It can be a challenge to move enough when winter kicks into full swing. We got our first snow here today and it sure feels cold and damp out there! I am often asked by students, ‘what can I do with my horse when it’s too cold to do my normal training program?’ Personally, I don’t like to ask my horses to work too hard in the cold. I don’t want them to get too sweaty before the sun goes down because they live outside. And I’m not so sure it’s great for their lungs to breathe hard in particularly cold air.
The good news is, a lot can be accomplished in the walk.
I know, I know, how boring!
As far as I’m concerned, both in Tango and horsemanship the walk is the foundation of everything. We always go back to refining our connection and ability to walk together when we dance. And I do the same when I interact with my horses. I spend gobs of time building this connection with my horses so that when they finally commit to dancing with me we can walk anywhere at any pace side by side. Comes in handy in so many situations! I’ve already started using this winter as my time to review and refine this part of my relationship with my horses. We walk all over the place!
So, how do I make walking interesting – both for me and my horses?
I like to set challenges. I might decide, as I did a number of years ago, that I will not pull on their head, drive them from behind or bribe them with food to get them to walk with me. I made a commitment to allowing my horse to choose to follow me. What came out of that challenge became the foundation I now build with every horse I take on. It’s a great thing to play with when it’s cold and nasty because you can leave them in their stall or paddock, leave their blanket on and just play with picking up a soft feel and seeing what your horse does with that. My horses processed through enormous amounts of stress and old trauma from how they’d been handled in the past. When they finally decided to follow me it was with their whole heart. Time really well spent and so much movement happens in these seemingly quiet places.
With the horses who have committed to dancing with me we do a lot of transitions within the walk. Transitions are where balance control and communication happen with the greatest intensity. Speed up, slow down, halt and stand – then go, halt for a moment – then go, halt and shift the center of gravity back – then go, add in bits of lateral work, circles, arcs and squares. The more varied the movement patterns the wider the variety of loads placed on joints and bones, the greater the variety of muscle groups recruited to coordinate the movement.
And the more opportunity we have to refine how we communicate. I like to maintain that challenge for myself. How do I communicate to my horse to speed up, slow down or change direction without pulling on them? Can we do this in a halter, bridle, at liberty?
Worst case scenario, if the weather really sucks, we can stand in a shelter and work on connecting with each other, creating the potential for movement. We practice engaging our cores and taking one step at time in perfect balance with each other. Five minutes of shifting balance, lifting the core, feeling the shift to move together is a bit like crunches for horses. Just these tiny amounts of input keep the body and mind in tune.
And, of course, if I get out and get my horse moving I am also getting myself moving. Walking is just as good for us as it is for our horses!
Share your creative cold weather movement ideas with us!
Want to learn more about my philosophy of Tango with Horses? Now’s your chance!
In January I’ll be running a free two-week introductory course on-line. Beyond Body Language and Tango with Horses. Check it out on Facebook here.