The cold, winter months tend to result in less horse shows (unless you are at Thermals or WEF) and many equestrians take a more relaxed approach to training. After all, horses and riders both need a little downtime every so often. Even then, the big trainers and facilities all have indoor arenas at their disposal. 

Yet, not everyone has that. Smaller facilities and backyard horse owners usually ride outside and weather is a huge factor. So when a winter is particularly tough it’s easy to get lose body condition. 

Here are some easy ways to maintain your horse’s condition during time off in winter. 

Massage Therapy

Equine massage Body Conditioning for the Horse and Rider
Massage therapy by a reputable and certified therapist can supplement exercise and maintain muscle during time off.

Massage therapy increases blood circulation, stimulates the muscles, and increases anaerobic capacity. As a result, it is a wonderful substitution for exercise. This winter has resulted in reduced riding time for my pony but he gets weekly massage appointments and has maintain his muscle tone. More, his metabolism and digestion are still going strong and he is able to withstand the sometimes significant temperature drops. 

Stretching

Passive stretches are those that remain in a position for a length of time, allowing it to deepen and using a tool or partner. For example, a tail stretch would be considered a passive stretch. It cannot be done without a partner (you) and is held for a long period of time. These types of stretches may be done during warm up or cool down and there is little risk of injury to the horse if done correctly. 

An active stretch is one where the horse is activating their own muscles without the use of tools or a partner. For best results and to avoid risk of injury, this type of stretch should be used when muscles are already warmed up from a ride. 

Tail stretches (passive) and carrot stretches (active) are wonderful to do while you cannot ride. 

Tail Stretches

The goal of a tail stretch is to open up the topline all the way to the poll. This is a wonderful release before you ride.
© Farm & Fir Co.

Tail stretches are a fantastic passive stretch that encourages subtle communication with your horse. Often, this is the stretch that seems easy, but most people have questions about it when we come back for a follow-up session. The goal of a tail stretch is to open up the topline all the way to the poll. This is a wonderful release before you ride. 

You as the rider is the balance point, or weight, for the horse. He cannot do the stretch without you, but he dictates how deep it is and how long he holds it.
© Farm & Fir Co.

I like to show people this stretch with one hand to reinforce the fact you don’t need to be a heavy- weight or use a lot of pressure to achieve a deep stretch. You as the rider is the balance point, or weight, for the horse. He cannot do the stretch without you, but he dictates how deep it is and how long he holds it. 

Three tail stretches are all you need. These can be done daily, and you will see that you and your horse quickly improve and get a “feel.” For a step-by-step guide, read Body Conditioning for the Horse and Rider. 

 It is important to listen to your horse’s subtle cues as they stretch. If they move abruptly away, release the pressure. When they give in toward you, release the pressure. Aim for a steady pull/stretch with your horse, not you, dictating the pressure.

Carrot Stretches

Carrot stretches are a favorite when done properly. These are best done after untacking and should start small and progress over time. You may do a web search for carrot stretches and while there are several to choose from, it is important to note that many horse owners do not do them prop- erly. As a result, the horse does the stretches without activating the proper muscles and the result is either a diminished result or possible muscle pulls and injury.

 Carrot stretches are a fantastic way to improve range of motion.

All stretches should be done slowly just at the edge of the horse’s range of correct motion and held for a minimum of five seconds. Keep in mind, this is new to you and your horse so don’t worry that your horse cannot reach his hip correctly or that they cannot hold the stretch for very long. Always prioritize proper alignment over length of time and the rest will follow with practice.

There are three carrot stretches to incorporate into any routine: The Hug, The Hip, and The Bow. 

The Hug
The Hug Carrot Stretch  The Hug opens up the cervical vertebrae and stretches the muscles in the neck.
The Hug opens up the cervical vertebrae and stretches the muscles in the neck.  © Farm & Fir Co.
The Hip
The Hip Carrot Stretch The Hip Stretch opens the rib cage on the opposing side. Start at the front of the ribs when beginning your program and gradually increase the distance over a period of weeks. Make sure never to push too hard, too fast.
The Hip Stretch opens the rib cage on the opposing side. Start at the front of the ribs when beginning your program and gradually increase the distance over a period of weeks. Make sure never to push too hard, too fast. @Farm & Fir Co.
The Bow
The Bow encourages a complete top line stretch and can be a fun trick!
The Bow encourages a complete top line stretch and can be a fun trick! © Farm & Fir Co.

Don’t forget to do each stretch on the left and the right of your horse. You will find that with the exception of the bow, which is a top line stretch, one side will be tighter than the other. This is completely normal as most horses are unbalanced to begin. The most important thing is that your horse does not tilt their head and “cheat” as this will have no positive impact and can train the muscles incorrectly. 

Work In-Hand

© Farm & Fir Co.

Limited riding does not mean, no exercise at all. Straightness exercises, leg yields, ground poles, are all fantastic and can be done on cold, hard ground at the walk. When it snows, take the opportunity to limited bursts of speed. The uneven ground and deep footing activate different ligaments and tendons, as well as actively engage the abdominal muscles and hamstrings. However, too much may make for a sore horse so start with 20 minutes and make sure to take a day or two off in between. 

Nutrition

Most of us are aware that horses eat more hay in the winter to keep warm. However, look at the supplements your horses gets and make changes as needed for the reduced performance. Often, horses become stiff in the winter and they need longer warm-up and cool down periods. As a result they may benefit from a CBD oil or horse joint supplements such as glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM are good candidates. Another option is to add a Ration Balancer to add in necessary vitamins without adding in sugar and starch. 

Body Conditioning for the Horse and Rider
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