If you live where you get a true winter, then you know that the weather tends to get in the way of your riding. The temperatures are either too low to ride, or it is too cold to do much of anything once you mount up. A lot of riders, including myself, resort to flatwork for the chilly months—too much over fences in the cold weather isn’t the best idea—but about a month in you can get bored and so can your horse. The desire to ride starts to fade, the wishing for warmer days and jump courses begins, and the freezing temperatures can get the best of you. Time to beat the chill and spice up your flatwork.
You don’t need to me to tell you that jumping isn’t all about the jumps. Drag out those dusty poles and set up a course. Watch a few of your rounds from show season to pick a few things to work on—maybe you need to go deeper into your corners or want to tune your eye for distances. Poles allow you to focus on the flat portion of your jumping while saving your horse’s legs. My favorite exercise is to do separate grids of bounces (but with poles!), fans, and also work on different striding. This keeps my horse on his toes, attentive to my aids, and vastly helps our adjustability.
Break out the USEF Rulebook and study up on the 19 equitation test elements—even those of you who aren’t equitation riders. Some of them are “easy,” but can always use some fine tuning (those circles are harder than you think). Pick a few numbers in randoms order to create a full test or practice the one that may be the most overlooked; the demonstration ride. Try not to go over the one minute allowed and show off your horse’s best features. If you have a riding buddy, “judge” each other on the positives and negatives of each test you ride and find a place for improvement.
This one requires an extra set of hands, so grab a buddy (or your trainer) and ask them to throw you on the lunge line. It seems juvenile, but you would be surprised how off-balance you might be once you let go of your reins. Go back to all those stretches you did when you were first learning to ride—airplane arms, scissor kicks, toe touches, hands on your hips—and try them at the trot or canter. These all help your balance and stability in the saddle.
Ditch Your Stirrups
No stirrup November can be continued! This can be done anytime and anywhere, so there is no excuse. You can even do any of the previous exercises sans stirrups or just ditch you saddle all together and hop on bareback. Be mindful of your horse’s comfort if you are a little rusty, but practice a little bit each day and you’ll be rock solid by the time show season rolls around.