WINTER SCHOOLING TIPS - Stay motivated

During the winter months it can be difficult to stay motivated to ride, especially when its dark, drizzling, blowing a gale or freezing cold outside ‚particularly if you dont have an indoor school! If you have a goal to work to it will be easier, but if not then set your own ‚ you will feel really good about keeping yours and your horses fitness and interest up over the winter months.

Follow some of these tips and stay motivated:
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  1. Spend some time indoors planning and writing out a winter schooling plan.  Ensure, where possible, you include some lungeing, free work, hacking or jumping sessions, make it flexible enough to take account of the weather, so when required you can swap sessions around.  Be prepared to adapt your plans and go back a step  if you or your horse needs more time to learn and practice.
  2. Think about your goals and the steps you will need to take to get there.  If you dont have any goals then now is the time to set them, however small.  Are you working towards a particular competition level by a certain time?  Do you want to learn a new movement over the winter, such as leg-yield or shoulder-in?  There are lots of exercises that you can use to build up to these movements and by working at a pace you and your horse are comfortable with will ensure you can execute the movements properly and build up your horses confidence.
  3. Remember that mastering riding is not just about what you do on-board.  Do some off-horse homework, for example, read up on NLP techniques to help with those competition nerves, or find out how dressage to music competitions work and where your local competitions might be.  Horse web sites, magazines, new Apps such as Horse Hub and the internet are a great source of inspiration.
  4. Make the most of the great (and warm) indoors to work on your position.  Pilates classes can help with this; ask around for local instructors who may often run off-horse training workshops.  Joining a local riding club will keep you abreast of events and workshops in your area.
  5. Sometimes just have some fun and listen to some music whilst schooling, either on your MP3 player or from a sound system where your horse can enjoy the music too.  If youve not done this before give it a try, its inspiring how fast the time flies and how it concentrates your mind on your rhythm, which is such an important part of the training scales.
  6. If you have access to poles, there are lots of different exercises you can do to liven up your schooling sessions (plus youll get a great warm-up putting the poles out!).  Layout poles in a simple clock face arrangement to use as trotting poles  you can practice varying the stride length a little depending on the size of the circles you ride, practicing the accuracy of your large and small circles by riding on the outside or the inside of the poles, or even leg yielding on a circle.
  7. If you normally school by yourself, plan some time where you school with other riders.  You can help to motivate each other, perhaps working on the same exercises and giving each other feedback.  Your horses will enjoy the company too and you might even find it inspires a lazy horse a little!  Ride some pas de deux or quadrille movements togetherì focusing on your timing and accuracy can be a lot of fun.
  8. Online dressage competitions such as ‚Dressage Anywhere, can give you a goal to work to without the travelling and formality, and in your own time. It's also a great opportunity to work on your competition and test riding warm-up, allowing you to asses just how much time you and your horse need to be at peak performance ready to ride a live test. You can even enter practice test classes where youll get extra comments from a British Dressage or FEI judge.
  9. Remember that yours and your horses warm-up is particularly important over the winter months.  Supple and warm muscles will prevent injuries, allowing you to get the most out of your schooling sessions.  Invest in a warm exercise sheet for your horse if needed.
  10. Cooling down is just as important.  Whilst it can be easy to want to rush back into the warm, remember to stretch out and place an exercise sheet over your horses loins, particularly if they are clipped.

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