Winter riding: Consistency and variety are key
He may have won the CCI-S Y3* at Cornbury House Horse Trials in 2021, but Tom Woodward won’t be basking in past glories this winter. Instead, he’ll be layering up in waterproofs and keeping it consistent.
Q: When the weather is extremely cold, wet, windy or foggy, how do you change your riding plans?
If the weather extremes are dangerous, then we would adjust accordingly. But I believe it’s good for the horses to get used to being worked in all types of weather so that if they are out competing, they have some level of experience in different conditions. If we have a particularly cold, wet or windy spring or autumn, then they are relatively accustomed to it.
Q: Sometimes the solution would be to stay in the arena. How do you keep your horses’ work varied so they don’t get bored or fed up?
Regardless of the conditions, we make sure the horses are all out of their stables two to three times per day. This could be for ridden work, walker or limited turnout as our fields get very wet. We like to do a lot of hacking as it’s great for fitness and roadwork is excellent for hardening off their legs to help prevent injury.
I’m also incredibly fortunate to have access to some local woods, which are fantastic for getting the horses used to different types of terrain – especially the young horses, who can develop their own natural balance by walking in different terrain, even if the ground is wet and slippy.
If we’re limited to just the arena, we try to use things such as pole work, cavalettis and different jumping exercises to keep things varied. However, I do think it’s important to have an element of repetitiveness to keep the consistency in their work and focus on the basics so that their foundations are firmly in place.
Q: What are the best outdoor gear tips you have for your horse?
If it’s wet and/or cold, I always make sure the horses are worked in exercise sheets during warm-up and cool down. This helps prevent them tying up when their body temperature changes in a short space of time.
Q: What else happens in your winter routine?
As the horses normally have a holiday in the field at the end of the season (before they get too wet), it’s vital they are brought back into full work gradually. I like to hack for a week or two before we start schooling and jumping. When they do start after their break, we keep the sessions short and sweet and gradually build the length and intensity as they get fitter. All the horses are different, so I try and find what works best for each horse.