Every equestrian knows how horses grow peppier and more challenging in cold weather. A direct correlation seems to exist between falling temperatures and rising equine energy. Yet horse trainer Dan Grunewald tags winter as prime time for starting wild Mustangs and other green horses.
For the past three years, Dan Grunewald has participated in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, taking a wild American Mustang in January and training the horse for presentation in the spring in a 90-day competition with other professional horsemen. Each year, Dan Grunewald has finished in the top finalists.
What are Dan Grunewald’s winter horse training secrets?
During an interview at the 2010 Chicagoland Equestrian Lifestyle Expo on November 20th, Dan Grunewald revealed six secrets to cold-weather colt starting.
Start simple in cold weather.
Particularly with his Mustang Makeover mounts, Dan Grunewald lays basic groundwork in a tightly controlled environment, the small round pen.
“I always start with a bit of training with the round pen,” Dan Grunewald recounted. “When we begin, these Mustangs don’t even know how to drink out of a water bucket.”
After a few days of round pen training, Grunewald introduces arena work with the new horse.
Pair a green horse with a trained equine.
Because horses are social herd creatures, savvy horsemen like Dan Grunewald employ other equines in training.
“I put a good confident gelding with the green horse, and we just start training,” Grunewald explained. “I pony a younger horse off a more experienced one. It’s funny. Now my early Mustangs that were once untouched are helping to train my next group of horses that come in. It’s kind of a round-robin thing.”
Take advantage of extra snowfall in winter.
Although his Wisconsin stable offers a 60′ x 170′ indoor arena, horse trainer Dan Grunewald deliberately opts to ride younger horses outside in the wildest weather.
“I utilize wintertime for training challenging young horses, or even the troublemakers,” Grunewald pointed out. “Deep snow? It’s perfect.”
Build the young horse’s strength in winter work.
Snowy fields require extra equine exertion. Smart horsemen count this as a training advantage.
“I’ve got two 10-acre fields that we can just go up and down,” Grunewald said. “If you can keep a horse straight in a snowy hayfield, and don’t lope in icy patches, you can really build a horse’s stamina and endurance.”
Try adding a few tricks later in training.
In time, horses can be trained to perform simple tricks, even in winter months.
“We sometimes teach young horses to pull logs through the snow or to tug kids on sleds,” Dan Grunewald commented. “The idea is to make the horse work and engage his mind. I’ve taught them to step onto blocks too.”
Cool horses off after winter training.
Dan Grunewald’s training horses enjoy all-day pasture turnout, so post-schooling cooling out is extra important. Horses turned out too fast after exertion can become chilled or stiff.
“If a horse steams after work, we put him in a stall with a fleece cooler,” Grunewald stated. “We make sure his respirations and vitals are low. Being an EMT for 17 years, I recognize that. All the signs and symptoms we look for in a patient, we actually watch for in the horse too.”
Winter horse training may require extra steps and added awareness, but cold weather may be a genuine advantage for skilled, hearty horsemen. At least, Dan Grunewald thinks so.
Who is Dan Grunewald?
Dan Grunewald is a recognized equestrian trainer and horse show judge. He was a featured clinician at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. A trained emergency medical technician (EMT), Dan Grunewald is founder of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association (WIHA). Dan Grunewald is based at Focus Farm, in Helenville, Wisconsin.