By Christa Lesté-Lasserre
It’s super cold outside. You could ride … but, well, it’s super cold outside.
Fortunately, riding is just one of many enjoyable and enriching activities we can do with our horses. So, when that winter wind howls and the freezing rain comes blowing in from the side and you can’t even feel your toes and hands enough to find your stirrups and reins, you’ve got some other choices.
We’ve compiled a list of ideas for you smart equestrians looking for stimulating and mutually beneficial ways to share time with your horses this winter when getting into the saddle just isn’t in the cards. Get ready to brighten your winter blues with these science-driven suggestions!
1. Train practical-care skills.
Some of the most well-educated horses under saddle are terrible to work with when it comes to veterinary and farrier care. Don’t let your horse be one of them! Take this grounded time to teach him helpful skills that make practical management easier using well-timed positive and negative reinforcement. “Take an electric toothbrush and teach him to accept the noise and then the vibration on his skin as a preparation for using clippers,” says Andy Booth, trainer and owner of the Horseman Science education program based in southern France. “Tap a pen against his neck to teach him to accept needle pressure. Desensitize his response to touching the ears. Train him to lower his head with poll pressure. Work on having him hold up his feet for farrier work. And give him dewormer cartridges (syringes) filled with applesauce.”
2. Test his outlook on life.
Winter can be a gloomy time of year. But how does your horse feel about it? There’s actually a way to find out. Carried out correctly, a “cognitive bias” test can reveal interesting information about how optimistic or pessimistic your horse is on any given day. The concept was designed by Sabrina Briefer, PhD, of Agroscope National Stud, in Avenches, Switzerland, and is fairly simple. Place two covered buckets about 20 feet apart in an arena. Put a carrot in the left bucket but leave the right bucket empty. Then let the horse loose in the arena, and let him check out the buckets. Repeat this several times until the horse always goes directly to the left bucket and doesn’t bother lifting the lid of the right bucket. Once that step is confirmed, take away the left and right buckets, and replace them with three covered buckets in intermediate positions (between where the right and left buckets had been). Let the horse go into the test area and see which lids he lifts. If he doesn’t check any of the three new buckets, or only the one closest to the left, he might be a little pessimistic, says Briefer. However, if he checks the middle bucket—or especially the bucket closest to the right—he might be optimistic despite the dreary winter days. Remember, though, this test was designed for researchers in specific scientific test settings. It’s fun to see your results, but don’t consider them 100% reliable at home.
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