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How to Keep A Horse Fit In The Winter on Hard Footing

Panel Expert: Denny Emerson

Submitted by member: Emme

I would like to know how to keep a hunter fit in cold temps in the winter to compete in Spring. We are in Northern Michigan and have an indoor ring, but it is cold and the footing gets hard. I ride in a quarter sheet and mainly walk with lateral work. The temp is usually around 10. Do you have any suggestions to keep us both interested? And what do you think of free jumping? Thank You!

Answer by Denny

First thing to be considered is how hard your footing really is. Is it frozen like a rock? Or can it be dragged and softened somehow? Because for years in Vermont, I just bundled up and trotted around in the indoor ring, and my horse got plenty fit.

Free jumping is OK, but if the footing is bad, it might not be such a good thing because the landings can be jarring.

I think the main thing is whether you can safely trot, even canter on the hard footing. If you can’t, you are sort of “stuck” walking, which is better than having him stand in his stall.


For ideas on exercises to do at the walk to teach your horse to understand and respond to your rein and leg aids better check out Bernie’s topic “Fundamentals of Flatwork: Basic.” Click here to view it.

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Denny Emerson

“One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century ...” (The Chronicle of the Horse, 2000). The only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis buckle in endurance. In 2006, Denny was inducted into the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Dartmouth College Athletic Hall of Fame and of the Vermont Academy Athletic Hall of Fame. Denny Emerson, eventer, trainer, coach, author, leader, activist, has been a significant, influential force in the equestrian community for a half-century. Beginning with his first competition, the Stoneleigh Prospect Hill School Gymkhana, at the age of 12, Denny has forged a career with horses which culminated in his receiving both the USEA’s Wofford Cup for lifetime service to eventing, the American Riding Instructor Certification Program (ARICP) Lifetime Achievement Award, induction in 2006 into the USEA Hall of Fame, and included leadership in such organizations as the USEA (twice president), the USET (vice-president of Eventing for seven years), the USEF (on the Executive Committee), and Chairman of the Breeder’s Committee of the AHSA. For more information about Denny Emerson visit:

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