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Trip to the field: pluses and minuses of winter rides

Published: 2017-01-12 19:10:16 Categories: Guides Rss feed

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Winter is not only a time of beautiful snowy landscapes, but it is also a period of rest in horse riding. It is the winter season when the pair of horse - rider, after intense equestrian season, have time to take a break, relax and wind down. It is also a right time to do the things you usually lack time to do during the season - a moment of fun for you and your four-hooved partner, to ride without stress or pressure, for cordeo, riding bareback, lunging, but also taking care of his hooves, hairs, withers, massages. It is a time to recovery before going back to preparations before another season.

Thus, everybody can use a change in their trainings during winter :) Those who praise dressage can try jumping, those who jump can leave the obstacles for a moment and try elements of dressage riding. Please, keep in mind that not only riders can find this change beneficial. Our horses like positive routine (e.g. well-known commands), but even they get bored. So if your school horse is on a lunge all summer long, he will be delighted to have a moment of freedom in the field, the same applies to sport horses.

Regardless of the equestrian discipline, if we have that opportunity, we tend to spend all winter on an indoor hall, because the weather can be really nasty. Cold, turbulent wind and tons of snow, which probably is the most annoying during melt :P Such weather does not encourage to go outside. During summer your horse can observe what is happening around him, there are a lot of stimuli, challenges and a large space in which he can move, and during winter on an indoor manege he is deprived of all these, and you also. Which is why you should provide your horse (and yourself too!) with the possibility of "refreshing your heads" :) And there is no better way to do it than go outside! However, before going to the field, you should know how to prepare for such a ride and what are its advantages and disadvantages.

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Advantages of riding in the field

We'll begin with the pleasant part, so let's focus on the advantages, which are more plentiful than disadvantages!

1. Rest from indoor spaces

As we mentioned before, the animal relaxes mentally being in conditions close to his natural, so e.g. on a pasture. A totally different case is riding on a limited arena, which is why it is worth taking your horse, once in a while, so he can ride in the field and let him have fun, not only obey your orders. Usually in the summer you don't have that much time before one training and another. What is more, it is hot and uncomfortable, we sweat on the saddle and want to finish the ride as soon as possible. There are flies in the field, which more often than not attack both you and your horse. It is worth going to the field in the morning during summer, before the burning sun appears and the blood-sucking insects fly over in the evenings.

When it comes to winter, you shouldn't have much troubles. During winter, field and forest paths are rarely used and it is more probable to meet a wild animal than another person. The most pleasurable to ride is when the ground is dry or covered with powder snow, and the temperature is between ca. -4 and -7°C. In this temperature, the snow won't melt, so it shouldn't be slippery and your horse's hooves should be able to move stably on it.

Usually while riding in the field, a lazy gelding start acting like an untamed, bulking stallion, and those more energetic horses tend to calm down. This shows how important it is to take horses on such "trips." Of course, it is important to always be in control of the situation and the more frequently you would take your horse on such rides, the more he will be used to them and won't surprise you with an unpleasant and unexpected behaviour.

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2. After training

Referring to the first advantage - the animal relaxes best while in the open space. Thus it is good to set as a norm (not only in winter) walks in the field as a form of walking out after training. You have to spend a moment on walk anyway - 10-15 minutes, depending on how exhausting the training was. Nothing will be better after the last trot than walking out of the indoor manege and going to a nearby forest, or meadow, or simply wherever you can. You horse will rest, will be more keen to stretch, loose his neck down, sniffing along the way, his walk will not be lazy and drowsy and that will help him engage his back even more. That, probably, is the best way to reward your horse at the end of a ride ;) You don't have to go far, just let him feel the open space ;)

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3. Tightening bond with the horse and building his self-confidence

Lone ride in the field may be a good test for you as a rider and for your bond with the horse. Horses are social animals and if they treat you as a leader and they are not very confident, lone field won't be a pleasant experience. If your horse will speed ahead, whenever you ride at a trot or canter, or if he will jump next to every tree and "weird" stack of wood, a paper bag or encountered person, it is a sing you have to work with him. Of course, horses differ from one another in their temperament, just like people do. There are more and less bold, and even those super afraid of everything :) However, it is possible to work on the horse's self-confidence and build trust for the rider, no matter what his character is.

Lone rides in the field are never a good idea (but more about this in later paragraphs). So if you want to help your horse with his self-confidence, it is good to go out with somebody else and another horse (or even horses). However, the horse that leads should be calm, trusting and brave to go as a leading horse. The best are rides in pairs or groups of three, that is: two horses, two riders; or three horses, three riders. Let an experienced horse lead, this horse should not be used to kicking and a horse that is considered an authority in his herd. Then your pet will be keen to follow him. At first try to go right behind the leading horse. Then you can try changing positions with the leading one. Your horse should become more confident, knowing that he has an experienced friend right behind his back :) It is worth accustoming the horse not only to lead, but also to be able to submit in the middle or at the end of the line. You probably have no idea how many horses cannot go as the last one. Maybe they're afraid of wolves...? :P

Remember that you can later use the things you work on in the field, for example the boldness when facing the unknown. Your dressage steed won't be terrified by a flying bag or sudden gesture of somebody sitting on the audience. Bravery can also be useful for jumpers - brand new obstacles won't be that scary. Your horse will be with you - if he trusts you, you can convince him to do everything.

4. Perfect moment to have a blast

Animals also can cumulate bad emotions and energy excess. If you are in the field, keep in mind all the conflicts and issues and let him blow off the steam ;) If you go in a group, bigger or smaller (safe one is up to 5 horses, more usually is problematic), always try to maintain proper distance, that is - mind not to be close enough so another horse can kick yours (you should be able to see the leading horse's hooves between your horse's ears). Avoid riding next to another horse, especially the leading one, because horses' temperaments may cause them to race :)

Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong in letting your horse race a little or go at a faster canter. Let them live a little! When if not now? You can't let that happen on a manege :) Let them go a little crazy, but in a controlled way - on a solid ground, with no roots sticking out, preferably where it's neither too soft, nor too hard... best if going uphill! They won't go at full speed and they will get a little tired, engaging their backs and croups ;)

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5. Valuable exercises

What's important and what might have not come to your mind - riding in the field makes a virtue of necessity. If you let your horse go on a long reign, it will turn out that a stiff horse can relax and find his cetre of gravity with you on his back. In the field you can train on an uneven ground - it develops the horse's skills and will prevent you from breeding a horse "prince(ss)." It's a bit like with humans running - let's compare the skills of somebody who runs the whole year on a treadmill, and somebody who runs outside. The latter builds immunity, has more fun from running, the effort is more valuable, muscles more durable, as well as joints (of course, not in the case of running on pavements, but on natural grounds). Also, there are various weather conditions, usually wind, which causes you to run slower but with the same effort. That shapes a sportsman way better than artificial conditions on the treadmill.

The same applies to horses. There are no better trainings than ascents, especially at an extended trot, not canter. Then, the horse engages his whole body, especially the motor - namely his croup and back muscles. Equally demanding is going downhill. It's good to first teach the horse how to do it at a walk, and only then at a trot and canter. Of course, without the rider, the horse can perform such things, but now we're talking about an additional weight on the horse's back, which is usually moving! :)

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6. Do your training in the field

Have you ever thought about raising the bar and trying to move your training to the field? It is the best idea for an effective ride! If you manage to focus your horse without the help of a fence, and you'll succeed at moving in straight lines, there is no other option, but to succeed also during competitions.

Try trotting from one wall of the forest to another. Difficult? Of course it is! Even more difficult is imagining an arena or manage on a meadow, where there are virtually no points of reference to keep an even rectangle! What is more, horses always associate meadows with relaxation, so it will be more difficult to force him to exercise there. Nevertheless, take the challenge, because it's worth it! :)

source:, Hilltop Farm, Inc.

7. Tightening stable friendships

A group trip to the field is also a perfect chance to talk with other riders, exchange gossip and complain about your horses ;) Such combination is both pleasurable and useful! What is more, you won't have to stay after training to catch up with other riders and you'll save some time :)


Disadvantages of field trips

1. Greater risk of injuries

We won't lie - going to the field always means a higher risk of injury. Riding in a line, your horse might get kicked by the horse riding ahead of him (thus we remind you to keep safe distance) and the ground is far from perfect - roots sticking out and branches may damage your horse's limbs, just as wet grounds and ice might cause harm to his tendons and joints. So it's good to accustom your horse gradually to field trips - don't go nuts and always adjust your speed to the quality of the ground and gradually increase the level of difficulty. Remember that horse's greatest enemy is exhaustion. An animal that rarely runs in the field won't get ready for the field on a manege and won't be able to run at a canter on a hilly ground for a dozen or so minutes. Always take into consideration your horses health and shape, be careful and you'll manage to avoid most injuries.

Additionally, it's worth treating such ride in the field as a training ride - start with 15 minutes of energetic walk, then go at a trot of even pace, again a moment of walk, trot... and then your horse should be properly warmed up to run at a canter. Finish with a 15 minutes walk, or even longer, depending on how exhausting the training was. Remember that you can hurt your horse even on a flat ground if you don't take into consideration the pace and level of effort :)


2. Dangers for the rider

The worst things can happen when you go to the field alone and nobody knows about it. It's good to always go with somebody else, because you can help one another in case one falls off the horse's back, the other can catch your horse and take care of you if you're hurt. You never know what might happen along the way... you can lose consciousness and if your horse doesn't go back to the stable on his own, nobody will come to help you. A horse that comes back to his own stable without a rider on his back, but with an empty saddle will always make some noise and maybe somebody will notice, but if your friend will be faithful and watch over you until you "wake up" and get back on the saddle, the situation is very serious.

Remember that it's a bad idea to go to the field with a rider who can barely sit in a saddle. Don't let such riders ride in the field. Such rides require skills, since there are many factors the rider cannot control or predict. If somebody inexperienced goes outside anyway, it's good for them to ride "in the middle" - that is if they are in between the leading horse and the last horse on which there will be experienced riders.

If you go alone - let somebody know where you're going and what route you'll take, as well as when you plan to come back. Then you can be sure that somebody's informed and will notice if something's off.

Things that happen in the field can often curdle one's blood... but horse riding has always been a dangerous sport, which is why only wary and aware of the dangers rider should do :)

How to prepare to be safe

Rides in the field are really enjoyable, but only when both you and your horse remain safe. We have a few of basic tips for you, and if you follow them, the danger of injuries should be as little as possible.

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  1. Always, always wear a helmet, which protects the most important part of your body - your head, and then your spinal cord. If you love horse riding, allow yourself to do it as long as possible. Helmet is the essential that you always should wear, no matter how advanced you are. Your skills have nothing to do with the external factors - a sudden appearance of a wild deer that jumps from behind a tree. Even the calmest horse may react with rearing, jumping or running away. You won't have time to react and you'll find yourself lying on the ground. Remember to invest in helmets, not toques! What is more, the helmet should meet basic safety standards and have a solid fastening. 
  2. Always go to the field with somebody else or inform somebody you're going out. Tell them where you'll be going, including the route and at what time you should be back. 
  3. It's good to put full front and back boots on your horse. Also, notice if it's not worth dressing him in bell boots. Some horses, when they're tired, can step with their hinder hooves on the "heels" of their front hooves, or the other way round. In such case, after coming back to the stable, check if there are any wounds around the hooves. Unfortunately, when the ground is muddy and the weather rainy, wrongly worn bell boots may cause abrasions, so pay attention while using them so you can chose a good pair and use them properly.
  4. Maintain proper distance while walking in line of horses and don't stop landing in somebody else's croup. What is more, it's worth getting to know if any of the horses tend to kick (and always remember every horse can kick!). 
  5. Don't outgo while riding in a line. It is usually during changing the leader's position without agreeing upon doing so, when getting kicked is the most possible. Additionally, you can cause the horses to start racing and the situation might become difficult to control. If you want to outgo somebody, warn the rest of your group. 
  6. Invest in reflectors! Not only in the evenings, but also during foggy weather you are less visible for other user of the streets/paths, especially if you're moving fast and your horse is of dark colour. 
  7. Find out if there are any hunts in your neighbourhood. It's good to know the schedule and species for a specific hunting period. You don't want to become a quarry! :) 
  8. Adjust to weather conditions. If your horse rarely grazes on a pasture, you keep him in the stable and ride mostly on a manege, he is not used to low temperatures, not to mention any effort in low temperature. Gradually accustom him to the "extraordinary" conditions. Both in the summer and in winter, it is worth considering if you can go out on another day if the temperature reaches -15°C and there's windy outside, or when it's really sunny and the temperature is as high as 28 or 30°C even in the morning. You should definitely resing from a long ride then! 
  9. And last but not least: take you phone with you. You never know when you can use it. Hide it in a safe zippered pocket or a bumbag. If you're afraid you may damage it, analyse - is it worth more than your health, health of your horse and your friends? The answer should be simple :)

We hope that your winter trips to the field will be nothing but enjoyable and you'll always come back safe from them :)

phot. Noelle Floyd