By Guest Bay Maggie DeVerter
Some of us live in states with weather that makes it very hard to stay motivated to ride during the winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest it can rain, and then rain, and then rain some more. Occasionally it will pretend to snow and turn back to rain. It gets dark (I mean really, really dark) before 5:00 PM for several months. Our pastures become slop holes of despair, and our horses are regularly covered in muddy clay from hoof to ear. Thrush, abscesses, rain rot and other bacterial and fungal infections are a very common nuisance for many of us. Through all that, we can manage to keep ourselves motivated to ride with a little extra help.
Plan to spend time with a different trainer or clinician.
I am not saying you should abandon your current trainer, but planning a few lessons with someone different can be very motivating. For example, I planned out monthly lessons with a new jump trainer so that I would feel encouraged to ride regularly and make sure both me and my horse were prepared for the instructor’s time. Riding with someone new can gear you up to be on your best behavior, and actually scrape the mud off your horse’s face before you ride.
Pick some schooling shows in the spring you want to attend.
Nothing like having an early spring goal to help keep you in shape! This year I have my earliest schooling show set on March 7. Make sure to pick something easy and fun for you and your horse that will allow you to set the tone for the rest of the year.
If you can’t ride as much as usual, take it low and slow.
Winter is hard on everyone and your horse will appreciate extra time to get ready before working. My horse has some arthritis in her hocks, which makes our more irregular winter riding a challenge. I keep a day by day attitude and try hard to not push her too far past her comfort zone (otherwise I end up with a grouchy mare the next time.) In addition to riding, you can learn in hand work, or practice ground work before or in place of riding. If you keep the warm ups long and the jumps and expectations low your horse will thank you.
Use time you can’t ride to develop other skills or interests.
When you can’t ride, choose to fill your time with something that enriches you. Go hiking, take a yoga class, study something that interests you, learn to cook or bake new things, or read a new book. These are all things that can help keep our minds engaged and motivated. I personally joined a gym this year and attend two yoga classes a week. I also try to go to the bouldering gym once a month, have been reading like a fiend, and am haphazardly developing my culinary skills. If riding is your main pastime, try and base these extra activities around things that will improve your riding or enhance your overall health.
Rest and take time for yourself.
I must have the hibernation gene because every winter I just want to stay home, drink coffee and look up random stuff online. Knowing yourself and understanding that you might need extra rest and relaxation over the winter can be very helpful to remaining optimistic that the winter will in fact end (eventually). Plan time off for you and your horse, where your horse can just be a horse, and you can do things that are not horse related. I usually give my mare a few weeks off either in the worst of weather, or around times that I want to go on vacation or need extra rest. Taking the pressure off yourself to ride for a couple weeks can allow you to decompress from battling winter and catch up on stuff you should have done 6 months ago.
Overall try to not beat yourself up for not having enough time or energy to ride. Horses know when we are stressed or rushed, and those feelings do not make for productive riding and training. If you need to rest, rest. If you feel active but can’t ride, work on developing new skills or strengths. If you can ride, create and work towards attainable goals, keeping both you and your horse’s abilities and available time in mind. By looking at the winter months a little bit differently, I hope you will be able to keep up your motivation and get through it in better spirits!
Guest Bays: Maggie & Melody
Maggie DeVerter is an avid Equestrian & travel enthusiast. She lives in Oregon with her Morgan mare, Melody. She is the Product Coordinator at Toklat Originals, loves Jumping, and tolerates Dressage.