While some might be heading off for an exotic beach holiday or a trip overseas, others might be enjoying the peace and quiet of home. If you’re not planning on going anywhere, you might want to fill your days with some riding. Those who work full and busy weeks might also want to take advantage of the free time to spend with their horses. If you seldom get to your horse in the week, chances are that he won’t be in need of a long break as much as a horse who is in work consistently through the year. While many riders opt to give their horses the time off over the holidays, you might not necessarily follow suit. Page 52 discusses whether riders should keep their horses in work or give them the time off, the advantages of leaving them, and the challenges of bringing horses back into work in the new year. If you’re opting for keeping your horse in work, maybe these ideas will inspire some variety.

Should you leave him fit or fat over December?

Straightness training

If you think you might like to incorporate more work from the ground into your horse’s training, straightness training is a unique training method developed by Marijke de Jong that is dedicated to improving horses’ natural asymmetry, muscular structure and riding balance through the use of sequential exercises.

Zaneta Georgiades is a qualified straightness training instructor who is based in Pretoria, Gauteng, but hosts regular clinics and workshops across the country.

Think you might be interested? Visit straightnesstraining.com and download Marijke’s free e-book to get started. You will certainly have an abundance of new exercises to keep you occupied over the holidays.

Working hacks

We often think of hacking out as giving our horses a change of scenery and a mental break from the arena, but there’s no reason why you can’t introduce a bit of schooling to your hack. Of course, we’re not suggesting you drill your horse every time you ride out, but a bit of training every now and then is never a bad thing, and he might even take to absorbing information in a change of environment.

Hill work can’t be stressed enough regarding its benefits to a horse’s strength and fitness. Find yourself a nice grassy hill with even footing to work on. You don’t necessarily need to trot and canter up and down the hill; a forward walk will certainly help build your horse’s muscles and improve his balance.

Try to expose your horse to a variety of surfaces during your hack. Try alternating between walking on firm and softer ground. The October issue of HQ (115) explains the physical and mental benefits of riding on different footing and surfaces.

While on your hack, you can ask for things such as walking in a long and low frame; stopping, backing up a few steps and then walking again; walking in a straight line, alternating in bend to the left and right; or extending and collecting the walk. These are all subtle cues that won’t take away from the experience of being out and about, but can make a difference to your overall schooling when you add it all up.

If you’re up for something more adventurous, why not box out with some friends to your closest cross country area and make a day of it? You don’t necessarily have to jump; you can enjoy a gallop on a flat stretch (make sure you’ll be able to stop!) or play in some of the water complexes.

Trick training

Trick training is a fun way to create variety in your horse’s thinking. No, we are not telling you to make a circus performer out of your horse, but rather that you should expose him to a type of training that is completely opposite to what he might understand. Trick training can teach a horse to problem-solve and be open to new things. The October issue also includes a feature on trick training, including best-practice methods for teaching your horse to paw, bow, smile and Spanish walk. Keep in mind that training tricks requires a lot of patience and re-asking on the rider’s behalf.


If your horse is the nervous type, he might benefit from some spookbusting help. Isolate what your horse’s weakness is, such as going over jump fillers or jumping at scary objects around the yard. A horse is more likely to react calmly to things he’s seeing for the first time if he’s exposed to new things often. Commit to spending some real time showing him things he would be nervous of and help him work on managing his fear through encouragement and positive reinforcement.

Try to work in an isolated and closed-off area such as an arena or small paddock where he can have the space to approach the scary object or filler but still be able to move away if he wants to. If you’re working in a paddock, hopefully he doesn’t lose interest and turn his attention to grazing instead.

Once you’ve showed him some scary jump filler on the ground and you think he is gaining confidence, try a mounted session where you ask him to go over the filler from a controlled trot or canter. Don’t overdo it in one session, but rather work to improve his overall confidence over several short sessions.

Boxing help

December is the best time of the year to help a horse who struggles with boxing. The yard is quiet and so are the roads. See our boxing article on page 44 for advice on tackling common boxing problems.

Once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of getting your horse into the box, you can take him on a quiet drive to get him used to travelling. You can possibly box him to a friend’s yard and ride in his or her arena to get your horse used to working in foreign environments.

The full article appears in the December issue (117) of HQ magazine > Shop now