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Winter Games! - Things to do With Your Horse During the Winter

People ask what they can do with their horses in winter; especially those who live in snowy, icy, cold regions who now find quick trips to the barn and little riding is the norm. If we can’t ride, or if we can only ride for short times in an arena, what can we do to maintain our relationship with our horses?

There are so many things to teach a horse in his lifetime that we find we may not have time to get everything done we’d like. The answer for some is to send to a trainer over winter, or to just drop all training until spring. But there are a ton of fun things to do, and yes, even in sub-freezing weather! 

Maybe you’ve always wished your horse knew how to ground-tie, but never had the time to spend teaching him to do so. Or perhaps you want him to know some tricks—bowing, playing fetch, etc. Your horse may not stand as quietly at the mounting block as you’d like or backs up like a drunken sailor and you’d like him to do a nice L or figure-8 in reverse. No time like winter to teach him the things you wish he knew already or things you want him to do better once riding season arrives. 

Some easy and fun lesson ideas:

  • Train the horse to come to you when called, and with a specific auditory signal and/or a physical one, like you standing with your arms up or out to your sides.
  • Shortening and lengthening strides while in-hand. Make it more fun by getting him to  imitate your steps.
  • The Spanish Walk—be sure to cue correctly so he doesn’t decide you’re asking for raised front leg while you are in front of him.
  • Standing still for you to mount, and landing himself up at the mounting block on command.
  • Fetch. In my experience, this is best taught using Clicker Training. Your horse can learn to bring you a jacket, a cone or a dog toy. 
  • Trailer loading at liberty. You point, he loads himself.
  • Ground driving in preparation to drag a pole or travois. Why, you ask? Why not?
  • Teach him to lunge at liberty in a large, open area, not a round pen. 
  • Ground poles are great for engaging his mind and body and your sense of timing. Play with spacing them at random intervals, closer than usual or spread out more than usual.
  • Teach him to “Wait.” Give the cue to wait and reward for short duration, then lengthen the time.
  • Target train him to go to a traffic cone and stand until you tell him to leave. Also good to have this cue in place should you be unexpectedly unseated, so no more walking home for you!
  • Obstacle training is fun if you have a non-icy area. Start small, build up to what worries him most. Spread the lessons out and you’ll be instilling confidence in both of you.
  • Cross-rails in hand help your horse take responsibility for his own cadence and rhythm; again, only if you have good footing.
  • Play “Easter-egg Hunt.” You hide goodies for him to find and while he’s searching, observe how he best learns. If your horse hates the arena, for example, this game helps him to look forward to going into it and searching for goodies. 
  • Learn to get on bareback. Be inventive, stay safe and have fun! 
  • Teach your horse to pony. If you have two, teach each to be the one being ridden and ponied.  Be sure to do this safely, never bareback or even in an English saddle to start, if possible.
  • Help your farrier out and train your horse to hold his own foot up. Also train to allow their foot be put on a stand.

I find that keeping the lessons short in duration works best all year-round, and in winter especially, so usually, our sessions are five to twenty minutes long. It’s the repetition that is most important and the daily interaction helps keep the horses interested in what weird thing I’m going to do with them next.  

I’m currently training my new mare, Paizely, to step into her blanket without me having to unbuckle the front each time. All my horses learn this and it makes my life easier for them doing so. This lesson is NOT FOR BEGINNERS and I make no recommendations for others to teach this or practice this methodology. There are buckles on the front closures for a reason! 

*If you decide to teach your own horse, remember to keep yourself and your horse safe at all times. Break each lesson down into smaller pieces than you think are needed. Halter your horse and have him tied or better, have an assistant to hold him, and use a velcro front closure until the horse understands what you want. Begin with something small, like a wash cloth or part of a towel and get bigger over time. Teach him to not worry about his eyes being covered. 

Get your FREE excerpt from my own personal training diary here and see how I am currently working with my horse, Paizely. 


So have fun with your horse, Happily Ever After!

~Tanya Buck 

***This piece is not written to offer any legal, medical, or professional advice and should not be construed as specific training advisory recommendation to you or anyone else. Please obtain professional instruction from a qualified person concerning your own objectives and needs.

Tanya Buck
Published on 25-01-2021
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!