Winter riding, horses at home...lets discuss! UPDATE: How's everyone holding up?

I’ve had my horses home off and on for several years, but this is the first winter at our new property and I’m over an hour away from my trainer’s (meaning an indoor arena!) which makes hauling out less than ideal in the winter months.

I hate hauling out anyway (and even more in bad weather), so decided I’d wait until spring to start lessons back up, but do want to keep my horses somewhat fit in the meantime. However, I’m finding that between the holidays, weather, and/or frozen footing I’m having a hard time fitting in more than 2-3 rides per week.

Just curious as to what your winter riding goals are if you live in a place with a real winter and have no indoor! I feel pretty good if my horses can get worked three days a week, considering they’re turned out in a large field all day, every day. But, I also hate for them to lose too much fitness over the winter, especially my senior gelding!

I have a super long, private driveway with lots of hills where I COULD hack when the footing in the ring or trails was bad if I had someone to ride with. Unfortunately, my two are glued at the hip and would lose their minds if I tried to just ride one, and my bossy mare would certainly kick my gelding if I tried to pony one.

I don’t think there’s any magic to it - one of the most common drawbacks to keeping your horse at home is not having amenities like an indoor and therefore not being able to keep up with a “program” during bad weather. If you’re riding three days a week during the worst of a real winter, you’re doing pretty darn well. I know a couple of pros who have their own “boutique” private farms (training horses only, no students/boarders) with no indoor and even they just plan to take most of Jan and Feb off of riding. And we don’t even really get “real” winter around here.

There was just a thread about taking the winter off and legging back up in spring - totally doable and reasonable. Alternatively, you might re-commit to weekly lessons - gives some structure to long winter weeks/months, and even if you weren’t able to ride much during a cruddy week, you could still probably find something constructive to work on with the trainer.

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Are we allowed to be jealous of this amount of riding you are doing?

My home set-up is pretty good (not a mud pit, free choice hay, safe fencing) but still does not even allow that. Week days by the time I get home from work and get outside chores done (require some light) it is just too dark to ride even if the footing allowed it (which it typically does not).

I do get the frustration of feeling like you can’t get anything done. I agree with the above poster - schedule that lesson, even if it means you ride a lesson horse from time to time. That will keep you moving forward and give you some goals to work on when you can be in the saddle at home.


I think two or three days a week is actually pretty good if you’re somewhere with “real winter” and no indoor! Maybe you can come up with some specific goals or exercises to help you feel like you’re maximizing your riding time? Maybe riding in two-point for x sets of y minutes, increasing the time as the winter progresses. Or working through 101 Dressage Exercises, 101 Jumping Exercises, or the gymnastics in the back of Jimmy Wofford’s eventing book. Something to help you feel like you’re progressing even if you’re not riding as much as you’d like.

I’m not sure if Maryland qualifies as “real winter” compared to wherever you are, but I’ll chime in anyway. This is my sixth winter with horses at home and I also don’t have an indoor. (There are several I could hack over or haul out to but I can’t justify the expense unless I’m preparing for something specific, and there aren’t real shows over the winter here.) I’ve always managed to keep my one or two horses going pretty well through the winter, meaning at least 5 days of work most weeks. A lot of this is luck though as the past couple winters have been fairly mild. There are always a few weeks here and there that are difficult due to footing, but that amount of time off doesn’t really affect the horses’ fitness or training. I get grumpy when I can’t ride though, lol!

For example, a couple weeks ago we got a couple inches of snow capped off with a sheet of ice. (Around here we hardly ever get nice dry snow…it’s almost always heavy, wet stuff mixed with sleet.) Then eight days later on Christmas Eve we got 2" of rain. :grr: So in an eleven-day period my horse got six days off (coincidentally in three two-day sets), we hauled out for one jumping lesson in an indoor, we worked normally at home three days, and we had one walk-only ride because the saturated footing froze solid when the temps dropped 40 degrees overnight after the downpour (yay, Maryland). That work schedule isn’t my ideal but it does keep both of us going.

I always drag my arena before snow or heavy rain. This helps it drain faster and also ensures that if it freezes solid, at least it is flat and useable for walking. I’m fortunate that my arena was well-constructed and drains really well. One end is shaded by trees to the south so it stays frozen longer and sometimes I can’t use that end for a few days after the rest thaws.

If I can only walk due to footing, I make it worthwhile by doing walk poles and working on lateral work, walk-halt-walk transitions, reinback, walk pirouettes, and transitions between free walk and medium walk (something my current horse always needs to work on as when I got him he thought picking up the reins meant, “go!”). It still feels like a productive ride, although I need to bundle up more than if I were riding “for real.”

It’s a shame that you can’t use your driveway because it sounds like a really good option! I would love to have something like that. I usually like to hack out at least once a week but in winter I don’t always get to because I worry about lumpy frozen mud.

I personally wouldn’t bother with weekly lessons if I couldn’t ride between because I don’t have a great memory and feel like I need to practice what I learn in the next day or two to make it worthwhile.

Ha! I’m sorry guys, to me it feels like I’m totally slacking off only riding a couple days a week, but you’re all making me feel much better about giving them a lighter schedule!
I totally feel for you guys who run out of daylight before you’re able to ride, I’m fortunate to be able to ride during the day which helps.

My horses are quiet, but they are both awful to ride with a few days off between rides, even more so in the winter. If they get more than two days off in a row, I know I need to do a day in the rig lunging them before riding the next day or I’d be launched to the moon. So, lessons feel like a waste of money unless I can get a few rides in the days leading up to a lesson.

@Libby2563 I really like that idea, I need to pick up some new books with more exercises to work on at home. I’ve been using Pinterest for some fun pole exercises to work on since the footing hasn’t been good enough to jump lately and that has been a good way to mix it up a bit.

It sounds like you’ve been able to really keep your horses in a good winter routine, I don’t think I’ve ridden 5 days in a week since October! LOVE your idea of walk work when the footing is frozen too, such a great idea. I will remember to drag and roll my arena today since we have snow and freezing rain coming the next three days…no idea how long they’ll be off after this storm!

@Redlei44 I’ve toyed with the idea of giving them Jan and Feb off in the past, but I don’t think it would be good for my mental well-being or for my older geldings joints! He really needs to be in somewhat consistent work at this point. But again, it’s nice to hear 2-3 days a week sounds sufficient this time of the year :slight_smile:

Another idea while you’re book shopping: this won’t help with the yee-haws :rofl:, but to help build/maintain fitness despite days off maybe look at Hilary Clayton’s Activate Your Horse’s Core. Most of the exercises can be done with one person and without even bringing the horses into the barn, as long as you have a safe level spot. Or just start with this free article that includes her top five exercises:

Definitely try dragging your arena before the weather hits, I swear it makes a huge difference!

Since it sounds like they get plenty of turnout, do you think that giving them more mental stimulation might help cut down on the first-day-back excitement? I can see how that would make an intermittent riding schedule really unpleasant and unproductive. What if you introduced clicker training or something to make them feel like they’re “working” a little even when you can’t ride?

If you were to ride one and pony the other up and down your driveway you could maybe get around the buddysour problem? It is challenging for both the ponyier and the ponied horse, and especially if they get along well, it can be a lot of fun. Getting the ponied horse to go immediately behind when squeezing through a couple of trees, or moving from the left to the right side is good mental training for all three of you. And the horse being ridden really gets all puffed up with self-importance too. It’s a good ego boost for that one.

The OP covered this in their original post. Quote below from the original post.

I have no indoor and we get winter, but with little to no snow. So, what we end up with is wet, hard potentially icy ground. I try to trailer out on weekends when I can’t get on at home. Last winter was the first winter he was mature enough to have a weekend only ride schedule make sense, before that the rides were so awful it was easier to just let him down for 6-8 weeks than try a weekend only schedule. I do try and ride after work once or twice a week if only for 15-20 minutes just to keep him from turning feral. I am lucky that horse is safe enough to ride after time off even if it isn’t much fun. He’s usually tight, tense and quick so the ride is nothing more than getting his feet moving, but I tell myself its better than nothing. he can easily gain weight if not working so I do everything I can to avoid that.

I’m in the same boat but we don’t have much snow and ice but rain! By the time I’m done with work (from home) it’s getting dark, there are stalls to clean, dogs to care for, etc. so it doesn’t leave much time for hauling out to ride. I’m lucky if I get on more than once a week. I can use the indoor at a barn I used to board at which is very close by, but the parking area, while ample for cars, is tight for a trailer and mine is a 3 horse gooseneck so turning around can be an issue if there are several boarders there.

@Libby2563 That’s a great idea! My bodyworker/chiropractor has actually given me a list of stretches that I totally forgot about, but now I’m going to have to start doing them! I’m going to order the book too :slight_smile: I do think more mental stimulation would be beneficial, if for nothing else to help beat winter boredom! I took your advice and did walk work with them yesterday since my footing was frozen solid. Lots of lateral work, shoulder in, haunches in, turn on the forehand, leg yields etc. Better than nothing!

@islgrl It sounds like you have a pretty good winter routine! I have a young-ish mare who can be a little explosive when she’s fresh - she does an amazing capriole which is NOT fun to ride! My older gelding just becomes a spook monster with time off so most of the ride is managing his random scoots and spins.

@Spudsmyguy I totally feel your pain! It’s nice to have an indoor nearby, but the short daylight hours just make everything so much harder.

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Okay, so today I reached a new low of winter laziness–er, “efficiency”! I dragged the arena yesterday because it was supposed to start raining overnight, but this morning it hadn’t actually started so I decided to squeeze in a quick ride. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to drag the whole arena so I tried riding only around the perimeter, meaning no circles, serpentines, diagonals, quarter/centerlines, leg-yields/half-passes across the arena, etc. I changed direction with walk pirouettes in the corners. It was actually a very interesting challenge to have a productive dressage school with just straight lines and corners! I had a good ride and afterwards a single loop with the drag left the arena ready for the rain again. There’s a new tactic for my winter riding playbook.


Lots of good advice here, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re getting them ridden 3 days a week. I have 2 riding horses (and a babysitter pony) at home and while we don’t often get tons and tons of snow, it can still be hard to ride consistently all winter. The cold rain we’ve had the past several weeks here in Virginia has been awful and even my well drained arena hasn’t been draining and drying like it does in the warmer months.

A couple of additional thoughts:

I look at the weather at the start of every week and plan my entire week around when I’ll be able to get rides in. I’m lucky, because I have a degree of control over my work and even without the pandemic, I work from home. So I can sometimes squeeze in a ride in the afternoon when its dry, and before evening rain sets in. But basically, everything gets planned (to the degree practical) around the weather.

I still try to lesson with my trainer and try to schedule those days in her indoor on days I might not ride at home. It doesn’t always work, and trailering 45 minutes away in the dark SUCKS. But it extends my riding and helps me stay motivated.

Good luck and soldier on! You’re not alone in trying to keep going all winter!

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I had frozen footing Tuesday, snow on Wednesday, frozen footing Thursday, an ice storm on Friday, and snow yesterday, so needless to say I haven’t been able to do a thing with my horses since Monday. This week looks to be nice, but everything is so soupy I don’t think my ring will dry up for a few more days, at least.

I’d normally feel so guilty and anxious but you all have really helped me to put this in perspective! I’ve never really had to plan my rides around the weather, but this is really teaching me to be more flexible and to just have the goal of riding when the weather cooperates! So, thank you for all of the great ideas, suggestions, and for the realization that winter riding with horses at home is HARD! Man, do we take those indoor arenas for granted when boarding :rofl:

Let’s all hope spring is here before we know it :slight_smile:


Had to laugh at my own post - those 2-3 rides a week I was able to get in prior to the New Year have been non-existent at this point! Thanks to mother nature, I haven’t ridden since Jan 21 (other than hopping on bareback and walking around the field). We have had nothing but snow and sub-zero temps the past few weeks. Horses seem to be loving their vacation, and thanks to the frozen footing and snow on the ground have at least been able to go out in the big pasture every day.

How is everyone else handling this winter? Is anyone getting any riding done? I know a lot of us have had to deal with some extremes this past week. Spring is coming…spring is coming.

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February has sucked here! Snow then it all melts and turns everything to slop, then freezing rain and ice, now more snow/ice is coming. I’d be happier if it would just stay cold because at least then you get nice dry powdery snow.

My boy got 12 days off in early Feb. There were probably 5-6 days in there I could have ridden but I decided to give him a winter mini-break. He has been working hard all fall/winter and will do so in the spring. He didn’t miss a beat and has produced his best dressage work ever in the week since we started up again. That makes me feel better about the coming bad weather…as you said, spring will be here soon I hope!


Our horses have been on a break for the last two weeks, but otherwise we managed to get in groundwork and light riding before that. Until February is was unusually warm and I tried to use that to keep me motivated! (We’re in NW WI for reference).

Edited to add, I am planning to get back out there this weekend and next week looks even better with highs in the 30s and 10:30 hrs of daylight!!

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Thank you for that link. I think I am unbelievably lucky in that my horse (off with an injury) will do all of those exercises during various parts of her grooming. Nice reminder not to be lazy and strip off that blanket and get the grooming going. When she does the (more or less) chin to hind fetlock, usually to explain that I have MISSED A SPOT!!! her abs (the ones below point of hip, in front of stifle) will actually bulge mightily. I always joked that not only is she a self-grooming model, but she also does yoga … maybe more truth to that than I thought!

i’m in survival-mode here. Just two more days and it should be warm again. We’ve had our propane tank run out, resulting in the furnace stopping and the snow prevented HVAC guy from getting to us for two days. So 48 hours seeing our breath inside the house, sleeping with all the dogs on the bed and a ton of blankets. Good news is we have electric baseboard heaters in the bathrooms, so pipes ok. Lets see…what else… Oh yeah, diesel gator and both Kubota tractors died and my diesel pickup too. Can’t get up the driveway with the GMC (even though it has 4w) because snow is too deep. And even though i have 30Ton of alfalfa up there, i can’t get to it quite yet. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be around 30 so tractor ought to start them. Meanwhile, i have 10 bales of alfalfa left for tonight. But i’m feeding 100 sheep 20 cattle 18 horses and 2 llamas… I got almost all the animals in except the rams, who are 100 acres away, so i have to take them a bale per day with my handy-dandy little disc

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Oh @eightpondfarm , I feel for you! Hoping that warmer weather hits you today and makes things a little easier.

We have about a foot of snow on the ground and we have a 1/4 mile long, hilly driveway with the steepest hill leading right up to the house and barn, my 4wd SUV got stuck and about slid down the hill into the pond yesterday. DH was out of town, so that was fun getting unstuck by myself :joy: Water spigot in the barn has been frozen for two weeks now, so I have been lugging buckets from another hydrant outside the barn. And, I had to have the farrier put studs on my shod horses, they were ice skating on the way to their turnouts. That was a first!

But, it’s supposed to be in the 40’s next week…bring on the mud. :tired_face:

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