Winter Training Plans

As days are getting shorter and darkness is omnipresent at after work training sessions, we need to reconsider our training plans for the winter season (wish I could head South - well, better West and then South: Florida, here I come!!!). Further, temperatures below zero, rain, snow and whatever else nice there is in Austrian winter will force us to do something beyond riding on days where the footing simply does not allow riding lessons.

In my month in the Netherlands, I already learned to lunge the classical way, work in hand and free work a horse. This is the basis of my winter training plan for Hafl this year.

Shoulder in - nice leg work ;)

Another building block in our considerations for the winter training plan was the ST Mini-Mastery of Marijke de Jong (Straightness Training Mini Mastery). She uploaded several short video sessions and pdf documents on her idea of straightness training. Most interesting for me was the section Educational Program. I totally agree with her on the five components of training (which are perfect ideas for strong and cold winters like we have):

Work in Hand

Details on Marijke's thoughts are to be found here: Educational Program - Straightness Training

Every item on the lists consists of different lessons, starting with easy ones, progressing to more difficult ones:

Additionally, I have the following ideas on the different components:

  • Groundwork: in order to loosen and soften the jaw, I like to start groundwork (or even riding lessons) with letting him chew. What does that mean? Find a nice explanation here:
  • Lungeing: As I learned in the Netherlands, I am now lungeing the classical way. That is so to speak completely different from lungeing as I used to do it. I am moving along with the horse, using my body language more than a whip and having the horse on a caveson without aid reins. Spiral in and spiral out are some exercises that I use especially in canter to increase Hafl's strength in the haunches.  What does not work for us yet is direct transitions. But that is something to work on the next months. Using poles is another way to make lungeing exciting and diversified.
  • Work in Hand: That is something that really surprised me. I learned it in the Netherlands with a true schoolmaster and especially the haunches in seemed very difficult to teach. So, I thought Hafl was never going to learn that. But in fact, he learned that so fast, that we both were surprised! Thus, a standard in hand work session (why I really often use as warm up) consists of shoulder in and haunches in already. I just started the turn on the haunches, turns on the forehand are of course easier and thus, no problem. As described earlier, a perfect exercise for relaxing the hips/haunches. All of the above only works properly in walk for us now, trotting is sometimes too little "upwards" and too much "forwards" leaving me running too much. But that needs strength and we are only on our way to build that up. Let alone canter, ask me in a year from now ;)
  • Riding: Most of the exercises listed above also work pretty good under saddle, some also in trot. There is lot of room for improvement. Thank God our winters are that long...
  • Freework (different from Liberty): When I freework Hafl, there is more distance between us than it is in liberty. It is rather moving like being lunged without lunge line. With my body language, I try to control gaits, tempo, rein changes and get the full attention of my horse. As we have a very small indoor only, this even works there as you do not need that much of space. I start with simply exercises like walk, trot then transitions and tempi changes as well as (if there was enough space and attention) flying changes in canter. Freeworking is not only about controlling your body language, it is more about energy and energy flows and being concentrated on what you do. So freeworking is way more then simply let your horse run around and make him get tired.

So, every training week should be comprised of these five elements. Sometimes, one day consists of not only one of these for me. I still try to keep the two days break rule saying that he only needs to work five times a week. There are exceptions as they might not be allowed to go out these days, so I try at least to give him a chance every day to walk around for some time. First attempt was to have a ready plan for a week, but due to unforeseen longer work hours or rain or whatever that did not work so I try to make a plan only when I am on the way to the barn.

One thing that is not especially mentioned in our training plan but is still there, is our famous circus movements. Hafl can do a bit of Spanish walk, laugh, say yes (he obviously only says yes to treats but hey when you cover that in the question: do you love me? he will always say yes), talk (opening closing his mouth as if) and taking the whip with his teeth (I really do not know what his intentions are in this case). Of course, most of these will not help with riding, but they are fun, and help him get some extra extra treats ;)

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