The slog that is winter

For those of you who live in places that have winter, and work full time, and don’t have an indoor…

I feel like winter has come early for us this year. My horse is so much harder to ride, its cold, its almost dark, we ride on the grass, and every ride feels like nothing is getting accomplished. I don’t feel like we’re moving forward in our training, each ride is about 30 minutes of “please stop dragging me around the ring like you don’t know what half halt is” and “why are you spooking, there’s nothing there…” I trailered out to an indoor a few weekends ago for a ride and he was lovely. I can’t do that during the week, my trainer’s schedule has changed and because of lack of daylight I’ve gone from a weekly check in to nothing for a month. I heard a rumor that maybe she can teach next weekend, which would be great.
Which leads me to my question (or looking for commiseration). What do you do, how do you get through the winter? Do you just throw your hands up and figure you’ll get back to training in the spring and just try and keep the horse as fit as possible until then? Any strategies to try and find your summer horse in the dark and cold of winter riding after work?

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I feel your pain! I work full time (luckily, I’ve been able to work from home the past year and a half - that helps!) and have my own farm. I finally decided enough was enough a few years back and put in a “real” riding ring. Just an outdoor and it’s taken 10 years to get it the way I want, but I’m able to ride year-round except for maybe a few of the wettest days (I’m in NC). I had a dusk to dawn security light installed by the power company so I have light. I also put up solar string lights around my ring that make me happy while I ride and give a nice glow in addition to my pole light.

It’s still a struggle though on those cold nights! I hate winter! But I’ve found it’s worth paying $ for good winter breeches and other winter layers. My horse is spooky no matter the weather so the cold doesn’t change him that much. :laughing: But if it’s really windy, I’ll plan for that to be a no riding night. I’ve found our progress might be slower in winter, but we still are able to make baby steps.

I go to a clinic once a month - that’s my only instruction at the moment but I get “homework” and it motivates me to work between clinic rides. I also have been reading a lot of books and watching good training videos on youtube - that helps to get me motivated to get out and ride. Good luck this winter! The struggle is real! :cold_face:

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I completely understand. I’ll probably start my own misery-loves-company winter thread in about a month…lol.

I would bet, though, that those miserable, 30-minute rides are what made the lovely indoor ride.


Sometimes you just use those days for walking, and more walking, and more walking. And then walk some more. There are enough things that you can do at a walk to occupy a brain, to accomplish more than you think you might.

Then go to the indoor as often as you can for some more work (taking into account you mostly walk during the week)


I don’t work full-time and do have an indoor … and I’m still planning on largely giving my mare a break this winter :rofl:

Ugh, winter :weary:


I have an indoor and I am so sick of my “friends” calling me ungrateful when I say I’m not riding much in the winter. It’s dark, it’s cold, its windy, the chores take longer, I have no goals, my trainer moved out of the state, work has me exhausted, owning an indoor doesn’t make it much better.

I’d happily share my indoor with any of them to have a riding friend but oddly none of them take me up on it.


Same situation. I used to feel frustrated because I could only work on moments, and elements, due to winter footing. But then i am always pleasantly surprised when I trailer to a ring and all my moments and elements come together just fine. In other words, you accomplish more than you think. So don’t try to chase your lost summer horse; embrace your winter one! Just getting on and walking around is an accomplishment, and your horse doesn’t believe otherwise. And honestly, the time I’ve spent in indoors all winter was a drag, and I was always going outside to walk around anyway.


[quote=“punchy, post:7, topic:766384, full:true”]So don’t try to chase your lost summer horse; embrace your winter one! Just getting on and walking around is an accomplishment, and your horse doesn’t believe otherwise.

I bet this will be the best quote of the winter!


@Enjoytheride - I’ll be right over :slight_smile: I do get that even though you have an indoor it doesn’t magically make it all easier…

@punchy - thank you for that. I do need to stop chasing my summer horse. Winter horse is different and I need to ride the horse I have not the one I wish I had.

@JB - I do forget how useful walk is - in part because working at the walk is hard when he comes out holding his breath and snorting at nothing. That said, I think if we stay in walk and look for relaxation with lots of changes of direction etc it would be super beneficial

Its oddly comforting that I"m not alone in this…


I completely feel your pain, OP! I go through this every year.

About two years ago I shifted my thought process to these winter rides being the grateful rides - the rides where I just get a break from IRL and hack around the farm and mentally recalibrate. Putz. Do little things. Then they generally get Dec-February off until there’s enough daylight to actually ride after work. In my neck of the woods it’s not snow that makes it so you can only walk – the snow is actually a blessing – it’s the ruts of frozen ground and the layer of ice under a snowpack that make anything more than walk dangerous. Not having a goal or tracking my progress in the winter has made my outlook so much better.

That being said, horses get no younger - and in barn situations like ours, we are losing time and would be much further along with an indoor. So if you have the opportunity to bring your horse somewhere for the winter, I would.

I’ve done the “just walk all winter” and it was not incredibly transformative to under saddle work other than it kept them mentally fit and me happy. Keep in mind though, I live in an area where the ground goes from mud to frozen ruts overnight. You can’t reasonably work over this surface. With all the ice and mud, you can’t safely work on lateral work and pole work, and the horses tend to spend the ride fussing about where their feet are. So I give them those months off usually.

I would investigate the spooks if they’re out of character. For my horses the season doesn’t affect their behavior – but they are out 24/7. If anything my horses tend to be more chill in the fall/winter, and I can hack them around the farm once or twice a month just to get the riding fix before the cold reminds me of how much I hate NE. :laughing:


I have found this mentality of looking for relaxation to be very unhelpful in this sort of situation. Because the horse is up/anxious/feeling the cold/what have you they aren’t is a position to relax. Then we’re all “just relax, you’re fine” and trying to give a longer rein/ask less/just relax which can be the worst thing.

I had a Quarterhorse - three quarters chicken. Relaxing wasn’t going to happen. I have an anxious, chilly bean now and if he’s cold or got cold last night, well… no relaxation there either. I’m not saying they never relax, I’m saying I didn’t/don’t focus on it. I focus on asking them to DO something.

Doing something warms up the body, distracts from the anxiety, focuses the energy. I focus on the quality of the response and try to ask for something the horse can do, but still needs to pay attention to doing (this ability/attention changes as the horse warms up) and with the work ask for a little better than the previous step/circle/pattern/exercise/degree of self carriage.

The relaxation thing comes on its own as much as its going to on that day. It’s much less frustrating than trying to get relaxation. :wink:


It’s amazing how quickly then can start to focus on you, when they are being put off balance by frequent changes of direction :slight_smile:

What are things like before you get him out? If he’s not blanketed, can you blanket him? Do you have a Back on Track sheet you can put on for a bit before you groom, and keep it on in halves while you groom? Ride in a quarter sheet?


Winter already sucks here. I work full time, no indoor, dedicated ring or lights. Currently hoping on bareback at least to and from pastures some days. Plus trying to work each horse at least 3x a week. Trying being the key word.

My goal is get both of my horses ready to pull the kids on a sled by the time we get a real snow. My pony is an old pro at it. Also reached out to a trainer that I can lesson with on her horses and bring that home to my goobers.

Let’s be real…I don’t have time to trailer out during the week when it’s dark before I even get off my last meeting.

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I feel your pain, especially after the switch back to standard daylight time. It’s dark at 5:30pm here!

I don’t have an indoor but our outdoor has lights. I groom and tack up at the arena so in the cold. I’ve realized the wonders of cold weather gear. In fact, I did when I lived in Pgh and had an indoor. I decided riding in an indoor under 29 degrees is just unpleasant for horse and rider and I stopped.

I think if the air temp isn’t 30 degrees or less when you ride and you are warm yourself, you have to convince your horse that he’s working through the situation. It is 1 hour out of his day. Make him focus on you instead of looking for a spook and increase the work level when he’s tuning you out. Ask me how I know this. He HAS to focus on you during the ride - insist on it. It is an hour out of his day and he’s blowing your off by looking out of the arena.

I get through the winter by buying good winter things (gloves, boots, breeches, turtlenecks or silk/wool when it is really cold, and ear coverings) and wearing cheap but effective layers. I wear fleece-lined paddocks, fleece breeches, a camisole under a turtleneck (cotton or wool) under a wool or synthetic sweater under a jacket or vest (occasional silk undershirt or camisole if really cold). Look at outdoor hiking garb for good ideas. I have three pairs of winter gloves (cool to damn cold). Ear warmers. Wool socks or wool socks with a thin base layer. Even nylons. A silk scarf that I wrap around my neck that is one of my favorite cold weather items. If the temp is above something like 30 degrees, it’s my fault if I’m cold when riding.

You have TONS of options above 30 degrees!


There is ALOT you can do in the walk. Depending on where your skill is at, you can teach relaxation by teaching moving over the back and into your hands leg yield, shoulder-in, haunches in. Teaching shoulder-in to haunches in by just changing the bend. That’s a mental game. If you’re not there yet, you can teach leg-yield to shoulder-in to leg yield by just changing the bend in his body. Or go up the long side and leg yield to the quarterline. Then leg yield to the fence. Do thi on the diagonal or other non-standard lines so your horse has to listen to your aids. Turn on the forehand on the fence and then on at the fence. Same with turn on the haunches. Leg yield and side-pass so your horse earns your aids. There is SO MUCH to do at the walk and it is muchly a mental game. Your horse has to tune into your aids.


I also do a lot in the walk as part of my warm up / check in. Typically I start with turns on the forehand until my guy really rolls through barrel and steps through on his short side (the right). After that, I’ll make sure he’s really coming forward to the hand, especially in the halt. Then I check in with rein back. Does he stay forward to the hand? Does he stay up in the chest? Soft in the neck? can I easily go forward out of rein back? If I can do that, I typically then move to changes in hand, still at the walk. This is all to ensure that my guy comes to the bridle from behind, and can change the bend through his body. Then we start trot/canter work.


@beowulf Sadly can’t move for the winter so I have to manage where I am. As for the spooking, he is who he is, when its cold and getting dark he comes out sparky. He can’t live out 24/7 but is out for about ten hours a day even in the winter so we do our best.

@RedHorses totally hear you on looking for relaxation, but perhaps it is a semantics thing. I don’t come out on a long rein thining he should just be relaxed. Instead I put him to work with exercises that refocus his brain to work so that eventually he can begin to relax because his brain has a job.

@JB he is blanketed for the weather and kept warm. I drag the quarter sheet out when its really cold. Right now its not cold enough for that ,but just nearing dark and windy which makes him sparky. Its ALWAYS windy here, and hes generally rideable even in the wind provided its not also cold and dark (I live on an island)

@J-Lu I have plenty of warm gear. I am not cold when I ride (I even bought a heated vest last year, which was literally the best thing I have ever bought myself). It is just that he is so tight and snorty that he turtles into himself and becomes a carousel pony… Also, all of those are exercises we do, SI to HI, Half-pass to SI to half-pass to SI down the long side… I think I need to manage my expectations and get him truly in the game mentally before trot work.

@SAB no, he doesn’t stay up in the chest or soft in the neck and that is my frustration. He turtles into himself and turns upside down. All as a result of tension…

thanks all…


For my horse, winter is the season of “walking is stupid!”. He is an overachiever by nature and becomes spicier in the cold weather. Happily my barn does have an indoor to ride in. At the start of a ride he will usually follow the routine and walk, although it can become a power walk without some figures etc. thrown in. After a short time, we move to the trot - often because both of us want to warm up and we feel warmer in the trot than the walk. After that it is “keep him busy” time. So glad that he is more advanced in his training and can practice shoulder in, travers, etc. This satisfies his need to move while channeling his energy to avoid explosions.

Our rides tend to be short because he only has a bib clip and I dont want him too hot and wet. Walking is done because I insist but I havent just walked for a whole ride since rehab (not fun!).

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winter is HUNTING SEASON :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


I needed this quote! Moving into the SUPER SPOOKY indoor with deep footing knocked back our training about a full level. I work full time and it can be a drag in winter, but I’ve decided to focus on pole work for a couple weeks while my horse adjusts. He loves poles and it will keep me from expecting him to be where he is in his schooling when we are outside.

This has been a mild fall in the upper midwest, and the few times I’ve been back in the outdoor he’s been brilliant, so I am trying to keep the mindset that we are still making progress inside even if the rides are not currently as satisfying.

I’m all for winter support groups though.