How Cold is “TOO COLD” For Riding?

I’m one of those crazy people that you see out at the barn every day during the winter. I actually prefer winter riding over summer riding for a variety of reasons; mostly the lack of mud, bugs, and heat. So, being the snow-bunny that I am, I am frequently asked “Isn’t it too cold to ride that poor horse?”. I think you’ll be fairly surprised at the answers the world wide web provides: “There is no temperature where it is too cold for a horse to be ridden or to go outside if they are adapted to it” – Dr. Joyce Harman, Equisearch   Horses have one of THE most amazing cooling and heating systems in the animal kingdom. Their dense coats “fluffs” up in the cold and trap in the heat their body produces through eating and exercise. Horses actually produce heat when they digest food. You may notice horses eating through round bales faster in the winter. This isn’t just out of boredom, it’s to keep warm. They may also have quick bouts of friskiness, which is also to keep warm. The only thing temperature-wise you really have to worry about in the winter time is wind. Wind can penetrate the dense coat of a horse and give them a chill, but shelters or wind breaks take care of that problem. What about blankets as wind breaks? The problem with using a blanket as a wind break is it actually flattens the horse’s coat. When the horses coat is Continue Reading →

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Dressage Lesson with Phil Parkes: Working on Collection and Transitions

After reviewing my marks and the video of my dressage test at Grandview, Phil felt we had addressed the glaring issues from my first dressage test at Woodwind 3 weeks prior. So, in today’s lesson, we worked on getting us better collection and on downward transitions. Lots of work — and I wasn’t totally getting the downward transitions until at the very end of the lesson, but Gamble and I finally started to get the feel of it. After a brief warm-up, Phil worked on Gamble for about 15 minutes to get a handle on what Gamble is capable of. See video below: For collection, my hands have to be prepared for quite a bit of resistance and I need to drive Gamble with my legs into that resistance. He may pop his head into the air, but most of the time now he is figuring it out. We want to harness that energy out of his hind end and get him more powerful with each stride. Not faster — more powerful, which means a bit more hang time with each stride. I need to work on keeping my hands lower — down at my knees if I have to — and driving with consistent leg (reinforced with a tap of the whip, if necessary) to keep Gamble engaged. For collection, we want to “compress” his stride — but that doesn’t mean slower. Again, the energy needs to be in his legs, and his back needs to support me (i.e. Continue Reading →

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Speed Work – 6 x 1 km Repeats (1:30 was fastest)

Tonight we continued our cardio conditioning with some more 1 kilometre repeats. This time, we did them at the side of the cornfield behind the stable, rather than on the roadway. The advantage to this venue is that it is more like a real cross country course with turns and changes in elevation, plus it is somewhat softer ground on which to train. My goal was 1 km at 2:15 (Training level speed), another at 1:55 (Preliminary speed), one at 1:45 (a bit faster than Intermediate speed), and then three repeats at 1:35 (much faster than Intermediate speed). But I decided that it was going so well, I’d do my fifth repeat at a 1:30/km pace (40 km/h.). Here are my splits: 2:09 1:53 1:42 1:38 1:30 1:35 Gamble had energy to spare. I certainly could have done one or two more repeats — but at this point, it isn’t necessary. My longest distance next month will be the CIC * at Will O Wind — which should be 2600 – 3120 m. or possibly Woodwind’s Intermediate class (3300 m.).

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Dressage Lesson – 3 weeks to go!

Tracy came out to give me and Gamble a dressage lesson today. It went very well and I learned a couple of things to boot! 1) When making a tight turn, you need to keep the bend to the inside but keep pressure on the neck with the outside rein. The problem is that you don’t want to be hauling him with the inside rein, but more guiding him. And when you guide him, your hands can become significantly displaced from one another, which looks disorganized. So I learned that I can use a combination of my wrist and my elbow to take up the slack when I’m making a tight turn. 2) When practising for the final 10 m. turn at a collected canter, work on making 90 degree turns on a larger square. You need him sloooooowwww to do these but he has to keep the bounce. 3) When slowing down from the medium canter, just “squeeze” him down to the downward transition so that it isn’t too abrupt. At the end of the lesson, I went through the CIC ** Test A twice and it went well. I have the test fully memorized now, and many of the movements are going very well, particularly at a canter.

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Hackamore- What, When and How?

In stereotypical Thoroughbred fashion, Oz gets bored with bits fairly quickly. As we’re focusing on different aspects of our training, I like to switch bits to help facilitate our training. It’s kind of like switching between running and walking shoes depending on what you’re training your muscles to do. I decided to share my research into hackamores in case anyone else is considering the switch! What is a Hackamore? A hackamore is simply a nose piece used to control the horse, rather than the traditional metal bit going through the horse’s mouth. Some call it a “hackamore bit”, but I’m going to reserve this term for the combination hackamore bit. Generally they work by applying pressure to the horses nose, and poll. There are several different kinds, with different purposes—just like any other type of bit. English Hackamore: Flat nose piece, with a short shank and curb chain. This hackamore is common for training purposes and is a great starter hackamore (it’s the one I use). It’s soft on the horses face, and can even come with sheepskin padding or without. Pros: Cheap, Soft, Good for moderately strong horses – Snail paced Cons: Can be hard to clean (sheepskin), curb & shank can be too much for some horses             German Hackamore: The german hackamore has longer shanks and, although fairly straightforward, has a bit more “breaking power”. Pros: Great take-and-give action for hot horses, soft steering Cons: Need super-soft hands (not for amateurs), can Continue Reading →

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Gears — Arena Boredom Break!

Winter is STILL here and the arena feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller. After a 1 month hiatus from jumping, to work on my dressage, I decided to create an exercise that would; 1) Practice the turns & rollbacks we have been working on 2) Set up low cavaletti’s to re-introduce jumping 3) Keep the OTTB brain engaged & constantly listening What I came up with was an extension of the ‘Cartwheel‘ exercise. The cartwheel exercise includes 4 poles on an 20m circle. The goal is to get the horse going around the circle rhythmically, bending through his body, lifting his back, and suppling through the turns. When you replace the poles with cavalettis, the exercise increases in difficulty, as now you need the same canter between each pole as well as the same jump over each cavaletti. You either have to have a very consistent horse or a very adjustable one! So what happens when you have 2x the Cartwheel? GEARS: The Double Cartwheel Set Up: 1) Set up 3 cross-rails on the center line, lengthwise at X, D, and G 2) Set up cavalettis near V & P, R & S, & if room permits, between M & C (I set up 1 between M &C to act as an “entrance” into the exercise, so Oz could build confidence over a quadrant of the circle instead of the full circle). Now the fun part! Different Patterns: Simple Serpentine: Complex Serpentine: Figure 8:     AND FINALLY: THE Continue Reading →

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Off Track Eventing tries Schrammo’s Snake Exercise!

Well, we’ve been in a DEEP FREEZE for over a month now. The horses are bored, the riders are frozen, and we’re running out of things to keep us busy in the indoor arena…. But thanks to Evention TV, we got to try something new today! Take a peek at the video below to see the Off Track Eventing team attempt Schrammo’s Snake Exercise. Find the original exercise & video at or watch it below! Evention Tv Season 2: Episode 9 from Dominic Schramm on Vimeo. With this exercise I really got to test Oz’s adjust-ability and straightness on a bending line. I had to give up some control in order to keep a natural rhythm and Oz had to put his head down and stretch over the poles, figuring out where to place his feet. I already have a million other ideas that involve this basic exercise and can’t wait to try them! Thanks Dom & Jimmie! We love your channel and look forward to more exercises 🙂

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Cardio – 4 KM Canter

Kate and I went out on Oz and Gamble, respectively today and did 8 minutes of trot work (roughly 2 km) and then 4 km of canter work.  Clandeboye Road was wet but mostly bare of snow, so footing was good.  Oz played games a bit at the start, but then settled in.  Here are our splits: 3:55 (trot) 3:38 (trot) (walk break) 2:23 (canter) 2:17 (canter) 2:28 (canter) 2:06 (canter) We were aiming for Training level pace (2:15/km) so, on average, we were fairly close — 2:18.5 on average.  

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“Magic Hands” — Oz and Massage

My horse is tough. Thoroughbreds can be very sensitive, but also very resilient. That’s what makes them such great partners in this sport. They’re forgiving, and they’ll keep going—Even if they’re in pain or uncomfortable. My horse, Oz, has the added bonus of being bred tough. His sire, Skip Away, ran his entire Hall-of-Fame earning career with a known bone chip in his ankle. “And when you’ve got a horse who tries as hard as Skippy does, he’s really special to you. We’re not ruled by the dollar.” – Sonny Hines, Skip Away’s beloved trainer. Because Oz is so stubborn and tough, I often find it difficult to tell when he’s unable to do something or just plainly doesn’t understand how to. That is why once a month Oz get a visit from his sponsor, Carrie Copley, RMT & Equine Massage Therapist, to let me know what’s going on that I can’t see and can only sometimes feel. I thought it might be helpful to readers for me to share why I get massage for my horse. Let me start by saying this: I can only tell you what works for me and my horse. If you don’t get massage for your horse, you are not a terrible person. You’re far from it. The fact that you’re reading this blog means you’re open to others opinions, and interested in educating yourself. If you decide/you’ve decided that it’s not something you’re interested in that’s fine. We can still be friends. I’d Continue Reading →

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Barrel O’ Fun – Arena Bordem Break!

Barrel O’ Fun Level of Difficulty: Advanced Well, we have had 2 weeks of indoor-arena weather and I’m bored out of my mind already. I hate riding indoors, mostly because my horse hates indoors. He’s claustrophobic, doesn’t like riding with more than 2 other horses in the ring, and when the weather turns—he turns… into a big grumpy beast! So we’ve learned to deal with it. I don’t get in the saddle without setting up some sort of obstacle. My theory is if I set up a game for us, he won’t subject me to his own games (which are not my idea of fun). So after 2 weeks of No-Stirrup-November torture, it was time for a break in our equitation work. Here’s what we did!   Level 1/Day 1: The first day I rolled out some barrels and just got Oz used to them. I literally gave them a kick and let them stay wherever they landed. I warmed up walk/trot around them, using the barrels as pivot points for circles, to bend in and out of, and halt in front of. Halting in front of the barrels is important. It gets Oz between my hand and leg, and keeps me thinking “Halt Straight” as I have a visual reference (the barrel). The first time I halted in front of one of the barrels it was about 10 feet in front. I gradually got closer until he was trying to jump the barrel after I halted, at which point Continue Reading →

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