As of the beginning of 2019 I have been sponsoring a young rider, named Hannah Penney, based in Hampshire.
On this page there will be regular pieces written by Hannah on her riding life.
Read on for the latest installment........
Making the Most of the Winter…
Welcome back to the latest blog edition, absolutely jam packed with content that’s sure to get you excited! This month I’m sharing all my favourite tips & tricks I’ve been given over the years to help you survive & thrive over the coming Winter months. I’ll be covering my top ten Winter equine essentials & if that wasn’t enough, Lucy & I have put together our favourite training & exercise suggestions to help you kick start that winter training. Whatever the weather, if you’ve set yourself goals you’re serious about achieving in 2020, then utilising this ‘off’ season is essential!
We’ll start with the full run down on my top 10 equine essentials for surviving the next few months:
Number 10 – Base Layers!
These are pretty much the foundation of my winter wardrobe! If you don’t already use these, trust me when I say, you really should! I mostly use simple, cheap & cheerful lycra ones but there’s a huge variety available, including fleece lined options! I usually wear tops for most of the winter (often with a warm strappy top or vest underneath for an extra layer) & add a pair of bottoms underneath my jods when temperatures start to drop (if it’s mega cold I add tights underneath as well!). Thin & light weight, base layers are the perfect way to layer up – particularly out competing when you can’t quite get away with wearing 2-3 coats in the ring! Just make sure that whichever brand you go for, you choose something that’s breathable.
Number 9 – A Fluffy Hat/Headband!
I think it’s safe to say this one’s pretty much a given! It’s like they always say, if your head & ears are warm, the rest of your body will be too. I ensure to keep several around since they regularly end of plastered in mud, slobber & I dread to think what else!
Number 8 – Many, Many, Many Pairs of Gloves!
Again – another pretty obvious one but I can’t stress it enough! It’s one I learnt the hard way, back when working as a groom at weekends. I quickly discovered if you waited 20 minutes after arriving at the yard before reaching for the gloves, getting them on tended to become an impossible feat – the same goes for removing them for more than 5 minutes or so at any time! I therefore make sure I have a thicker, warmer pair for yard work & another pair thin enough for riding & fiddly rugs etc. I always keep some spare pairs to hand since it wouldn’t be England if it didn’t piss it down on you at least once or twice a day!
Some cheap, disposable hand warmers can be useful to slip inside gloves on the very worst days!
Number 7 – The Trusty Flask!
There’s nothing like a hot beverage to warm you through when you’ve lost feeling in every limb! Find a good thermos flask on Amazon & you’re sorted – no faffing about trying to find a clean mug or make yourself something when you’re freezing after a long ride.
Number 6 – A Hi-Viz Exercise Sheet!
Whether you’re an early riser or regularly caught out trying to squeeze in a post work/school evening hack, Winter weather tends to be pretty much solid doom & gloom – even for those lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of real daylight! It can make it really hard for cars to see you & this is before you factor in nightmares like dusk or fog! So, go wash those grubby hi-vizs & get yourself a big reflective sheet (I recommend a waterproof, fleece lined one for Winter). I find cars slow down much sooner & it makes me feel far safer on our busy local roads. What’s more, it keeps Bella nice & dry since we seem to get rained on in about 9 out 10 hacks.
Number 5 – Waterproof Trousers/Chaps!
Admittedly, they might not win you any awards for ‘best dressed’, but reliable waterproofs are an absolute must have for any equestrian! Not only are they an extra layer that will trap air & keep your legs warm as well as dry, but they’re also perfect for keeping those pesky white jods clean the morning of a show (I add trackies underneath for extra warmth when it’s super cold). There are loads of brands out there but make sure to get ones you can ride in comfortably (if you want them for use beyond the yard) as I’ve found most non-horsey ones to be too slippy.
Number 4 – Chocolate!
Not exactly horsey but there really is nothing like a tasty bar of chocolate to offer some much needed blood sugar after a hard training session or to motivate you through the never ending list of chores!
Number 3 – A Feather Gilet!
Not to be underestimated, my gilets have to be my favourite Winter wardrobe item & a feather lined one really makes all the difference. I found both of mine in the sale for a very reasonable price. They’re so much lighter, warmer & unlike most standard body warmers, not at all restricting. They really are the layer I couldn’t live without!
Number 2 – Under Rugs!
This was a trick I picked up a few years back but it’s brilliant, by using rug liners or cheap, easy to wash summer/cotton sheets under your heavy winter rugs you keep your outer rug so much cleaner & save a huge amount of money & time on how often it needs washed!
Number 1 – Coat Shine/Mane & Tail Spray!
Stealing the top spot has to be these amazing sprays from my grooming kit! I plaster the horses in coat shine on their legs & any other typical magnet areas for mud before turning out & I can’t tell you how much time it has saved me! The horses come in almost mud free & any that has managed to stick comes off effortlessly with one stroke of a brush! Mane & tail spray also has the added effect of preventing those pesky matted tails & manes rubbed to death by winter rugs! However, if make sure you have some grippy plaiting spray to hand if you’re heading turning out for a competition any time soon!
There you have it – my top ten equine essentials for surviving this winter! But that’s only the beginning of this month’s blog…
The term ‘off’ season is ironic. A huge advantage of Winter is how much more time you are likely to have, even if the days are shorter. Don’t get me wrong, most of our horses will be in great need of some well-deserved down time & whether you’re turning your horse away for several weeks or months, or simply swapping out eventing for (supposedly) less time-consuming competitions like showjumping or dressage – that extra time on your hands makes for the perfect opportunity to address your own personal fitness.
Until about two years ago I remained relatively convinced that riding alone was more than enough to keep me as fit as I needed to be. However, whilst I might have been able to get away with this for a while, if I was serious about my sport, it needed to change!
That’s not to say that including other exercise had to be a big deal. Away from horses, I found a love for running, swimming & tennis. All ideal for improving my cardiovascular fitness & I soon found great mental benefits in them also (they’re a heck of a lot less unpredictable & emotionally draining than horses, let me tell you now!). I squeeze in what I have time for & try to include a short work out when I can, usually focusing on legs or core since I feel these areas are my weakest in my riding at present.
Of course, it’s not just us who require strength & stamina to make it through a day’s eventing – having our horses fighting fit is vital! Building fitness & muscle in a process that takes time. It needs to be done correctly & without rushing in order to avoid the risk of injury.
It’s that time of year when most of us are rushing to plan our next season but what about planning for now? Even away from competition, having goals & plan can really help you make the most of the Winter months & come out in the best possible form next March.
I think the most important thing when planning a Winter’s training is variety – I don’t want the horses to get bored. This was incredibly important with Teddy but also with Bella due to her age. For me, the biggest part of any fitness plan I have is always hacking. Getting out & exploring new places can be great fun for both me & the horses but it can also reap huge benefits beyond this…
Hills! Everyone knows that hill work can make for a brilliant work out. However, to really feel the benefits, you want to have them in an outline, working across their back & the slower you can make them go, the more intense of a workout it will be.
Without facilities at home, I depend on being able to do much of my schooling out hacking. With so many distractions, it teaches the horses to really listen to me & I find they’re able to cope much better in spooky competition environments. There’s so much you can do out hacking, beyond just finding hills. I throw in as many transitions as I can, particularly with Bella as she has a tendency to drop behind my leg so they’re a great way to get her moving more forwards. When the roads are quiet, you’ll often find me practicing our lateral work too, using loads of leg yield & shoulder fore to again get her moving off my leg & try to improve her suppleness. I aim to keep Bella working in a round frame whenever we’re on the roads & use the bridleways & fields to give her a stretch & a break. I try to move the contact around, alternating between inside flexion, outside flexion & keeping her straight as I find this helps her to relax in her neck & again become more supple.
I try to very roughly categorise my hacks by length & generally aim for 2 short & 1 medium each week & one long (these can be about 3-5 hours for me!) once a fortnight where possible.
Although I’m not yet at this stage with Bella, the gallops (or next-door’s hilly field) were always a huge part of Teddy’s winter fitness programme. Interval training can be a brilliant way to improve your horse’s cardiovascular fitness & I always found it made a massive difference out on the cross-country course. There are so many suggested interval plans out there, it’s important to find one that works for you. When I first started with Teddy, we used to do 2 minutes of an opened-out canter, 2 of trot, 1 of walk on a long rein & repeat four times. Eventually we built up to 4 minutes canter, 1 of walk & repeat four times. Having a good warm up & cool down was, again, really important to minimise any risk of injury. I found my eventing stop watch really helpful for all of this.
On top of this Teddy’s workload included gridwork, pole work, flatwork, low pressure showjumping/dressage outings & lots of work on the pessoa. Bella’s workload usually involves a jump once a fortnight, flatwork 2/3 times a week, 3 hacks a week usually & as much pole work, long reining & fun outings as we can!
However, for when you might not have time to ride, Lucy’s very kindly compiled a list of brilliant, short, simple exercises that can all be done in hand (or equally, most can also be ridden if you prefer).
First up is walking backwards – yep, it’s as easy as that!
Getting your horse to walk backwards – even just a few steps – is the ideal way to get your horse listening & respecting you as well as having to think carefully about where they’re putting their feet. This is known as proprioception, a lack of which can lead to a higher chance of them sustaining an injury – something of course, we all want to avoid.
‘Pick up Sticks’ involves randomly placing a pile of unsorted poles lying on top of each other, 4-5 usually works well. Lead the horses through in hand, letting them have their head & figure it out themselves. Having to think about their foot placement is another great way of getting them engaged & improving proprioception.
The next exercise uses raised poles. Start with the poles flat on the floor & adjust them as needed until you’re happy with the striding – you don’t want it to be too long or short (3 pigeon toed steps is usually a good distance to try first). You can start by raising alternate ends of the poles – if you don’t have small blocks, potties from Poundland make a great alternative! If needed you can add some more poles on top to create a channel to improve their straightness. Again, you want to lead them through in hand with as little contact as possible. This is a super exercise for developing their core strength.
Another pole work option that was new to me is lateral poles, this can be done either in hand or ridden. This is another that’s really easy to do. Simply place out a line of 5-6 poles, end to end on raised blocks (or potties!). Walk down the line, crossing over laterally from side to side. This is an ideal way to engage their lateral stabilisers.
Whether ridden, in hand, on the lunge or on the long lines – pole work provides the fantastic opportunity to improve your horse’s core strength & range of movement, with each joint working from full flexion to extension.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this month’s blog as much as I have writing it. I’m currently in the midst of planning my own Winter & if you haven’t already, I encourage you to do the same. Hopefully we’ve left you inspired with some neat tips & tricks to take away. As always, I love hearing your feedback so do let us know your thoughts & be sure to share your photos if you try out any of the exercises we’ve mentioned.
Until next time! Happy Winter Training!
Facebook: Hannah P Equestrian
Facebook: Hannah P Equestrian