Winter Vacation: Yay or Nay?

Vacations? We love vacations!

The competition season is officially over after this weekend, the last event of the year is at Pine Top, and after that, what do we do? Do we succumb to our natural competitiveness and start preparing for 2013 already? If you are lucky enough to be able to go to Florida or South Carolina, do you haul down there early to get that extra edge over your fellow riders? Or do you luxuriate in the current mellow time period and give yourself and your horse some well deserved R&R? There are many ways to reach the right answer, what’s yours?

For me, the forced lull during November and December is calming and serves as good time to reflect on the events of the year, while getting rid of some of the performance anxiety that I feel during the active season. We all strive to be the best that we can be on each day with each different horse, and the constant mental and physical pounding that this creates can sometimes go unnoticed until we are compelled to take a step back. Most of us use the holidays to relax, recuperate, and sometimes pretend we are “normal non-horsey folk” with family and friends. I think it’s just as important to give our horses the same opportunity for a mental and physical vacation.

That doesn’t have to mean that you chuck them out in the back forty without a backwards glance. For each situation, a different approach is necessary, and there are many ways to create a vacation without going completely feral. Going from being ridden six days per week to none at all is probably a bit extreme. Instead, “active rest” or decreasing your horse’s work to two or three easy rides per week is likely to be more beneficial. This way, your horse’s cardiovascular fitness is not completely lost, and his joints, ligaments and muscles stay supple. This will also facilitate bringing him back into work in the spring and will decrease the risk of injury. The longer your horse has been in a deconditioned state, the longer it will take for him to regain his fitness level. I like to take advantage of the amazing Virginia countryside that I have access to, and go back to my childhood roots of hacking out for hours at a time across the rivers and over the mountains. The horses love it, and it keeps their base line fitness while relaxing their minds.

I can be partially clipped and still be on vacation!

Time off can be considered a mental break for your horse, but training and schooling exercises at lower physical intensities can still be conducted to maintain mental dexterity. Thus, plan your horse’s vacation according to his needs. A well-schooled show-pony might be happy hacking in the snow, while a young protégé might need more challenging exercises to promote mental strength.

Is your horse hard to keep weight on? Use this down-time to pack on some extra pounds for the winter and the start of next season. Of course, with a decreased work load, the amount of grain you feed him/her will have to decrease, but you can stuff them full of forage. Does your horse have feet that are difficult to maintain during the show season? Ask your farrier what kind of restorative measures you can take during the winter months to get his/her hooves ready for next year. Some horses can tolerate pulled shoes, but definitely not all.

What’s your opinion, Eventing Nation? Do you like to give your horses a good vacation at the end of the year? Or do you subscribe to the school that says more preparation gets you further ahead for next year? Do you find that partial vacation or full vacation benefits your horse more? I know you have opinions, let’s hear ’em!


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