The last competitions of the 2013 year have come and gone, and the off-season is officially upon us. While winter may leave some of us crying into our summer breeches in a sun-starved depression, some of the top riders on the east and west coasts have shared their thoughts on how to let yourself - and your horse - relax while still staying productive. According to these pros, winter is a time for rest, grooming, hacking, and...vaulting?
From Sharon White in Summit Point, WV: “At Last Frontier Farm, we use the off season to focus on bringing along the (really young) young horses (like 2 and 3 year olds). With the competition horses, we focus on trying to give them a break. They get time off where they don't do anything other than get groomed, then will start hacking and doing easy flat work. Also, as one of Jim Wofford's students, I participate in ‘hell week,’ which consists of lots of no stirrups work, balance exercises, and potentially even being made to vault onto the horses.”
From Jennie Brannigan in West Grove, PA: “At Brannigan Eventing some of our upper level horses are given a long vacation out in the field to just be horses (up to 2 months). Some of our other young horses have had different vacations throughout the year and will also get some time off in December for the holidays!”
From Caitlin Silliman in Cochranville, PA: “The winter months are one of my favorite times to work with young horses, as well as focus on weaknesses I feel my upper level horses may need to improve upon next season. The upper level horses in our program get a much-deserved vacation following their fall three-day events before being put into light work to get ready for the upcoming year.
Meanwhile, our young horses do light flat work and jumping while doing a great deal of hill work and having some fun fox hunting. Once the more developed horses are back in full work, they do light flat work and go trotting as well and then focus on individual training specifics geared towards their particular needs.”
From Hawley Bennett in Temecula, CA: “Ginny went on vacation after her plane ride home from Pau! She galloped, rolled and chased her girlfriends around the field. She was home just in time to see and hear the horses galloping on the XC during the Galway Downs CCI ***! She had a great view from across the street. Ginny will have one more week off before returning to work. December entails lots of hacking, dressage and road work until BDJ (Buck Davidson) comes in January! Happy Holidays!"
From Jennifer Wooten in Buellton, CA: “Depending on the individual, we may use the off season to introduce a bit of cross training outside our normal daily training venue or farm. I like to do most of our work off the beaten path with trot sets on the beach or at state parks where we can take in the view, let both horse and riders’ minds day dream while being productive. Often times we will even go fox hunting for a month and horse camping if the weather allows it. Basically chill and enjoy!”
From Tamra Smith in Temecula, CA: “My horses get six weeks off after Galway Downs at the end of October. The upper level horses, if they are over 11 years old, get hacked, but pretty much everyone gets an extended time off. Our season starts in January and ends in November therefore I feel it is important that they get time to hang out in a field.
Some are turned out together and others (the aggressive types) go out by themselves. We are lucky to have the space to turn them out for that period of time. When they are back in work all the horses get turned out by themselves to minimize the risk of injury.”
Special thanks to Athletux for their help with this article.