Insiders Guide: What to do with your horse over the winter
Pro and Non Pro articles written by Jen Jonas of Jonas Performance Horses and Sharon Jones of Be A Better You.
Jen’s focus and passion is reining horses; training them and the riders who aspire to show them. Jen is a successful show person with many buckles and trophies. She is also a versatile and effective coach – many of her students have won awards and classes and go from strength to strength. Sharon is one of Jen’s students, her day job is training people in ‘soft skills’ with a specialty in emotional intelligence and she wrote a best-seller on the topic, called Tread Gently.
Both Jen and Sharon are believers in continual learning – if you’re not learning you’re not growing.
Should I give my horse time off over the winter?
Sharon: As a non-pro, I always have the same questions every winter. Should I give my horse time off? How much time do I give my horse off? What do I do with them in the meantime? How and when should I start to bring them back into work for show season in the new year? What should I consider when making these decisions? etc... Over the years I’ve heard and done different things. This year, I asked Jen for her thoughts, and here’s what she said.
Show season has ended and you say now what?
Jen: It used to be said, the best way to keep your show horse in good mind for the next year was to give them two months off after the show season. Now, what exactly does ‘giving your horse two months off mean?’ To one person, it might be turnout, perhaps lunging a couple times a week; maybe some trail riding or a few light rides with no reining manoeuvres. To another, it means pulling the horse’s shoes; chucking them out in the field and waving at them from a distance for two months.
It really comes down to each horse and their preference and needs. Just like us, they are all individual with different personalities, and they are all at different stages of their development. I take all of this into account when considering what would make them the happiest.
Some horse do well on just straight turnout with nothing else, and others really enjoy the routine of some type of light work. A happy, content equine partner is what we strive for!
Something else to consider would be if your horse is an easy keeper and will gain weight readily without a balance of work. For those horses I would suggest a light work schedule, this will make it easier to fit them up when the time comes. Doing that is much better then dealing with an overweight horse struggling to get fit! I believe it is also better on the joints for the horse not to be carrying extra weight to begin with.
If a horse is a hard keeper or a younger horse (say a 3-year old) that has shown this season, I feel it’s beneficial to let them have turnout with little to no riding. Typically, the following year these horses come back to work more refreshed mentally and physically stronger. Which definitely improves their response to training!
If this is the case, I slowly start to bring them back to work at the end of December /beginning of January. I’ll add more light rides and build work-load and training from there.
Sharon: Thanks Jen, that’s great. I have two horses who are quite opposite – a 4 year-old who is quite feisty, she’s athletic and very fit. Sounds like I can scale back my riding over the winter, keep her doing some form of job otherwise she’ll get bored, then ramp it up again in January. My other horse is a 7-year-old chill gelding who gains weight just by looking at a bag of grain. Sounds like he too would benefit from light riding over the winter. He’ll like trail riding.
Jen: Another factor to consider is whether to blanket your horses when the colder weather sets in. If you are planning on riding them lightly over the winter or want to give them time off and start back again in January, it’s a good idea to blanket them, to keep their hair coat down to a minimum so when you do start to work and sweat them, cooling them out does not take as long as it would with a really furry horse.
Sharon: I know about that – I bought an un-blanketed horse in December a few years back, she was like a woolly mammoth – too late to put the winter blanket on and cooling her off after a ride took for ever!
Jen: Giving your show horse the time off after show season (or lighter exercise) works well for those who also have young horses. It is a perfect time to concentrate on developing the young horse with no rushed agenda. I know I look forward to this time of year working with the young stock and also planning for the season next year! ‘