 months hanging out in a pasture, and then I was basically told “If you can catch her, you can ride her!”
After only a few rides I was positively head over heels for this mare, she is smart as a whip but super sensible about everything. Pretty much the polar opposite of Sunny!
Since I restarted her under saddle less than 3 months ago, she has progressed by leaps and bounds, and even though she has only jumped 6 times so far, she absolutely blows my socks off every time with her natural talent and willingness.
I am incredibly excited for what the future holds for us, and I would like to send an amazingly huge thank you to Dr. Rick Katchuik of Alberta Veterinary Center and Lorrie Jamieson of Klondike Victory Farms for making this opportunity possible!
6. Head South
This to me was always one of those frivolous things that only the “rich-people” did. I thought there was no way a regular person like me could ever afford to pack up and jet off down to sunny California for 3 weeks or a month in the spring. But last year an eventing friend and I decided that it was our year!
I am very happy to report that we did it, and we did it on a budget! I love when people ask me how much it cost, because while it wasn’t CHEAP, with a smart head, proper planning, and budgeting, it can definitely be doable for the average horse person.
This year we have planned a 6 week trip for March and part of April, and both Sunny and Twiggy will be along for the ride. The plan for Sunny is prelim at Copper Meadows mid-march, then if all goes well, upgrading to the big I at Galway and Twin Rivers!! Twiggy is just along for exposure, schooling and conditioning, and there is a few small shows I may possibly enter her in just to get her out and about. I am super excited to head back down to the warm sun and sand!
So that is what I’ve been up to this winter! What are your favorite ways to beat the winter blues?