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Anyone here give their horses the entire winter off?

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  • Anyone here give their horses the entire winter off?

    For a variety of reasons, I'm considering giving my horse Jan.-March or Feb.-March off this year.

    Does anyone here do this? Pros? Cons? He would be getting turned out daily for 5-7 hours per day, weather permitting (they very rarely stay in a day here or there when the weather is truly terrible). He does not have the option to live outside where I am currently boarding, and I am not interested in moving him. I don't think he would be particularly suited to living out full time, anyway.

    For anyone who does this regularly, how long does it usually take you to get them back in full work after the time off? I'd like to have him really going again and in full work by early to mid May. He's an 8 year old TB (well, really 7 until May, but 8 in TB years). All I really want him to be able to do over the summer is jump around courses at home (2'6" - 3') and maybe go to a couple of clinics or local shows.

    Thanks in advance for any responses.

  • #2
    I have done this with several different horses over the years.

    Most of them fit your description, OTTBs doing lessons at home and showing 3' and under.

    It usually took about a month or two to have them back in full work after a couple months off. Depending on the horse's personality, some came back "wilder" than others and took some time to settle down and get back into a routine where bucking and bolting during flatwork weren't common. Of course this was also riding in an outdoor ring during early March which is still very much winter time in my area of the Northeast. That was the only con I can think of... dealing with frisky behavior the first couple weeks back.

    The pros were some of these guys needed a break and not "go go going" all the time helped them stay more sound. One gelding I had in particular would always get stiffer and more sore at the end of the fall but came back refreshed in the spring after some time off. The other pro was that I got to focus on other interests for a couple months, and saved some money not lessoning or showing. I didn't feel as burned out and always came back to riding in the spring renewed in a way myself, looking forward to the summer shows.

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    • #3
      Yeah. Me. I hated riding in the cold, horse was arthritic and took awhile to get "unstuck" on cold days.

      Last 5 or 6 years I had mine going regularly, I wound the year up with either a mid November show or clinic and picked up again around Valentines Day.

      Horse got turn out, tread mill or hand walked twice a day as the weather and barn schedual dictated. Took about a month to get to where we were at that last show or clinic and ready to go back to regular lessons clinics or shows by mid March. Last couple of years, I had the hocks done in Feb before bringing it back up fitness wise. Retired at age 21, Year end reserve champ in area association in the 2'6", show champion at final show in good company. At age 20.

      Having both kept going all year and given the 3 months off? I firmly believe they last longer physically and mentally with that time off...long as they stay on regular excercise-we are not talking about standing in the stall for 3 months at all.

      Back in the day...they all got the break. One of the things that was better in the "good" old days.
      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.

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      • #4
        I have done this with several different horses over the years.

        Most of them fit your description, OTTBs doing lessons at home and showing 3' and under.

        It usually took about a month or two to have them back in full work after a couple months off. Depending on the horse's personality, some came back "wilder" than others and took some time to settle down and get back into a routine where bucking and bolting during flatwork weren't common. Of course this was also riding in an outdoor ring during early March which is still very much winter time in my area of the Northeast. That was the only con I can think of... dealing with frisky behavior the first couple weeks back.

        The pros were some of these guys needed a break and not "go go going" all the time helped them stay more sound. One gelding I had in particular would always get stiffer and more sore at the end of the fall but came back refreshed in the spring after some time off. The other pro was that I got to focus on other interests for a couple months, and saved some money not lessoning or showing. I didn't feel as burned out and always came back to riding in the spring renewed in a way myself, looking forward to the summer shows.

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        • #5
          I do this with my 15 year old (16 in May) Thoroughbred gelding, just because he lives at home and I can't ride him because of ground conditions. He is on 24/7 turnout and I only bring him in a stall during very bad weather. It typically takes a couple months to get him back into shape after having pretty much November through March off...it may take less time for a younger horse though. His job is similar to your horse's; doing 2'9"-3' courses with the occassional bigger jump and doing some local shows. Taking him out on hacks, progressively getting longer, and doing trot sets and gallops helps get him very fit. We do go on the VERY occassional trail ride throughout the winter, maybe one or two, and mostly walk with some bits of trotting and letting him gallop out a little bit if there's a good spot.

          I think it's good for their minds.

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          • #6
            Yes, back when I actually rode (ok, that's a pout). I usually slowed down in December with holiday stuff and then took January and Feb. off. Mainly because I hate January and February. And I hate using multiple coolers to dry a horse when it is dark and freezing out (which is when I rode--after work). Keep in mind I didn't body-clip, just a trace clip. I also had a 45 minute one way drive. Thinking about this (cold, dark, and did I mention cold?) is actually depressing me a bit! I would start again sometime in March, or have my trainer start in March--typically not the first either.

            Horses got lots of turnout, so they weren't totally confined to a little area, and that helped with fitness to some extent.

            That doesn't mean on an abnormally warm weekend I wouldn't go hack around or something.

            I'm not showing in Florida, obviously either. I think the first show we went to was beginning of May.
            DIY Journey of Remodeling the Farmette: http://weownblackacre.blogspot.com/

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            • #7
              My babies always get the winter off. I define "baby" as anything 4 and under. But they don't just get the winter off....I tend to do training rides in spurts where we work towards mastering something (jumping a particular height course, perfecting some piece of flatwork, etc.) and then they get a chunk of time off periodically through the year. So the winter is just an extended part of that. And that's usually mid-November to mid-March.

              My older horses work through the year and I just vary the intensity of their conditioning program. In the winter I back off of the jumps and go to a focus on long, low, loose flatwork. And then in later winter (February-ish) I start upping the dressage and slowly adding courses back in (we do jump through the winter, just mostly over a single fence here or there as an extension of flatwork). As a general rule, I prefer to keep a consistent riding program all year long because that's what's worked the best for my upper level horses.

              But then part of the reason my program exists is because of my mare who would take 2-3 months of daily rides intermixed with 2x a day rides to get back to "fighting shape." My OTTB is a different story and gets back into shape really fast. But the program works for him too....through other circumstances (injuries) he ended up getting the winter off several years in a row. He actually does better doing a low level of work, which I attribute to his TB brain that's always telling him he needs to have a job.

              And I have to admit that I'm happy to have something to ride over the winter so that I can stay in some semblance of shape too
              __________________________________
              Flying F Sport Horses
              Horses in the NW

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              • #8
                Typically mine would get Dec -early Feb off with (as usual) all day t/o, but I would (occasionally) trail ride or light hack. Nothing in the ring though and nothing that would be keeping them fit - more like if a weekend day was nice, we'd tack up and go on a stroll.

                This year it's much more enforced - I had surgery on my elbow in late Nov so its a regular equine vacation in my barn (except for the now 6 year old - I have someone riding him once a week to keep him aware there IS a program because he was in danger of forgetting it even before surgery).

                Anyway, my first show was usually late March so I would hack and jump the odd fence the last 2 weeks of Feb (and get my brain out of "plinkety-plink canter gear") then school over courses and try to get some jumping fitness on the horse (and an eye, I'd try to find out where I left my eye... ) Usually he was pretty tired coming out of our first show, but that would also be the workout that got him fit enough for the rest of the season. Usually by Mid April/early May I was back to my normal routine of not really schooling over courses except just before a show. He is a typical TB that keeps his fit pretty well.

                I like it, and I think if it keeps them happier (unless they are one of those workaholic type A horses), but I like it to be a break from the routine, not full time off, with easy trail rides and stuff like that.
                Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.

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                • #9
                  I do not do h/j (dressage...on an ASB ), but I absolutely believe in giving them the winter off. I think they stay sounder longer, are mentally happier, and IMO come back better in the spring than when you left off in the fall. My own mare is coming 19 and is still sound as a dollar. I've never ridden her much over the winters (dislike the cold, even in an indoor), but the last three winters, she's just been off, period. If the day is especially nice I might hop on and play around, but I can count the number of times that happens on one hand. It seems to take a month-ish to get her back in shape in the spring. I start out with some easy lunging a few times a week, along with some slow rides where we just walk and trot (correctly though...on the bit) and stretchy circles. After a month, she's better than she was before the time off. IME.

                  Key to the above, though, is adequate time out, not just standing in a stall. Big pastures with buddies. Let him be a horse.
                  Caitlin
                  *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*
                  http://community.webshots.com/user/redmare01

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                  • #10
                    The outdoor footing is awful and the indoor is tiny so we do cut back a LOT but I find it's necessary for me to at least long line or ride briefly once or twice a week. The year I gave my horse the entire winter off, he gained 150 pounds and his Insulin went off the charts... the previous year he had only been on the high end of normal.

                    Last winter was so mild I rode pretty much all the way through. His insulin results were considerably lower than they typically are in January. Could be other factors but I'm betting last year's improved fitness contributed to his low test.
                    Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans

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                    • #11
                      Yep - horses at home, I do have a ring, but HATE the cold. Mare gets off usually from mid/end November through February. Like above posters, if I feel the need or it's really nice, I hop on (usually bareback) and go for a stroll.

                      This year I will probably be getting surgery on my brain in February and will be off several months, so maresie is getting bred for a 2014 foal. I will be lightly riding her through months 1-8 or so as soon as I am medically cleared, so that she will have some fitness to pop that bugger out in April/May '14.

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                      • #12
                        When I was a junior and we kept our horses at home, they all got the winter off. I grew up in central Nebraska without an indoor, so there was really no where to ride once the cold weather hit. We would pull shoes around mid-November and they would have from then until usually the beginning of March to be horses. We had a 15 acre pasture about a 1/4 mile from the barn that they would go in until there was too much snow. Then they came back to the barn, but had turnout on a 10 acre rye field next to the barn. Once the snow started to melt, they went back to the pasture.
                        When I started up in March again, I would spend a lot of time riding in our corn fields and the pasture until they were fit again. Interestingly enough, moving around on that much acreage actually kept them really fit through the winter. I think that time off really helped their feet and their joints. I remember friends horses always pulling or losing shoes at shoes, but mine never did. It would be a dream for me to own acreage again so that I could turn mine out like I used to, but until I win the lottery, he'll have to stay in his cushy heated barn.
                        My new mantra - \"Life is too short not to eat ice cream.\"
                        ReRiders Clique

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                        • #13
                          Yeah...my gelding is largely getting the winter off. Partially because I hate the cold, partially because he physically needs it. I don't feel bad about this at all.
                          Friend of bar.ka

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                          • #14
                            I'm another one with horses at home, no indoor, and I hate the cold. I'm a little further south of Personal Champ, so I can usually ride through the first or second week of December, then they are largely off until March. My new guy is just a kidlet (turned 4 on Tuesday), so he's using the time to grow, fill out, and menace his older brother.

                            We have horrible red clay ground here that is either a shoe-sucking swamp or frozen moonscape. My ring has a couple soft spots when it's wet, so I tend not to use it too much during this time of year. Plus I'm a wimp in the cold! I have no idea how I survived my first 18 years in New England. Probably only because my horse was boarded and someone else was mucking, slinging hay, lugging water, etc...
                            Life would be infinitely better if pinatas suddenly appeared throughout the day.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sing Mia Song View Post
                              We have horrible red clay ground here that is either a shoe-sucking swamp or frozen moonscape.
                              Ditto this. Mine may get a little light riding or a walking trail ride here or there when the weather's right, but that's a rare treat. Ours are at home and not having an indoor makes weeks like this one makes for rather treacherous footing where the snow melts then ices over. Mine are pretty much pasture pets from December to late February / early March.
                              "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

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                              • #16
                                For sure. However, I would consider more turnout time if he isnt going to be getting ridden. Thats potentially 19 hours standing in a stall. Can you move him somewhere that will allow for more turnout?

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Less jumping in the winter, but I'm not one to give horses the full winter off. Most people I know at the barn aren't. For me it's not worth the two months it'd take to catch up after the winter so instead during the winter there's flat work to be done, ground work and puzzles. It's a quieter season.

                                  I'm not opposed to it at all, just my personal preference. If you'd like to do it I say go for it.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I keep my horse at college about 5 hours away from home. When I'm home for winter break he stays at school, so he gets about a month or a month and a half off (since I barely ride during finals week.)

                                    But my guy is an OTTB who gets slower and slower the more time he gets off.

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                                    • #19
                                      My OTTB had 3 months off this summer (due to personal reasons, me not her). It really did her brain and body good. I feel that we ask them to do so many things that are not natural to them, that we in turn need to give them time to just be a horse.

                                      I agree that short amount of t/o time isn't ideal. Try and bump that up if you can. If your guy gets antsy maybe throw in a light lunge every once in a while to let him get some energy out.

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                                      • #20
                                        My dressage trainer gives her GP horse a month or two off most years.

                                        When I was showing hunters I never took the winter off because I'm a big fat weenie and the fences grow if you don't keep your eye on them

                                        But I used to have trail horse that got the winters off. He wasn't quite right in the head and he was prone to having meltdowns if you did much of anything in the arena with him, so he went to my home barn and sat in the pasture all season every winter. And he came around pretty quickly every spring, though there were definitely a few long steep horse camping trips that we saved for summer after he'd had a little bit of time to build his fitness back up.

                                        My mares are getting a bit of a vacation this winter, too, I think. They've already had a two week vacation because I developed Raynaud's and got chilblains on my toes. No hard and fast schedule for going back to work, since they're at home where I can only ride in the pasture anyhow. But they live out 24/7, so at least they're out moving around.
                                        "In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
                                        -Edward Hoagland

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