The days are short and dark. The road is icy. The wind snaps your cheeks.
Riding is not safe in conditions like this, but there are a lot of training things to work on in the winter.
Ground-driving and pulling a tire.
I could probably make a longer list, but my favorite thing to do with a horse in the winter when I can’t ride is simply go for a walk. You know — like you’d take a dog for a walk. In my case, my dogs don’t pull — they heel and they sit/stay when I stop. I expect at least as much from my horses.
Before I take a horse for a walk, there are seven rules I maintain:
- I decide if the horse will walk beside me, behind me, or ahead of me. I also try to walk equally on both sides. The horse also must adapt its pace to mine.
- If the ground isn’t too icy, I often ask the horse to lunge around me now and then.
- We might also turn around and walk home, but in that case, we’ll most likely be walking past the driveway and will head in the other direction.
- Whinnying and general carrying-on is not accepted. If the horse is in a herd-bound frame of mind, we’ll either keep busy lunging or doing some mental work in the yard instead of leaving for a walk, or — if the horse can’t focus that day — I’ll tie the horse to the trailer parked a hundred feet from the corral. Then I go get another horse to work and let the first stand tied until the session is over.
- While on the walk, I use the clicker/reward to reinforce any good behavior, and I prefer to keep the horse guessing when the reinforcement will happen.
I hate to say it, but I do not use taking winter walks as much as I should. The exercise is a wonderful way to increase bonding and reduce herd separation anxiety.
I admit that I tend to let other work get in the way of spending the time to walk because it seems so low-priority, even though I know it’s incredibly effective. It’s kind of like taking time to practice mindfulness. Being mindful each day has a ripple effect into everything we do. It’s so easy to practice, but we let things which “look” more important — going to events and appointments, entertaining ourselves, socializing, reading and taking classes — take over our lives, when the answer to our improvement is overlooked.
The next chance you get, take a walk with your horse. Everything that happens on your walk will give you insight into yourself, your horse, and your relationship with each other.