As winter approaches, it becomes more difficult for many owners to ride their horse frequently. Riding is an integral part of having a horse, but there are other options you can use which are not an exact substitute for riding but do keep your horse mentally, emotionally, and physically engaged with you and will provide suitable stimulation for you and for him.
On days when weather permits, and daylight is available, take smaller rides but take into consideration that things like cooling the horse out after your ride, etc. takes longer this time of the year so time management will be important for you. There are six items that you can involve yourself with to keep your relationship with your horse going especially when riding time is at a premium or is virtually non-existent.
#1 Walk Your Horse
A walk, although location dependent be it a short walk on your property or on a safe roadway or a hike through the woods or fields is a great form of exercise for both the horse and for you. Make the walk non-specific meaning absent of training routines to further develop your relationship. It provides you the opportunity to evaluate your horse’s gait and provides a physical assessment for you. You can also vary the routine on occasion and make it a training session and an agenda-based walk will allow you to reinforce ground manners.
#2 Engage in Stretching Exercises
We humans know the feeling of how uncomfortable we can become when are muscles are tight from a more sedentary lifestyle. After your walk with the horse while the muscles of both you and the horse have been warmed-up you can become involved in stretching exercises with the horse. Warmed-up muscles respond more favorably to stretching than do cold/cool muscles so complete your walk in a brisk fashion to warm up the horse’s muscles sufficiently to engage in stretching. Using a carrot or other type of treat for your horse have your horse slowly bring his head all the way to one side and then to the other. Encourage his movement with the treat kept far enough away to encourage him to reach and stretch his neck muscles to the side. Never force and make each stretch a little bit further than the previous one. Once completed reward with the treat and then obtain a new treat and hold it in front of him to encourage the horse to extend his neck and head forward and downward to see if you can get his nose brought between his front legs. If he does not, he is telling you that he is stiff so do not force and build with smaller increments and develop this as part of a routine with him. This article describes ten stretches for your horse.
#3 Practice Movement with Obstacles
Such activity is great for confidence building in a horse whether your horse will ever be used in a trail class or not, it increases your horse’s effectiveness and agility and enhances their ability to work thru situations. You can use ground poles made of wood or plastic pipe and use natural obstacles such as large rocks, slopes, small streams, trees, and bushes. Remarkable results will occur with your horse’s balance, coordination and confidence. You could use cavalletti’s which are essentially ground poles you can attach to a frame to elevate them slightly off the ground and at varying heights. The benefit of this exercise allows you to strengthen the horse’s abdominal muscles, back muscles, and leg muscles through elevation and then relaxation. As the horse becomes accustomed to your requests, you can advance to makeshift bridges or ramps and tarps and sheets of plywood on the ground that are strong enough that the horse will not crack the wood or endanger them with the obstacle. When weather permits you can walk thru trickling streams or puddles to assist your horse in their ability to handle water obstacles.
#4 Ground Drive/Long Line
Many trainers begin young horses by ground driving and then introducing them to turning, stopping, bending, backing, and following commands and pressure. On horses that have been trained to ride ground driving/long lining is a great form of exercise that enhances their education. It is also a close exercise to riding as it is only absent the weight and the rider on their back.
#5 Work In-Hand
The goal of this is to form a team where you and your horse work as on. This reinforces the importance of your body language and communication with your horse. It allows you the chance to relax and handle the horse on a loose lead and to follow your movements. You can expand these exercises to teach and execute turns on the hinds, on the forehand, side passing, shoulder in and shoulder out and even the most advanced to include piaffe and passage. Do not hesitate to consult a reliable training manual as it relates to dressage for developing such modalities.
This is one of the most important routines you can employ with your horse and is an activity which is of importance other than just before riding. You can use this as a routine all by itself. A quiet grooming session brings about relaxation for the horse and allows the human to relax while transferring the calming effect to the horse. Watch in horse-to-horse relationships, where a horse that gets along extremely well with another horse will wind up grooming their pal horse. Begin your grooming with vigorous currying to raise the embedded particulate in their coats and then follow up with a good brushing to stimulate the natural oils that are valuable for their skin and coat condition. Expand the grooming to include routines for the mane and the tail and develop a routine for working on picking out your horses’ hooves. The horse will benefit from such an activity and it will help desensitize the raising and lowering of the legs.
Provided by Dan Kuhn Natural Horseman Services