A competition horse is an athlete that follows a training regime in just the same way as a human athlete, to improve technique, to build up cardiovascular fitness, strength and conditioning, as well as rehearse performance.
Event rider and trainer Harriet Morris-Baumber tries to keep her horses in work throughout winter as she believes it is counter-productive to rough them off only to start all over again ahead of spring.
Said Harriet: “Muscle tone and condition that has been built up over the summer can be maintained with light to medium levels of work. A period of time off will mean the muscles, tendons and ligaments will require re-conditioning, so a gradual return to exercise would be necessary in order to avoid injuries.”
Trying to get a horse fully fit for the season ahead can be time consuming especially if the training plan is interrupted by adverse weather. A week off here and there won’t make much difference but any longer and muscle tone will begin to reduce and fitness levels will start to drop.
Apart from a week off over the Christmas period, Harriet tries to maintain her horses in full work so that if bad weather strikes and her horses are forced into a break in training, she knows she is pretty much still on track.
Bringing a horse back into work during the depth of winter can prove challenging, when the wind is blowing and the temperature plummets; add to this the psychological pressure that the competition season is only a matter of weeks away and you can soon feel like your back is against the wall.
Harriet appreciates that she is in a privileged position in that riding and teaching is her career, which means she can ride during the day and is not restricted by another job or school, as is the case for some children trying to keep their ponies fit over winter.
So, how can you make the most of the time available to keep your horse ticking over during the winter months so you are good to go in spring.
Make the most of the time at the weekend, this way you only need to ride once during the week. If you are lucky enough to have access to an arena with flood lights aim to school your horse during the week.
Use the weekend to go for long hacks, for jumping practice or book some lessons. If you have your own transport take advantage of local competitions or hire nearby indoor or all-weather facilities to vary the routine.
“Make things work for you and if you can only ride at the weekend consider sharing your horse with someone that can ride during the week. I offer this service to my clients, which works really well and helps to keep any silliness in check,” added Harriet.
Also, remember to feed according to workload during winter and alter the rations during breaks in training.