Winter riding: Get your schedule right

Winter riding: Get your schedule right

When approaching winter, remind yourself of your goals to determine what you do with your horse in the off-season, advises equine vet Peter Milligan.

You don’t want your horse getting cold or too wet as that could lead to significant health issues, so there are obvious things you can do to work around this in winter, such as hiring an indoor school.

Equine vet Peter Milligan (pictured top) says it’s important to keep reminding yourself of what your goals are as this will determine what you do with your horse in the off-season and help you both to keep a sharper focus.

“What are we aiming to achieve over the winter period?,” asks Peter. “It’s wise to have an end-of-season MOT with the vet and to bring in all the horse’s support team to discuss a proactive plan for the winter.

“That may be the farrier wanting to make alterations to the feet in a way that was not practical during the competition season, or the physio and the vet discussing if more can be done for a chronic or recurring issue. The winter months can then be planned around these things.”

Time to rest

Peter believes it’s vitally important that horses get a period of true rest, for both body and mind. He’s keen to reassure riders that older horses will not completely seize up during a period of rest and recuperation.

A horse’s age and chronic orthopaedic conditions should always be considered. They can rest and as long as they are kept comfortable and lightly mobile with turnout or light hacking work, then owners won’t see a deterioration in their action.

“It’s always worth considering that horses will lose core strength when in reduced work, so this will need to be considered and focused on when returning to training,” Peter says.

“If the older horse is already in a reducing level of work, then they may well not require any holiday as such as they may be finding the workload easy enough and well within their athletic potential.”

Mental health

From a mental point of view, overtraining is a known condition in human athletes, so is that something that should be considered for the horse too?

“The mental aspect is described as fatigue and burnout,” Peter explains. “With horses, we clearly can’t ask them how they are feeling, but we must pay attention to the signs they are showing if they are stale and not enjoying their workload.

“It’s vital that horses have time to rest their brains as they are asked to learn and train most days during the season. And as we all know, holidays are good for mental health.”