Winter Hibernation

file000107589351The cold, wet and gray days, along with less hours of sunlight have taken their hold on me. I’m in hibernation mode where all I want to do is sleep and eat!

This happens every year, and every fall I fight it saying to myself, “I’ll do better this year. I’m going to ride all winter, go to some shows and just keep chugging right along. I am NOT going to be lazy this year.”

Well,  you know what? I have failed again this year! With a new horse in the barn, and another sale prospect on the way, the guilt of riding less and eating more gets pretty heavy sometimes. I know I should be riding, eating better, working out, writing more, etc, etc etc… But I don’t.

While I do battle those twinges of guilt, at the same time I know that my horses and myself really do need a break. It does them good to just be a horse for a while, and they usually come back fresh minded and ready to work.

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It’s not uncommon for colts to get their first few rides in the fall and then get a break all winter with riding resuming in the spring. Many trainers believe that colts benefit from having that long winter break. I believe that’s true with colts and mature horses alike, especially if you’ve worked them pretty hard or hauled a good bit throughout the year.

Depending on weather and motivation, as well as the horse themselves, I’ll still do a little ground work throughout the winter. For instance, the OTTB we have gets some ground work once or twice a week, and sometimes I’ll do some ground work as I’m turning him out just to keep him tuned. He tends to get a little cranky if he’s not handled on a regular basis.

The same goes for me. By early spring, I’m ready to start riding and hauling and looking forward to the coming show season. As the say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and being away for a while from the hustle and bustle of going down the road makes me ready to haul again when the weather breaks.

As far as working out, although I do cut back quite a bit I don’t quit completely. I’ve found that the less I move, the more achy I get. So I still try to incorporate at least few weekly core exercises to keep me feeling better. At least that way I don’t turn into a total couch potato, and that’s less conditioning I have to do in the spring as well.

There have been years I’ve ridden all winter. Years where I body clipped and blanketed, rode in the dark, and lunged at 4am in the mornings just to get a horse ready for an early season show. I would most definitely do it again, if there was a show I really wanted to go to. However, that’s just not the case this year.

While I’ll still struggle some with those twinges of things I think I should be doing just because, I’m not going not focus on it too much. I figure my body is telling me I need a break physically and mentally. Besides, life is too short to beat yourself up too much. Really, it is.

So what mode are you in for winter? Are you riding or taking a break?

Barrel racing in January

Barrel racing in January

 

 

The Days Are Getting Shorter…

Being the horse girl that I am, I can’t post without sharing the latest horse news!

Beavis, the young Dash For Perks barrel prospect that I posted about last time, is back home at the Sherlin farm where he’s being used for riding lessons. The horseman in me wouldn’t let him go back until I got one last decent run actually around all three barrels. So we ended on a good note and I feel truly blessed to have gotten to borrow such a terrific young horse to ride. Lots of great lessons learned!

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

My mom & me with Beavis in the barns

At the end of September, I wound up with Dynamic Host, aka “Louie” thanks to Prancing Pony Farm owned by Julie & Justina Faunt in Riceville, Tennessee. He’s a 17.1 hand, 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding by Dynaformer. Dynamic Host won the Tokyo City Cup while in training with Art Sherman who trained California Chrome. I’ll be putting some foundational training on him as an Eventing Prospect so it looks like I’ll be pulling those breeches back out that haven’t seen the light of day in several years!

With an added horse that’s big and needs a lot of training, and days that are getting shorter, I’ve been thinking a lot about time management and how to save time. With a 45 minute commute to a full-time job, giving lessons, and 9 head of horses – 6 are stalled – my days are always full.

My husband has to be at work at 5am so most mornings I’m up at anywhere from 3:30 to 4am. The mornings are usually when I’m catching up on social media and book promotion. Sometimes I’ll get in some writing. That’s also when I fix my lunch, get in a real quick work out, and fit in my prayer time. If I’m really industrious, I might even throw in a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher! Then I’ll start feeding and cleaning stalls, which normally takes about an hour to an hour and half – it depends on whether or not everyone cooperates coming in! Donkeys can be cantankerous at times!

On the days that I don’t get up early, not only do I not get as much done, I also feel like I’m running behind. So getting up at least a little earlier not only helps me accomplish more, it also helps to keep me more focused and prepared.

Doing all my barn chores in the morning is a critical piece  of the day as well. Sometimes my husband will pick stalls in the evenings but most of the time I’ll pick stalls and spread manure in the mornings. This frees up my time in the evenings to ride.

I also try to prep in the mornings for the evening feeding as much as I can. I feed soaked cubes and beet pulp before evening turnout so I’ll pre-load the feed tub with the dry cubes so only water has to be added. I’ll also mix feed for any horses that get special feed.

I do my feeding out of a wheelbarrow — that wheelbarrow was the best investment ever! Instead of making multiple feed trips to the feed room, I can just load up and dump feed as I go down the hallway. This saves a ton of time!

I usually don’t get home from work until a little after 6pm, at which time I’ll quickly get in a few updates for the social media pages before I start working horses or give a lesson. I’ve learned to give myself a time limit on the evening updates and usually try to keep it at around fifteen minutes. Otherwise, I’ll spend too much time on that and not get my riding done!

Horses learn by repetition. So even if they’re only learning something for ten minutes, if they do it the same way three times they’ve usually got it. Over the years, I’ve learned you can accomplish a lot of long-term training  in short intervals, which works great for people who are busy, or if you’re like me and have a lot of horses to work. Those short sessions over time add up if you’re consistent with what you’re doing.

I try not to do long marathon sessions with a horse. I’ll set a goal for the ride and the second that horse meets it, we’ll quit and either take a little trail ride around the pasture for conditioning, or we’ll quit for the day. Not only does that save on time, but it gives me a better chance of ending on a good note with my horse.

There are three tools that I use as time savers for working horses – ponying, lunging & ground work, and riding bareback. All three of those allow me to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time:

  • Ponying not only allows me to condition two horses at once, it also helps them to learn to traffic, and work on their reining skills.
  • Lunging is more than just getting the edge off of a horse. You can work on things like balance with transitions, speed control, and just paying better attention. Working on lateral movements from the ground can definitely help improve the lateral responses you get under saddle.
  • Riding bareback saves a lot of time because you don’t have to tack up. You’ll also improve your riding and your horse’s responsiveness.
Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Trailer load demo at Circle C Cowboy Church colt starting competition and clinic 2011.

Getting up early, preparing ahead of time, and maximizing your ride time can all help you to be efficient in working with your horses.

What are the special things you do to help save time and be more effective with your horse? What are the things that you struggle with?

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