10 Exercises You Can Use for Winter Training

In Part 1 of our Winter Training Series, we discussed how to engage your horse’s brain, especially as we enter into and plan for our winter training sessions.

We discussed teaching them new tricks, desensitizing to something they regularly spook at, or stretching their body. These each engage their brain in ways that physical exercise does not. Now that you’ve know them, what physical exercises can you add in to engage your horse’s feet? Read on to find out!

1. Full Walk Laps

When the wind has picked up and our horse’s start to feel light on their feet, almost like they could fly away, we want to do things during our training that surprises them. Walking helps to calm them and allows them time to breathe and space to get used to the arena before starting to work. We recommend starting out with 2 full walk laps before moving onto walking on the circle. If you feel that your horse is still too up in the clouds, ask him to halt next to you when you stop walking. This encourages him to focus on your body language. Additionally, being attentive to you and stopping when you stop increases his confidence in the ring.

2. Increase the Circle Size

This exercise works best for horses who are hot on the lunge! It’s important that before you practice this, you and your horse are confident lungers. This could be a difficult exercise for a beginner and we encourage new lungers to keep practicing! For a more detailed approach, check out our eCourse: The Art of Lunging,

To start, have your horse on your normal sized circle. Using your lunging aids –  your whip, your lunge line, and your voice – ask your horse to move out of the circle and give him more line. Raise your arms so you are showing big body language. Encourage him forward with your voice and gently swing the whip. What you want to see is him moving sideways to the outside of the circle first, instead of forward. Remember that as we ask him to change his circle size, we are not moving from our lunging spot.

If your horse moves only forward, move into him at a perpendicular angle, so that your body is moving towards his inside shoulder.

What you don’t want to do is scare him into the larger circle. Horses move most erratically out of fear and we don’t want anyone on the ground to get hurt. We also don’t want to associate fear or pressure with forward movement.

When we move our horses body using our aids and our voice instead of chasing them with the whip, we keep them in a calm state of mind which then keeps them happy on the lunge line.

3. Decrease the Circle Size

To decrease the circle size, start by taking up all of the slack in your lunge line. Give your horse a half-halt and lower your arms. Gently pull the lunge line shorter until your horse is closer to you. Encourage your horse to keep moving forward. You want to see the gait stay mostly the same as you do this.

Your horse might be better at one than the other, just like they have a better direction they go. That’s okay! If you are rehabbing your horse or you have a horse who isn’t as muscled due to age, be sure not to make your smaller circle too small.

Don’t keep your horse on the smaller circle for more than 2 or 3 laps. Too tight of a circle can cause leg injuries or strains.

This is meant to be used as a strengthening workout for their body and their brain. After you complete this over a few lunging sessions, your horse will start to learn what you are asking for. Be sure to keep your actions consistent and you’ll have taught your horse a new skill and calmed them down during winter training. Yippee!

4. Gait Transitions

While your horse may be used to transitioning gaits on the lunge line, this exercise will add some flair to it! To start, have your horse moving in rhythm in the trot. Ask for a canter using the body language we discussed earlier: raise your arms high, swing your whip, and use your voice to move them forward. It’s important to also use a half-half once they get to an even rhythm in the canter.

Ask your horse to canter one lap in a steady rhythm. Then, move them back down to a trot. You should have the same expectations on both transitions: that your horse’s rhythm doesn’t change as they change gaits.

This requires muscle work and a lot of thinking on your horse’s part. Not only will your horse be using their hind end and long back muscle to stay in rhythm as they transition gaits, they’ll also be thinking forward to what you’re going to ask next. This helps your horse keep their focus during your lunging session. 

5. Asking to Halt

This is similar to what you used during your walking warm-up. Move your horse from a trot, to a walk, and then move to them on the circle. Your horse might stop and face you and that’s okay! The position you want their body in is up to you. If you’re using lunging as a cross-training to vaulting, you’ll want your horse to stay parallel to you on the circle as you move towards them. Then, stop walking and plant your feet. You’ll want your horse to stop walking as soon as you do. Then, praise your horse and send them forward into the walk again.

You can use this exercise before or after the Gait Transitions exercise. You can also use this as you warm-up and cool down before or after a lunging session.

6. Move the Circle

This exercise is good for confident lunging teams. We recommend having a trainer or friend help you if you don’t feel ready just yet.

This exercise goes against one thing we teach: to stand in the same spot while lunging! But it’s for a good exercise, so we’ll allow it 😉

Start out this exercise by imagining that the small circle you’re standing in, at the center of the lunging circle, is attached to a straight line. That straight line runs from your side, down the long side of the ring. That imaginary line is what you want to follow as you move your horse’s circle down the side of the ring.

This exercise might confuse your horse at first, so be sure to go slow and go back to basics if you feel it is too complicated for right now.

As you start to walk that imaginary straight line down the center of the ring, encourage your horse forward. Remember to add praise if your horse moves with you – especially on the first try!

Move about 5 paces and then re-set your circle. You can do this as many times up and down the ring as you’d like, but be sure to do a few laps in each circle. This is going to be a lot of brain and muscle work for your horse. If you’re just starting out, move the circle once a session until your horse is confident and calm when you ask.

7. Trot Poles & Cavalettis

Adding in trot poles and cavalettis is a great way to engage your horse’s feet on the lunge line. Adding in objects to move over not only works their balance, but encourages them to move forward from the hind end and lift their long back muscle.

Be sure to space your trot poles far enough apart inside your horse’s stride. You can measure your horse’s stride with your own stride and go from there. A good rule of thumb is to have about 5 feet between poles for the average size horse but ultimately you know your horse and their stride best!

This exercise might confuse your horse at first, so be sure to go slow and go back to basics if you feel it is too complicated for right now.

8. Add Side Reins

When used properly, side reins can guide your horse into the right position – without holding him there. We recommend using sliding side reins instead of solid side reins. We don’t want to hold your horse in a frame, we want to encourage them to move into one.

Side reins should be used for no more than 10 minutes during your lunging session and you should start new horses out with plenty of space to move their head and neck.

Horses who are more sensitive should start out in the trot with side reins as sometimes the walk can be too uncomfortable to start out.

You can read more about the side reins we recommend here: Lunging Session: Stretching Workout Using Side Reins

9. Move the Haunches

This exercise is a multi-use tool! You are simultaneously improving your horse’s balance, asking him to lift his hind end, and engaging his brain!

Using your whip, step towards your horse as he moves on the lunge line. Point your whip towards his haunches. If you want, you can even use a voice command like “out” or “lift” to start to mark it.

Your horse should lift his hind end from the inside hip. This will balance him over his outside shoulder and encourage impulsion.

This exercise uses a lot of your horse’s butt muscles, so be sure to start slow if you have a horse who is out of shape due to age, rehab, or other reason.

10. Slow & Fast Speeds at the Same Gait

This exercise is a practice in perfecting your horse’s rhythm. This exercise uses all of your lunging aids: your voice, your whip, and your body language.

As your horse is moving in their gait, use a half-half to slow their movement but be sure they don’t stop. Use your whip and your body language to encourage them forward just enough that they don’t drop down a gait.

Remember to praise your horse for this work!

You can then raise your arms and move your horse forward. Use your voice to encourage them into a faster speed and your half-halt on the lunge line to keep them in the gait. This guides your horse into thinking what you are going to ask for next and builds muscle mass.

As you prepare your lunging training guide for winter riding, we hope you’ll use some of these exercises so you can have a calm, confident, and happy winter lunging team!

Curious to Learn More?

We cover this and more in our eCourse: The Art of Lunging!