January 2018 Horse Report

Julie with her horses in the indoor arena

The winter months are creeping by, but still, my winter riding goals are not yet fully formed.

With my little mare Annie, my plan was to learn the basic movements of Garrocha—pole dancing with a horse! Her compact and athletic build makes little circles easy and ducking under that pole on a short horse just seems like it would work better. But alas, I am having great difficulty finding an adequate Garrocha pole (which has to be rigid, light enough to carry and about 13 feet long). Currently, I am eyeing one of my neighbor’s windsurfing masts and wondering if he would miss it….

I am seriously considering taking Eddie and Annie to the Legends of Ranching competition in April. I’ll need to decide soon because it will take me a few months to get the horses tuned up and ready to work cattle. If I decide to compete, it will make the goal-setting for these two horses easy.

For Dually, my old man (18 this year!), picking goals is more of a challenge.

First, at his age, I don’t want to do anything that would cause too much stress on his joints. Although he’d be great at Garoccha, he doesn’t need to be loping tiny circles. Plus, Dually is so well-trained that there aren’t many new skills to acquire. So I think I will work on the upper level Western Dressage tests and drill down on our accuracy and correctness.

I’ve got plenty to keep me busy through the winter months of riding indoors!

Winter Riding Goals

Looking between the ears of Annie to an indoor arena.

I love the meditative state we get into, my horse and I, riding round and round in the endless monotony of the indoor arena. Nowhere to go, nothing to look at, no distractions, no surprises. But don’t get me wrong, every day through the winter that I ride in it, I thank my lucky stars for having it.


With more than a foot of wind-packed snow blanketing the outdoor arena and treacherous ice on all the trails, the indoor is a blessed sanctuary. Almost any avid rider that lives in Colorado would kill for an indoor arena this time of year. But they are so expensive to build, few people can justify the cost.


I live on a dead-end county road where there are less than a dozen homes—most of them horse owners. And there is an indoor of moderate size on about every other property. When you live in the high mountains of Colorado,  the value of an indoor to a rider is way bigger than the hit to your savings account.


My arena is insulated and passive solar heated, so you can see why I thank my lucky stars. It’s cozy warm and a solid barrier against the wind and blowing snow. The kind of riding I do in the winter is far different than the rest of the year. Circles, collected work, school figures, reining maneuvers (minus the big stops because our horses are barefoot this half of the year). Later in the winter we usually set up the cutting machine, for a fun change of pace.


Always in the winter I find one or two major goals to work on. It helps you forget about the monotony in the indoor. A few years ago I rode bareback all winter and my end goal was to cut a cow on my horse bareback—not an easy feat with the quick dives he loves to pull on a cow. I made it as far as working on the cutting machine before the spring thaw and I went back to riding outdoors in a saddle.


This year, I have two different-but-complimentary goals for the winter term, both having to do with new presentations I will be doing this year at horse expos: western dressage and bridle-less riding. My horse and I have been doing both for some time, but doing presentations on it requires a lot more focus, practice and contemplation.


There’s nothing like taking your bridle off while riding in front of a large crowd in a huge stadium to motivate you to practice a little more. Dually and I actually practice bridle-less riding a lot, so he’s pretty good at it. Lately, I’ve found a workout pattern that makes him even better.


After 20 minutes of collected trot and canter, transitioning through all the specified gaits of a western dressage test, http://westerndressageassociation.org/ circling and school figures, Dually is ready to shed the bridle and work in the frame he wants. He loves the freedom of riding bridle-less and he is willing to work extra hard at finding my signals for the chance.