While everyone doesn’t have immediate at-home access to a covered riding arena or the benefit of an experienced guru who is able to miraculously groom and maintain a spacious outdoor riding ring, there are an assortment of fun options for the everyday backyard equine enthusiast to stay fit and active, and continue playing happily with their horse friends throughout the year.
Utah eventer Sarah Ellington has found the footing along the trails at Antelope Island to offer adequate drainage and provide a safe yet adventurous venue for riding in most any weather. Located near Syracuse, northwest of Salt Lake City, this is a lovely locale for those who are interested in trailering up or who may live close enough to ride/walk their horses over to the park. When not trailering out to Gemini Farm in Rush Valley (home of top-ranked trainers and WREA leaders Todd and Adrienne Smyrl), Sarah often takes her horses for walks in hand (pony hikes, as she calls them) to keep the herd, and herself, in condition even when the weather isn’t conducive to tacking up.
Barefoot hoof practitioner Vanessa Sharp (located in West Bountiful) is a great advocate of natural horsemanship (every horse in their herd learns the Parelli 7 Games before moving on to line driving and then to under-saddle exercises); she and her friends continue to ride in natural outdoor settings year round, no matter what the weather. If their spacious pasture is too muddy and/or icy for safe riding, they’ll ride along the roadside (providing that the streets aren’t too slick). Halters and hackamores keep cold metal bits out of their horses’ mouths. Again, even if riding isn’t a reasonable option, ground games and un-mounted exercises are a great option for exercising the horses’ minds and keeping handlers’ skills in tune. Equestrians Vanessa, Mary, Jessie, HazelAnn and Eddy are constantly out and about enjoying their horses, never deterred by a bit of mud, cold, ice, snow, sleet, wind or any other inclement bit of weather that mother nature may throw at them.
In some situations you’ll want to make a change in order to make the most of your time with your horses. Respected Salt Lake barefoot hoof trimmer Meisja Turner Wagner was once based out of a casual little West Valley barn with a small fenced outdoor riding area that worked well for the summer months, but was generally covered in unusable mud during wet weather (when not packed in ice). Most horse enthusiasts will agree that the amount of work and expense involved with self-care, added to the inability to enjoy their equine partners when drainage and quality footing are lost, may not be worth the effort, on-going out of pocket costs and lost training time. There is a limit to how creative one can be in their efforts to manufacture non-riding activities. When leasing land, you’ll need to decide how much you want to invest (with your own sweat equity and pocketbook) into something that someone else owns. If your area doesn’t offer safe footing (a factor that limits both riding as well as ground work) and the majority of your time is spent cleaning, trying to groom mud-drenched horses (akin to brushing one’s teeth while eating Oreos) and hauling water by tiny bucket-load out to troughs, it may be time to reconsider the plan and shop around for a better training and riding environment.
If you have your own property, you can make the necessary investments to ensure that your footing is safe, drainage is adequate, shelters and enclosures are safe and drinking water is accessible where it’s needed. You don’t need a vast and luxurious expanse to set up a practical covered riding space (providing of course that you have the zoning to allow this). Esteemed horseman George Morris has long advocated the tidy, well-organized workman-like stable over anything unduly fancy. All you really need is room to canter, a tidy, safe field and a log to jump over; you’re set.
On the Ruiz-Parker ranch out in Taylorsville (just south of Salt Lake), a covered round pen allows for year-round riding no matter what the weather or temperature; simple overhead lighting is added, allowing trainer Joe Ruiz to keep all horses in his care active, day and night. Covered walk ways keep ice to a minimum and the riding pen’s quality sand footing is regularly turned so it’s always dry and in good condition for the daily (and nightly) workouts. Working tack is kept under cover as well, immediately adjacent to the round pen for optimum efficiency. Having an area where you can safely tie the horses that are next in line will keep your operation running smoothly and let you work all your horses almost daily! It’s a terrific (and safe) set up for lessons, too. While there is no boarding offered at the ranch, Joe does occasionally have openings in his busy schedule for training horses or their humans.
If you love to ride and play with horses but don’t yet have one of your own, check out the 2015 lease options at The Stable Place, located in the South Salt Lake/West Valley area. Riding lessons are also offered at this unique urban facility, found adjacent to the Jordan Parkway. Along with a roomy outdoor riding arena and immediate access to the Jordan trail system, The Stable Place also features a wonderful, large, covered round pen that is ideal for riding even when we’re visited by rain or snow. For those who are interested in equine activity but aren’t yet sure about making the costly and time consuming investment required to purchase and board a horse, leasing truly is a terrific option!
Depending on your personal goals, you may do well throughout the winter months without an area where you can ride and train on a regular basis. The slight delay in progress may be unacceptable to riders with competitive aspirations, but for those who primarily want to revel in pony play time, don’t mind some extra work, and have the emotional resources to put up with some less-than-ideal circumstances, there is fun to be had outdoors in the cold.
Go for a walk in-hand, learn how to do some ground driving, study natural horsemanship ground games, trailer out to a public arena (South Jordan equestrian center, the Legacy arena in Farmington or West Bountiful’s Universal Equestrian Center all allow outsiders to pay a small fee and enjoy their covered facilities), or, if you’d like to look at competitive options or advance your horsemanship skills, consider winter training with a professional who offers opportunities to ride in their covered pen. There’s no reason to lose out on horse time just because of a little snow, ice, or freezing temperatures. Get creative and keep active this winter!