4 Holiday Goals
for You and
Your Horse

03 December 2018

The festive period could be a great opportunity for you and your equine partner to make some improvements!

Some people use the Christmas holidays to ramp things up a notch and improve their horse’s schooling, while others prefer to let the equines unwind and have a break too.


Partly, this depends on whereabouts in the world you live, the weather, and the show season, as well as your schedule and preferences.


Either way, the few weeks over December and January are a good time to focus on something specific with your horse, whether that’s manners or jumping technique.


Here are some things you can work on over the upcoming Christmas break, depending on your goals…

Be creative and
think about 
the problems
you face

1. Schooling up a level

Whether you’re a Jumper or Dressage rider, the holidays can be a great time to crack the next level of your horse’s competition schooling.


In between shows, it can be difficult to set time aside to really work on learning new movements, riding tighter turns or riding related distances. When you have a few weeks of uninterrupted work, it’s a good time to teach the horse new things.


For instance, with a Dressage rider, this could be cracking the counter canter or really breaking down the shoulder in when you have the time to do it properly, without confusing the horse or compromising your show preparation.


For a Jumper, you may want to focus on jumping a certain type of fence such as a triple bar or water jump, or you may need to work on your horse’s technique when faced with an upright to upright combination.


It could even be something much broader such as shortening and lengthening the canter at will. However broad or specific the issue, the December period is a good time to tackle it.

2.  Spook-busting and desensitising


If your horse is the spooky type, it was inevitable that there would come a time when you’d want to try and solve it!


Of course, you’ve probably been slowly but surely desensitising your horse with every ride; showing them the scary plastic bag, riding past a coloured drum in the arena or hacking out in new environments.


However, December is a good time for a desensitising “boot camp” for the types of horses who still spook at the same tree after seeing it for the hundredth time.


The method you choose to desensitise your horse is down to your own preferences, but many have had success with gradual exposure to specific stimuli.


For instance, for a horse scared of a horsebox or trailer, this might be parking it nearby his field as a first move, followed by asking him to walk near it, then next to it, then to sniff the ramp or put a foot on it, then to walk over the ramp and so on.


Many others advocate using the horse’s curiosity to encourage him to move towards an object that he’s scared of. When the horse approaches, the object is moved away.


This seems to build the horse’s confidence and decrease the ‘scary’ factor of the new object as the horse no longer thinks that the scary plastic bag is chasing him!


3. Groundwork

Many people like to give their horses some time off ridden work over the festive period. It could be because they’ve worked hard for the rest of the year and show season is done, or it could be because it’s hard to ride when you’re full of wine and Christmas dinners! If you’ll be going up to visit your horse or do stable chores anyway, spare an extra fifteen minutes a day for some groundwork.


The most obvious thing to work on is basic manners and essential skills; teaching your horse to back up, to tie safely, to load onto a trailer, or to move away from pressure when asked.


If there are any obvious holes in your horse’s ground manners, this is a good opportunity to spend a few weeks slowly working through them. If your horse can do all the everyday stuff, you can use groundwork to strengthen your bond and even improve their responses to ridden aids.


For example, a Dressage horse may benefit from learning some half steps in passage or piaffe from an experienced handler on the ground. Otherwise, you may find huge advantages in teaching them to respond to the lightest of touches by stepping sideways or performing a turn on the haunches.


Be creative and think about the problems you face both ridden and on the ground; there’s likely to be something you can do from the ground to help solve them.

4.  Fitness


If you have a busy show season coming up in 2019 or are stepping up a level or two (particularly if you event, but even if you do Dressage or Jumping), then it’s much easier to build up fitness when you have time off than when you’re busy trying to cram in your riding two weeks before a show at 7pm after you knock off from work.


If you’re taking leave from work or are on holiday from school or university, December is a good time to work on fitness. You can do this through a mixture of long hacks, hill work, interval training, pole work, schooling and lunging.


The key to successful fitness training is to be measured in your approach. Vague thoughts of ‘I want my horse to be fitter’ tend to be unsuccessful. Instead, you need to be monitoring progress and setting goals.


Many people stick to a programme or schedule, the same as you would with a human athlete. Try to use a mixture of the above methods so that your horse develops all-round fitness and strength.


Keep up with all the latest news from the equestrian world this festive period by following the FEI on Twitter!


Words by: Sophie Baker


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