5 quick and effective winter training sessions

5 quick and effective winter training sessions

Don’t have much time to ride during the cold, dark months? These 20-minute exercises will help you keep your horse fit and well this season.

Winter can be a tricky time to fit in riding, especially with its shorter days. But Stef Eardley, a BHS coach and BD trainer, says there are a number of efficient and simple exercises you can do to keep your horse healthy and in good condition. Here’s her top round-up of 20-minute training sessions – just remember to warm up your horse beforehand and perform each exercise on both reins.

Exercise 1 - Transition on a straight line

This exercise is a great way to check that your horse is responsive to your aids. The aim is for your horse to be straight through his body, equal between hand and leg, and responsive to your commands. This can be done in all three paces and include halt. Transitions can be ridden from one pace to another, or in and out of halt, or to vary stride length (for example, working trot to medium trot). Just follow these steps:

  1. Begin by asking for a transition from walk to halt on the long side of the arena.
  2. Once this is established, you can then ask for transitions from walk to trot and then from trot to canter.
  3. You can perform these transitions along the long side, down the centre line and across the arena. Transitions done away from the fence line are harder because your horse will have to work harder to stay straight and you’ll have to concentrate more on how he starts and finishes the transition: he should be straight going into the transition, as well as coming out of it.
  4. To up the difficulty level, you can ask for direct transitions, for example from halt to trot and walk to canter.

Exercise 2 - Decreasing circles

You can perform this exercise in all three paces, but Stef recommends beginning it in walk so that you get used to the size of the circles, making sure they’re consistent in shape. Your horse should have an even bend all the way through his body. But keep in mind that it’s easy for him to bend too much through his neck and not through his body, resulting in him falling out through his shoulder. Here are Stef’s tips for trying it out:

    1. Start by riding a 20m circle in walk. Ensure that your horse’s rhythm is even, that he stays equal between both legs and reins, and that he doesn’t fall out. The easiest place to ride an accurate shape and size of circle is at one end of the arena, so you can use the fence line to help you – starting from A, and crossing through X in the centre of the arena. Although, If you’d like to make the exercise more challenging, you can ride all your circles in the centre of the arena. 2. Once you’ve mastered the 20m circle, ride a 15m circle starting at B or E and cross through the three-quarter line on the opposite side of the arena. 3. Next, ride a 10m circle starting at H or M and cross through the centre line. 4. When you’re feeling confident, you can ride each of the circles in both trot and canter, keeping your horse balanced and between leg and hand, with his body following the curve of the circle.

Exercise 3 - Canter circles

Canter circles will encourage your horse to improve his balance and engagement in canter and listen to your aids. It’s vital that the circles are the correct shape and that your turns and transitions are smooth. Changing the bend of the circles will also help to develop suppleness. Less experienced riders or horses can ride the 20m circles in trot and the 10m circles in walk to begin with. Give it a go with these steps:

  1. Begin by cantering a 20m circle between B and E. Your horse should maintain a good rhythm and not over-bend through his body or fall in or out on the circle.
  2. Once your canter circle is established, you can add in a transition to trot when you cross the centre line and then immediately perform a 10m circle the opposite way. Make sure your horse is on the correct bend during the changes in direction.
  3. When you’ve completed your 10m circle, continue the 20m circle in canter.
  4. To up the difficulty level, try adding a second 10m circle at the other end of the 20m circle.

Exercise 4 - Four circles within a circle

This exercise can be done in walk and trot, and is good for keeping your horse supple and maintaining engagement. It’s also great to help you practice being accurate at circle size and shape. Imagine that a circle has four points – north, south, east and west, and each 10m circle should begin at one of these points. Then follow these instructions:

  1. Ride a 20m circle in walk or trot. Make sure the circles are accurate in size and that your horse is bending through his whole body.
  2. Within this circle, ride four smaller 10m circles, each one starting at one of the four points (north, south, east or west) of the circle.
  3. Once you’ve completed one small circle, continue back onto the bigger circle to the next point where you then perform another 10m circle. Continue until you’ve ridden all four 10m circles. Your horse should maintain his impulsion on the smaller circles but, as it’s harder work riding a smaller circle, keep your leg on to encourage him forwards.

Exercise 5 - A square of poles

Introducing poles into your session will add an element of fun and give your horse something new to focus on. This exercise works on fine-tuning your riding skills and accuracy, and encourages suppleness, rhythm and balance in your horse. Here’s how you can put it into action:

  1. Set out four poles in the shape of a 7m wide square.
  2. Ride large round the arena in trot and once you have established a good rhythm, come across the diagonal and ride over the centre of the ‘A’ poles, making sure that your horse stays straight, in balance and in an equal rhythm and speed.
  3. Turn on a half circle to then return across the other diagonal and ride over the centre of the ‘B’ poles.
  4. Then ride the half circle to return across the diagonal and ride back over the ‘A’ poles, in a figure of eight shape.
  5. To make it extra challenging, trot over the poles and then ride the half circle in canter, before going back to trot to ride over the poles.