Winter is a good time to condition your tack, give your horse a vacation, and put up your feet by the fire. But frigid weather and bad footing don't mean you can't improve your horsemanship and horse-management skills during the non-riding months. Use your downtime to brush up your equine knowledge, learn new things, or get a head start on next show season. The horse industry is year-round, at least in heated indoor arenas, so what are you waiting for?
1. Go To an Expo
Many states host their own equine expos and bring nationally and internationally known professionals to your local fairgrounds or show facility-for a very reasonable price. Watch the horse training demos, shop the vendor booths and tack sales, or sit in on seminars about equine liability, bits and bitting, and rider psychology.
Even during the winter months, top training talents are doing symposiums and seminars. Want to see some of the clinicians you're curious about demonstrate their own personal brand of horsemanship? Use the Internet to find out when they are coming to your area and go audit for a modest fee. Better yet, see if you can ride in a session.
2. Watch a Show
Think you've seen it all? Perhaps you have in your discipline of choice, but why not branch out and explore what other areas of the horse industry are doing? Go to a specialty breed show, watch a reining competition, or take in a ranch rodeo. Get on the Internet and find out what else is happening within a day's drive of your home.
Big hunter-jumper shows often have a grand prix jumping event on Saturday nights. The sport is exciting and easy to follow, especially with friendly folks in the stands ready to explain what they know to newcomers. A musical freestyle at a higher level dressage competition is breath-taking. And watching five-gaited Saddlebreds show rack for a cheering audience gets the blood pumping.
3. Play Ring Crew
Spectating is fun, but being an active participant behind the scenes is really rewarding. Call the show chair of a competition and ask to volunteer. With a little coaching, you could ring steward, scribe for the judge, or assist the announcer. If you want a low-key task, offer to man the gate or give out awards. Show committees are always short-staffed, and this is a great way to see a new type of competition from the inside or to make new horse friends. Be sure to ask about the time commitment and duties up front.
4. Take a Class
Equine science and equestrian programs have sprung up in community colleges and universities across the country, making continuing education for the horse owner both accessible and affordable. Some schools streamline the application process for non-traditional students and offer night and weekend courses. At Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota, the new two-year equine science program's enrollment is nearly 50 percent people who have day jobs and take a class or two each semester.
You can learn whatever the college kids do: horse judging, nutrition, stable management, and even colt starting. Worried about making the grade? Pay your tuition and audit, so you can focus on learning instead of stressing over tests.