Keeping Horse and Rider in Shape for the Winter

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

Winter is a time where we might sit down to a few extra-large meals and have fewer hours of riding. So how do we help keep ourselves and our horse in shape during the winter.  I will admit to struggling with this each in my past once the rain comes and turns the dirt to mud here in California but over the last few years I have developed some routines that I follow to make sure that my horse and I are staying in shape.  It is not just the physical aspect but also the mental part of horsemanship that needs to stay fine tuned.

Many of you may ride out in the snow and rain but sometimes safety trumps the ride and we still want to spend quality time with our horses so these activities can fill this need as well.

Here are six suggestions and in some cases they work for both the horse and rider.

1) Ground work for physical and mental. This can be done in a stall or in the breezeway of the barn. All you need is a small area (6 feet by 6 feet will work, 10 x 10 is better). Work on side passing. Walk forward, back…do all this very slowly and deliberately. Disengage the hips or do a few turns on the forehand. It is amazing how 10 minutes of ground work will keep you and your horse in tune and burn a few calories to boot.

2) Controlling footfalls. On the ground or in the saddle, during winter when maybe we cannot ride beyond a walk because of the conditions of the terrain…working on footfalls is something good for both the rider and horse. Feel the footfalls, control the footfalls (aide to footfall timing), ride in time with the footfalls or walk in time with the footfalls.  Wait a minute you say — walk in time with the footfalls. Yes…everyone who shows halter should do this.  When your horse’s right front foot takes a step, your right leg takes a step.  We call this poetry in motion.

3) Ride at a local covered arena for a fee. If you are without a covered arena…budget for a once a month trip to a local arena that you can ride in for an hour of time.

4) Study the anatomy of the horse. This is not so much for the horse but how many of you can name all the muscles and parts of a horse. Spend your winter time standing in the barn with your anatomy books and learn the horse inside and out. This is valuable because it can help you understand how a horse moves and this will help you think about how to better time your aides based on the feel of the horse.

5) Rider exercise. Take a yoga class, pilates class, practice Tai Chi, or use some exercise equipment. Many of us who ride/coach/train do not need to take on extra “exercise” in our busy riding season. Think about your winter plans and how you are going to stay in shape and at your good weight for riding. Let us not have the horse carry extra unbalanced weight when spring rolls around.

6) Take your horse for a walk. On those days where you may not be inspired to do ground work…take your horse out for a good long (30 minute or so) walk. This will be good for you and the horse and helps in relationship building. Sometimes just a walk together (rider leading instead of being mounted) can offer physical as well as mental stimulation for both horse and rider.

I hope at least one of these is of help to you and your horse this winter and I look forward to your additional suggestions.  May you all have a wonderful Christmas season.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (


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