This past weekend marked two sad events: the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced all winter and the departure of some of my fellow boarders’ horses for Florida. There’s nothing sadder than telling your barn mates, “Bye, have fun in Florida!” when you’re stuck at home in single digit temperatures.

Heading south for the winter this year wasn’t in the cards for me and my horse, so we’re staying home with a few other boarders to work hard and prepare for the spring show season. We’re lucky enough to have an indoor to ride in, but riding in the indoor day after day can quickly turn into day after day of riding in circles on the rail, which quickly becomes boring and de-motivating. After spending many winters at home, I’ve come up with four ways to make winter riding more fun so we can make it through the final stretch before spring.

Use the buddy system
Find a barn buddy who usually goes to the barn at the same time as you and keep each other motivated. Riding on a cold, dark night is a lot more fun when you have company, and you can encourage each other to make it out to the barn each night because you know they’re counting on you to ride with them. Plus, if you’re worried that your horse is going to be wild, it’s nice to know that there’s someone at the barn with you should something happen.

Spice up your flatwork
Day after day in the indoor can turn into day after day of riding in circles. Set up some ground pole exercises to spice up your flatwork days – they’re fun and helpful for you and your horse. Ground pole exercises are my favorite way to make flatwork more fun (and my trainer’s favorite way to torture us). Here are some of my favorite pole exercises:

One exercise we do often is canter bounce poles. Sasha tends to have too long of a canter stride, so these are great for forcing her to condense her stride. They work the opposite way, too – if you want to work on your horse lengthening his stride, setting up bounce poles are a great way to encourage him to do it.

Another way to practice stride management is by setting up a standard line of ground poles and then practicing going back and forth between doing the correct number of strides, leaving one stride out, and adding one (or more!) strides in. This exercise really shows how much control you have over your horse’s stride length.

If you struggle with straightness, setting up a chute of poles is the perfect way to practice staying straight without having to work too hard at it – you steer to the chute and the poles do the rest! I love this exercise for Sasha because, as a typical mare, she only likes to do things when it’s her idea. Since the poles are telling her to stay straight (and not me), she thinks that staying straight is her idea!

Some other fun flatwork ideas include:
• Trying a dressage test – even if you’re not a dressage rider, riding a dressage test is a great way to work on your horse’s responsiveness and gives you an excuse to do something other than ride around and around the outside of the ring.
• Working on collecting and lengthening – make it a game! How many trot steps or canter strides can you fit down one long side?
• Practicing serpentines – try using them to practice your transitions. I’ll use serpentines to work on my trot/halt, trot/walk, or trot/canter transitions. Aim to make your transitions as close to the center of your line as possible to practice precision.

Get out of the indoor when you can
If you come across a warmer day (or you feel like braving the cold!), try taking your horse out for a little trail ride around your farm’s property (or your trails, if you have access to trails). Be sure to bundle up, take it slow so your horse can get his bearings, and watch out for icy spots! Even if you just take an amble around the property before getting down to business inside, you and your horse will both enjoy getting of the indoor for a bit.

Set goals
Set short-term and/or long-term goals for you and your horse this winter. Whether your goal is to make out to the barn to ride four days a week all winter, or to have mastered a new skill by the time the snow melts and the ground isn’t frozen, a new goal is a great motivator. During my first winter with Sasha, our canter was a hot mess and for a while, my goal was to successfully canter around the ring one time in each direction. We’ve come a long way since then, and this winter’s goal is to be jumping 2’9”-3’ courses in preparation for our move up to the adult amateur hunters this year.

What do you do to make winter riding fun? Tell us about it in the comments!