I usually ride all winter but this year I had to do a lot of travelling so just before Thanksgiving I had the shoes pulled and kicked my girl out for the winter. Other than the occasional brushing and her trimming she is happy.
However, I went to our riding club meeting this week and of course they have some rides coming up and I thought OMG I haven't even sat on my horse in 3 months! And I have to be gone for another 3 weeks starting tomorrow. The rest of the year looks pretty travel free except my normal stuff but that puts me into March before I even start putting a fitness level on this mare. My current plan is to start with some lunging and ring work and go into some trail rides and hill work before we do any of the longer trail rides. Is that enough? When I trail ride I mostly walk and do a few canter sets here and there depending on the terrain. The first scheduled ride is in the end of April and is about 12 miles with some steep stuff but not to much.
How fit was your mare at lay off time? And how old is she and with what kind of recent (past 2 years) training? If she was pretty fit and has been so the last 2 seasons, I would think 4 to 6 weeks a good amount of time to ready for 12 mile trails rides. Especially if you weren't running all-out.
I am just now doing basic training on my mare, Mariah, at 12 years old to ready for endurance later this year. I was readying her brother to go first and I lost him to cancer. She is starting from "pasture potatoe" ! and alone, which has it's advantages and also will be challenging.
I can leg my Arab up for a 25mi spring endurance ride (so mostly trotting and cantering) in 6-8 weeks after the bulk of the winter off. He's young and is turned out at least 15 hours a day. These days he's out 24/7. By 4 weeks, he can sustain an easy trot for 8-10mi. If you're diligent about the conditioning, it's certainly doable. Google legging up for an endurance ride. There are all kinds of good programs.
She is a 9yr old paint mare and was very fit when I turned her out. She is out 24/7 so she does get some exercise in the field. Her pasture is on about 2 acres and it is sloped. Thanks for the encouragement guys, now I just need to get my endurance back up!