Winter Walks

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.

Touching things.

Backing.

Sidepassing.

Flexing.

Ground-driving and pulling a tire.

Obstacles.

Desensitization.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. If the ground isn’t too icy, I often ask the horse to lunge around me now and then.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.