Beat the Winter Blues With These 8 Goals

The (in?)famous tennis ball exercise. Photo via Connor Husain. The (in?)famous tennis ball exercise. Photo via Connor Husain.

It’s a bit early to be making New Year’s Resolutions, but it’s never too early to get started on your list of things to work on over the winter. When there isn’t much going on in the way of competitions, it’s a good time of year to really buckle down and work on your relationship with your horse. We came up with a starter list of winter goals, but we’d love to hear your input. What will you be working on this winter? Comment below with your plan of attack!

1. Improve transitions

Are your downward transitions leaving something to be desired? What about your walk to canter transition? Or how about the transition between a working trot and a lengthened trot? There are many different aspects of your riding that will be improved by nailing your transitions.

As George Morris would say, jumping is simply dressage over fences, so maintaining a good transition is a big part of jumping success. Here’s a few links for your reference if you’re in need of some tips:

How To Improve Your Horse’s Transitions

Improve Downward Transitions

2. Jump something new! Chevrons, skinny fences, corners – find something new and exciting to add to your toolbox.

Even if you’re grounded to the indoor this winter, there are still ways to come up with new things to jump. Put two rails in a v-formation to make a corner, stand a barrel on its side or on end to create a skinny fence, or create related distances using small verticals or even ground poles.

Whatever your competition goals are, introducing yourself and your horse to new exercises will stave off the boredom and establish a stronger connection.

3. Perfect that 20 meter circle

The thought of endless 20 meter circles calls to mind the oh-so-popular David O’Connor exercise of using tennis balls to demand accuracy on the circle. David used this technique in his training sessions this year, and his goal of dressage excellence was clear.

Remember, a large part of every dressage test is accuracy. Are your circles round, or do they more representative of a vague attempt at making some sort of round shape? Do you hit the rail and letters at exactly the right time? All of these small parts can make or break a score when put together, so it’s important to focus on the tiny details now.

4. Work on that pesky shoulder-in or leg yield

Lateral work is often intimidating to many riders, as they immediately call to mind images of Valegro or Totilas executing perfectly extravagant half passes. We can’t all be like Valegro or Totilas, though, and that’s just fine.

Simple lateral work can help a stiff horse warm up and will assist with improving connection and communication. A responsive horse who moves willingly off the leg will respond better when asked to execute demanding rollback turns or cross country questions.

5. Do some bareback and/or bridleless work

On the subject of forming trust with your horse, a great way to do so is through bareback and/or bridleless work. Bareback is a natural first step in shedding tack, and many more will take it to the next level of channeling their inner Elisa Wallace and riding with just a neck strap.

These exercises are, of course, to be attempted at the rider and trainer’s discretion, but if you can work on this new take on naked riding, you’ll find that your partnership with your horse levels up and you’ll find a new way to pass the cold months at the same time.

6. Stretch it out! Teach your horse carrot stretches

Just like any other athlete, horses’ muscles need some warm up and cool down time. Stretching is vital to any fitness regimen, as it allows muscles to release acids and get a head start on rebuilding themselves. Many riders will warm up and cool down in a stretchy, long and low frame, and adding stretches on the ground is also helpful.

7. Take a few lunge line lessons

Lunge line lessons are a fantastic way to work on your position and effectiveness without worrying about whether or not your horse is going to run into a wall. If your horse prefers not to be on a lunge, perhaps there is a horse in the barn that does.

Personally, we feel we all need at least one vaulting horse in our barns for occasions such as these, but alas this seems to be a bit out of the realm of possibility.

Rider On the Lunge

8. Who says No Stirrup is limited to November? Not us!

November is almost over, but that doesn’t mean your no stirrup work must come to an end! On the contrary, implementing some no stirrup work consistently will do nothing but good for your overall fitness and position.

Who’s in for No Stirrup 2015? Don’t all raise your hands at once, now. Seriously, though, you never know when you’ll need those skills…



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