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by Downunder Horsemanship

Bring Your Horse Out of Winter Break With Groundwork

If your horse has had the winter off and you’re ready to get back in the saddle and hit the trail, keep these success tips in mind so that it is a safe and enjoyable experience.

    1. The first two sessions you spend with your horse after time off should consist of strictly groundwork. Groundwork is the safest way to get your horse to use the thinking side of his brain and focus his attention on you. Move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right and reward the slightest try.
    2. When you go to saddle your horse for the first time, don’t saddle him in the middle of the barn aisle or tie him to a post. Go where you have room to move in case he overreacts when he first feels the saddle on his back or the cinch tighten around his barrel.
    3. Keep in mind that weather plays a huge role in your horse’s behavior. Changes in weather, which happen often during spring, can make your horse hypersensitive and therefore more reactive. Make sure you’re more thorough with your groundwork on cold, rainy, windy days.
    4. The more times you pick yourself up off the ground, the better your groundwork gets. Rather than finding yourself dusting dirt off your jeans and wishing you had done a better job of preparing your horse for the ride, you’re better off being overly cautious and making sure you stay safe.
    5. Keep his physical fitness in mind and adjust your training sessions accordingly. If he has been out of work for several months, you’ll need to build his stamina up again. It’s no different than if you were working out regularly and then stopped going to the gym for a few months. You can’t pick up right where you left off without overworking yourself and risking injury. If your horse has had extended time off or is being brought back to work after recovering from an injury, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian.

One of the best resources available for horsemen who like to get out on the trail with their horses is the Fundamentals In Action on the Trail Series.  The series is full of how-to training advice and commonsense fixes to problems that are likely to crop up on the trail. The lessons included in the series prove to be great refreshers for horses coming back to work after time off.