Winter has officially arrived, and many of us are dreading the frozen toes, the hands that have lost feeling and the extra work involved in horse care during the winter months. To make it easier, we developed a list of things to keep in mind this winter to make it fun and safe for you and your horse.
It’s tempting to stay inside where it’s nice and warm, but both you and your horse need to exercise to maintain muscle.
- Set a schedule that’s consistent
- Buy warm winter outerwear – winter riding boots and riding gloves go a long way in making sure you get a good ride in
- Find a barn buddy and ride together
2. Don’t skip the warm-up.
Soft tissue is more prone to injury in the cold, so just like human athletes need to stretch and warm up properly, so does your horse. These exercises can be done at the walk or the trot:
- Shoulder in exercises can help loosen the horse’s shoulders
- Haunches in and turn on the haunches develop flexion in the back legs
- Simple transitions between walk and trot and back to walk again will help your horse become more attentive to your aids as well as warming up cold muscles
3. Be creative!
Just because you don’t have access to an indoor arena doesn’t mean you can’t ride.
- Find hills to tackle at the walk to help build hind quarters. (Just make sure you’re not on ice)
- A field with deep snow is a great workout because of the added resistance
- If you’re the adventurous type, see if your horse is open to pulling. A harness and a sled are all you need to teach your horse some new skills while building muscle
4. Cool down.
Even though it takes some time, dry your horse off completely before putting him back in his stall or turning him out in the pasture. A horse’s wet coat can reduce his body temperature and cause serious illness.
- Use an absorbent cotton towel to dry up excess moisture
- Walk your horse with a cooler on to speed up dry time
- Use a blow dryer on the lowest heat setting
5. More water, please.
Winter weather often exposes horses to dehydration. Make sure your horse is drinking enough water.
- Offer him water that isn’t too cold (but not too warm) to encourage fluid intake
- Check water troughs to make sure they aren’t frozen
- Dehydration can lead to colic from impaction which means trouble, so look for signs of distress (pawing at the ground, sweating and increased breathing rate, kicking at the stomach, and attempting to roll)
Winter riding doesn't have to be a chore. Just bundle up, think outside the box, and follow some basic guidelines to have the best winter riding season ever!