1. Attend a lecture demo by a professional rider. Equestrian centres can be chilly, so wrap up warm in plenty of layers, pack a blanket for your knees, and don’t forget some paper and a pen so you can jot down useful exercises. You’re sure to leave brimming with inspiration for your next schooling session.
2. It’s easy to end up wandering aimlessly around the school, thinking about what’s for dinner. Instead, create short, focused schooling plans to keep your riding on track. Aim for no more than half an hour, including five minutes for your warm-up, five minutes to cool down and two targeted exercises. Ask your instructor if you need help.
3. There’s nothing more miserable than being cold and damp, so step away from this season’s new rug collection – your horse probably has more than enough as it is – and invest in some warm, waterproof kit for yourself. Opt for technical, thin layers rather than bulky jackets, as these can be stripped off gradually if needed.
4. It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending time away from the yard can help you to appreciate it more when you’re there. As long as your horse has plenty to eat and is warm enough, he won’t complain about having a night off while you’re on the sofa with a cup of tea, binge-watching your latest TV addiction.
5. Go to a top-level show, such as Olympia or the Liverpool International, and take note of how the showjumpers shave seconds off their time and the dressage riders prepare for the perfect entrance down the centre line. Some shows grant spectators access to the warm-up arena, too, so you can get even more tips. Plus, there’s also the opportunity to spoil yourself with some retail therapy and a few drinks in the champagne bar.
6. After a summer of shows, evening hacks and generally getting out and about with your horse, winter can bring you back to earth with a bump. But a change in season doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. Make use of local facilities such as all-weather gallops, box up to try new hacking routes or take advantage of the lifted restrictions and go for a beach ride. Having a diary full of activities will make winter fly by.
7. Book some half days off work so you can enjoy a ride in the daytime, rather than racing the fading light or trudging around in the dark. Your horse will really appreciate a break from endless schooling under floodlights, too. Plus, the thought of a mini horsey holiday will give you a boost while you’re stuck at your desk.
8. Get out of bed a little earlier (it may sound unappealing, but bear with us) and ride before work. Riding in the evening is all very well, but by the time you’ve had to stay late to meet a deadline and got caught in the rush-hour traffic, enthusiasm is often at an all-time low. Besides, what better way is there to set you up for the day than an exhilarating canter as the sun comes up?
9. Variety is the spice of life, so do something a bit different with your horse. Build an agility course in the school, have a go at improving your groundwork or get some friends together and set up an old-school gymkhana that will give everybody a laugh and take you back to your Pony Club days.
10. Make a playlist of music that pumps you up and use it while you’re riding. Either plug in a stereo or dock at the side of the arena, or have a headphone in one ear. Try tailoring your schooling exercises to the beat – you never know, it may inspire a dressage to music floor plan.
11. Don’t bite off more than you can chew or you’ll just end up feeling disheartened when you don’t achieve your goals. Ask yourself how many times you can realistically ride during the working week before you lose the will to live. Pick a sensible number, say three, and get the first one out of the way quickly so the pressure’s off for the rest of the week.
12. Maximise your time for riding by using a spare few minutes at the weekend to make up a week’s worth of feed and forage portions. Store feeds in plastic containers – add any liquid supplements just before serving – and forage can go in nets, or old feed bags if your horse has a manager or is fed from the floor. Not having to make these meals up each evening will be one less thing to do when you’re rushing around in the dark.
13. Treat yourself to a lesson or clinic at a really smart indoor arena. Alternatively, split the hire with some friends – not only can you socialise while you school or practise drill riding, but working with other horses in an enclosed space is also good preparation for the competition warm-up ring.
14. Before the cold weather really sets in, spend some time getting your yard winter-ready. Stock up on salt or grit, insulate the pipes, and make sure you’ve got plenty of spare feed and bedding ready in case there’s a supply problem. Being prepared will make you feel much more confident and ready to tackle winter head-on.
15. If you’re struggling, there’s no shame in asking for help. Does your yard offer additional livery services or could you look into getting a sharer? Even knowing there’s somebody on hand to look after your horse for one or two days a week can ease the pressure and give you a chance to charge up your internal batteries.
16. Many local equestrian centres have a winter indoor jumping or dressage league. Taking part will not only encourage regular outings to earn more points, it’ll inspire you to get in the arena between competitions and brush up your skills to improve your placings, too.
17. It’s likely that everybody else at the yard is feeling exactly the same as you. Plan a weekly or monthly therapy session at the local pub – or somewhere else that won’t object to the slight whiff of horse – and get it all out of your system. What may start off as a lot of moaning will likely become far more uplifting once the drinks start flowing.
18. Looking for the positives in any winter situation can take the sting out of it. There’s something beautiful about the first hard frost of the year and it’s difficult to contain a child-like sense of glee when snowflakes start to fall – even though you know it’ll turn to sleet in five minutes’ time. Plus, you can pretend your horse is a dragon when he’s snorting jets of steam from his nostrils after a gallop.
19. Finally, remind yourself that, despite appearances, winter isn’t endless. Before you know it, the clocks will be changing, your horse’s rugs will come off and it’ll be spring again.