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  • Writer's pictureColton Woods

Training Horses Below Zero

Over the last two weeks here in central Kentucky, temperatures have remained in the single digits. Well, the 'actual' temperature that is. The 'feels like' temperature which takes into account the wind chill has barely cracked 0.

While normally I keep things very black and white and take them for what they are; this weather has really got me strategizing the best way we can continue working with our horses in these frigid temperatures

The 'feels like' temperature is VERY important to take into consideration. Normally, I'd be the one saying, we'll it 'feels like' -15 but its really 7, so, its 7. However, when it comes to working with our personal and client horses, its the exact opposite. What our phones or the weather channel says the actual temperature is does not really matter, because the 'feels like' is what does.

Why? Well because that is what our horses feel. They aren't feeling the 7, they are feeling the -15, just like us. And at those temps, how do you make sure when working with our horses that they are still having a positive experience? Many will say horses should just left alone during these blistering cold days, and I agree. Some of our own personal horses are turned out for the winter. However, others including us, have horses where that isn't feasible. Whether you have client horses in training, have shows on the horizon or maybe are having to stall your horse due to weather, we all have to mentally engage with our horses and continue progressing their education despite the temps. So what can you do?

Well here is what we have been doing with our personal and client horses!

Under saddle, on the days where perhaps the feels like was actually 0 or maybe a few degrees north of that, we've been working on a lot at the walk and trot. Transitions, suppleness, refining aids and connection. On the mental side of things, working through the experience of asking our horses to work with us in these colder temperatures. Some of them have been quite 'fresh' so we've spent time explaining to them it is the same order of operations even when its cold, your blanket is off and you're feeling really bright this afternoon. All in all though, these sessions have been short and sweet. Going out, making sure they are staying or are able to focus and relax, stretch out, touch on some of what they know and expand upon their knowledge a bit more then finishing up on a positive note.

Where we are spending more time though, and making a lot of great headway, is on the ground.

There is so much we can do with our horses in these frigid temperatures that keep them mentally engaged and help make connections between all aspects of their education from on the ground to under saddle.

-Ground Tying- Bring those ponies in from outside, pull their blankets off and give them a good grooming. Scratch them where they are itchy and unstick any of that mud that they may have found a way to get all over their faces and legs. And while you're doing all this work on their ground tying. For horses that may walk off, you'd keep a hold on a rope that will reach clear back to their rump when your grooming them so you can put them back where they were when they get to jigging around. Here you can knock out several things at once and your horses will appreciate a good scratch.

-On the Circle- Work on refining things on the ground as your horse works around you on the halter and lead. You can work on halt to walk, walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt transitions (note I'm leaving out canter due to how cold it is, but definitely could include some cantering once your horse is loose and your temps are conducive). Refining these transitions will certainly help under saddle! Oh and wanting to test your ground work?? Give it a shot at LIBERTY! This is something we've been doing with our horses to increase our connection, understanding, willingness and relationships with our horses.

-Trailer Loading- Not too icy around your trailer? Why not work on some trailer loading! You'll probably have plans to hit the road sometime when the weather gets warmer, so put in the time now and get your horse comfortable and confident in loading into the trailer!

-Confidence Building- Whether you have obstacles to make a course or have an item or two like a tarp or any other 'scary' things your horses may face later in life, take the time and build their understanding of it. Expose your horses to whatever you can that you can dream up they may face down the road and show them they can remain relaxed, understand what the thing may be and that it will not harm them. Putting in this work now can pay HUGE dividends later for your horse! Hobble Training- Start from the beginning. Teach them to lead by ALL FOUR Feet! Get them to where they will prepare to stop and stop smoothly when they are tracking forward and you pick up on their hind feet while behind them. Going through this education process could save your horses life if one day they found themselves tangled in some wire or caught up in a fence! The process of teaching your horses to lead by the feet should result in them being prepared to be hobbled. And additionally, going this extra step to connect a feel to their feet will strengthen their understanding when we pick up on their reins in time with their feet when we are riding again.

So there are a few of the things we have been working on with our horses and you too can do with yours!

Yall stay warm, we look forward to riding with you throughout 2018!

Colton Woods

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