You’ve read all the blogs and reports, watched all the videos. You didn’t ride in the clinic, but went home saying to yourself, “I can’t wait to try that exercise!” or “that looks really easy, I’m going to try that tomorrow,” but tomorrow comes, and the arena is a muddy mess and then another day goes by, and it slips past. You reduce your riding to simply walking up and down the driveway, or a walk-only trip around the property. You wistfully dream of affording board for your horse at an indoor arena. The dark and the cold of winter are getting to you, aren’t they?
Well, hey! Don’t let yourself get there! We’ve all done this, dreamed of doing the fun stuff, but don’t get around to it. I think what I do is forget I have limitations at home, from work, weather, footing, and time, that prevents me from doing whatever I want to get the horses ridden and schooled the way I know I can. So let’s back up a little bit.
While the clinics and training sessions are great, they are meant to be attractive. To wow you a little bit, to create talk, make people think and watch, etc. Certainly take note of the concepts, watch the videos, and copy down the exercises. I keep a little notebook for training ideas. I usually jot down something from the really interesting clinics and sessions I’ve watched or ridden in. I like to use this to go back over it in the winter and read up about things that can help me ride better when I have more time. So that’s one thing you can get going in winter – your riding education via media.
Winter restricts most of us who keep horses at home, or ride locally so we have to keep an eye on our ultimate goals while being realistic about time, weather, and footing. So you really don’t need to go home and set up the six-jump gymnastic (which will take an hour by yourself to slog poles and standards around.) Instead, copy it down in your training notebook to do LATER in the year. Today maybe because you only have 30 minutes in the barn, don’t spend it on something you’re not likely to get accomplished.
Lower your goals to the situation just a little bit. Perhaps it’s better for your horse to spend the limited time you have doing a needed grooming chore (pulling mane, trimming whiskers, giving the back a good curry, etc.) perhaps taking some time in the saddle in the bad footing just to walk for 30 minutes, or do other needed cleaning chores around the barn.
I used to feel bad if I didn’t get right home and ride those gymnastic lines, but I’ve learned it just isn’t realistic. Rather than beat myself up for circumstances I just can’t duplicate at home (unlimited time to ride, perfect footing, a lovely indoor arena, and all day to spend in the barn) I have learned I can damp it down to fit the weather and time restrictions yet still keep that feeling I’m accomplishing something and going forward with my horse education.
Grooming, cleaning, clipping, and sometimes just walking under saddle makes up all I can do, yet it’s an important chunk of time (albeit small chunk.) If I can’t do much more than walk, I make the walk WORK. On the bit. Shorten the stride. Lateral work. Lengthen the stride. On the bit. Stretching. Loose rein. Back on the bit. I find ways to praise my horse when he does a little request correctly and patiently keep asking if I don’t get the response, just like I’d do if I were cantering poles or galloping cross country obstacles. I practice as perfectly as I can even if it’s just walking up and down the driveway. The quality of what you do with your horse matters and is the salve I need to make up for the despair of not having unlimited ride time in winter.
No, these little things don’t make up for a good ride or school, and I don’t want them to substitute for that. Instead I think of these small units as important to the bonding between me and the horse and as a part of the big picture. Training myself to handle the disappointment of not being able to school as much as I want, and keeping me thinking about the long term goal while just doing something simple like cleaning the tack room or washing stall windows. Learning to accept limitations also means being creative for my horses, to keep them fit, happy, and healthy while I am waiting for the arena to dry up. I have to be patient. And I can’t beat myself up about not having that gorgeous indoor to school in. I have to be content with the driveway. And it’s OK.