The doldrums of winter can be hard to shake off, especially when riding in the winter trifecta of cold, snow, and wind that sometimes doesn’t bring out the best in us or our horses. But, winter can be a great time to step back and evaluate your training program, focus on trouble issues and keep a good fitness level program for your horse. Spring is just around the corner – so enjoy the last couple of weeks of winter and use them to your advantage!The All-Important Warm Up Cold weather can be especially hard on joints and while warming up is always important, it is invaluable when the temperature dips. A good warmup sets up your ride for success and can help you detect any stiffness or soreness your horse may be experiencing. Winter presents the prime time to notice any subtle changes in your horse’s gait, roundness, willingness to be on the bit and general soundness. Sometimes, different problems don’t present themselves as readily in warmer temperatures, and winter can help you stay on top of your horse’s health and overall fitness. A good warmup routine can also be a useful tool to have when it is time to start showing. In the excitement of new surroundings, having something you and your horse can rely on as routine is helpful to ease nerves and focus on the show. Be purposeful and systematic in your winter warmups so that your horse knows what to expect – even in unfamiliar circumstances. Develop A Plan Plan out your rides! You can get creative and use books, videos and other training materials as inspiration. Shorter daylight hours also means that a well thought out riding plan will help budget and make the most of your saddle time. Similar to a workout buddy – having a riding buddy can motivate and help you stay on track. Bouncing ideas off of your riding friends is a great way to come up with some riding agendas and if you work with a trainer – be sure to let him/her know that you are open to some creative training sessions. Going back to the basics might mean some no stirrup exercises and lunge line work – but consider it the equivalent of getting beach ready! Practice Makes Perfect Use your winter riding time to clarify and refine your goals for the upcoming show season. No matter how much you practice, a winter’s time may not be enough to progress in certain areas of your horse’s education. Knowing this can help you decide what level of showing your horse is best suited for in the upcoming months. Alternatively, if your horse finds your current training program easy, it may be time to make the move up. An honest evaluation can help shape your training and inform your decision making with the vet, farrier and other professionals that keep your horse at his best. When Riding Isn’t an Option… Sometimes Mother Nature can ruin even the best laid-plans. If weather conditions prevent any riding, it can be nice to use that time to instead just spend some quality time with your horse. A good grooming, braiding practice, hand walks and other interactions with your horse builds the partnership that is so important when it’s time to hit the show ring. From Long Underwear to Show Jacket The bundling up and braving winter’s worst will be well worth the effort when it’s time to start showing! Instead of wiping off the dust and rust, your winter saddle time will leave you well prepared. And just remember – if it were easy, everyone would be doing it! There’s nothing like hard work behind the scenes to make the time in the spotlight look effortless, especially when it comes to horses.