I feel like when winter first comes, it’s magical. However, I’m starting to feel like we’re on day 234 for January and from here on out it’s only going to be getting colder. I know for me sometimes motivation runs low to ride during the single digit weather. I find it best if I make a plan before riding. So, here’s a small cheat sheet of ideas to incorporate into your own riding.
Keep riding: Ride the quarter line. Don’t just aimlessly ride around the arena on the rail. When you ride the quarter line practice going straight. Get your heels down and weight your stirrups. You’re going to want to practice using your legs to aid your horse in going straight. This is something you can do at the trot and at the canter.
When trotting or cantering, you can practice lengthening strides down the long wall and shortening down the short walls. You want to practice digging deep into those corners. I think of it as carving them out, allowing you to maximize your space. Corners are opportunities to practice bending your horse in, to get a supple crescent as you also push out with your inside leg to push those haunches out so they don’t just collapse upon theirselves.
Introduce some trot poles: Quit dragging your feet and get out there and hack. To help you pick up your feet, introduce some trot poles into your hacking routine. I find that bringing out trot poles is an excellent way to get your horse to pick up their feet and stretch out their movement. It’s not just great for your horse, it’s great for helping you think about your body position and fine tuning your aids as you go over the poles or even practice steering as you navigate over them.
Tip: Get creative. You can put single poles down around the arena and practice circling around them or do a figure 8. You can even put a few ground poles off the rail and practice going off the rail to do a perfect circle around them and then back to the rail as you ride. Make riding fun, don’t just stay on the rail. Below is another diagram you can build to track through. Safety First! If you’re new to building these, please schedule a lesson to learn how.
Pro: Trot poles encourages horses to round their back which pushes them to strengthen their abdominal muscles. There is a lot of movement from their shoulder while stretching over the poles which helps strengthen and build muscle. Collection over trot poles can also engage a horse’s hind end helping them build their hind quarters.
Challenge: A challenge to trot poles can be setting them up properly, don’t worry if you’re a beginner, I have hint below. Another challenge is maintaining the same speed. Think about keeping the same tempo through your trot poles. If you’re slowing down, remember to add some leg. It’s not about speeding way up. This exercise is NOT about flying over the poles. The goal is to be thinking of how your aids are engaging your horse over these trot poles or around them as you circle. Supple is key! It’s also about keeping the same rhythm. Your tempo at the exit should be the same as when you entered.
Hint: If you haven’t done trot poles before, I always ALWAYS recommend trying new things with a trainer first. The distance between the poles may be slightly different depending on the size of your horse. So, if you’re riding a pony that trot pole distance from one to the next is going to be different when compared to riding a very large warmblood. When in doubt, use a trainer to figure it out. This is something we’re happy to help with, schedule a lesson today!
Looking for more than just trot poles? Check out this awesome article from Practical Horseman that gives details on why Olympic rider Beezie Madden loves Gymnastics.
Things that you can learn from this article are practicing different strides between poles at the canter. Prepping for jumps and getting the horse listening. I know this is something we practice a lot during lessons. But, this is something that can be practiced individually. The more you practice this, the smoother your transitions and adjustments will become. Your hacking is the foundation to your jumping.