Training Without Riding

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Like most riders without an indoor riding ring, I dread the coming shorter days and frozen ground that will inevitably crimp my riding time. Although the fabric-covered arenas we discuss in this issue may make indoor riding a reality for some, going indoors is still out of reach for many of us.

Rather than lament the no-riding season, however, we can decide to make the most of it — and do some other training that will make riding better when the weather changes back.

Winter is a great time to break those annoying habits your horse may have developed. You might have spent the last several months putting up with a girthy horse, who’s really just being a brat. Maybe it’s time to stop the blanket-placement dance, as we’ve described in this month’s article ”End Blanket Disagreements.” Similar techniques can work for a number of problems. It’s just a matter of consistency, which is infinitely easier to do when your mind isn’t on getting out to ride.

You can work on leading manners, too. Some horses are handled with chain shanks when in reality the problem isn’t that the horse is tough to control, but that he’s spoiled and used to getting his own way.

It’s a matter of teaching the horse to listen to you. Lead him up and down the barn aisle. Stop, back up, make him move his feet to stand square. Take your time, but be consistent in both your commands and what you accept as a correct response. When he does things well in the barn aisle, increase the excitement level. Have someone rattle a feedbag or open the barn door until he listens to you and responds exactly as you want him to.

Leading and stopping will also help end problems like the horse beginning to walk off when you mount. Add the verbal cue, “Stand,” when you stop him, if you have trouble mounting. Come next spring, you’ll be amazed to see his response at the mounting block when you repeat this command.

“Carrot tricks” are great fun for you and the horse, and they’re excellent muscle stretchers, especially for stalled horses. Afraid giving treats like this will make your horse mouthy' Well, then, you’ve got another problem you can work on.

The fact of the matter is that responsiveness on the ground — whether it’s leading or dropping his head on command — will result in increased responsiveness in the saddle. If you have trouble with your horse behaving during groundwork, you’re not really getting a good ride either. And now’s the perfect time to fix the problem.

-Cynthia Foley