As with most outdoor activities, summer is the time that we really get motivated. The warmer, drier weather, longer days – if you’re anything like us then you can spend from dawn ‘till dusk outside with your horse.
However, winter can be a slightly different story. When you’re nice and warm inside, heading outside into the cold isn’t always the most inviting prospect. Winter also brings with it some specific challenges and considerations when out riding.
In this article, we going to give you some essential winter horse riding tips and advice so you and your horse can stay safe and get the most out of your time together in the colder months of the year.
Don’t ride if it’s too icy
The most obvious piece of advice is that if it’s too cold or too icy then simply don’t go out. If you do go out when the yard and fields are icy then there is a risk of your horse slipping over, which can be very dangerous for the both of you.
If you don’t manage to get out, then remember to adjust how much feed you give them.
Read more: How to feed your horse over winter.
Provide extra grip
If you do intend to go out when it’s icy, then you should do what you can to provide your horse with extra grip under foot (or hoof).
Your farrier will be able to advise on what’s best for this, and may suggest shoes with special pads or ice calks.
You can also salt areas you’re worried about icing over to try and reduce how slippery they become.
Obviously if it’s cold then riders need to wear the appropriate clothing. You should wear layers that can be easily removed or added as the temperature changes.
A baselayer is a good idea as it helps wick away moisture, while a fleece or softshell as a mid-layer will provide warmth and is breathability. As an outer layer, use a breathable waterproof jacket. Using three layers like this will ensure you stay warm – and you can always miss a layer out if it’s a little warmer.
You should try and avoid wearing cotton if possible as it retains moisture and can suck the warmth out of your very quickly in cold, wet weather.
A good pair of horse riding gloves are also advisable so your hands stay warm and flexible.
As the days are shorter in winter, if you’re riding in low light, or riding anywhere in public, then you should also ensure you wear hi viz clothing, as well as the usual equestrian safety equipment.
Warm the bit
A freezing cold bit can be very uncomfortable for your horse, so make sure you warm it before putting in the horse’s mouth, or leave it in the house so it stays nice and warm.
Read more: How to keep your horse warm in winter
Making snowballs can be great fun in winter, but they’re not good news if they form under your horse’s hooves when riding. Snowballs, or ice balls, can make your horse slip and unbalanced, but can also cause muscle strains, lameness and a raft of other injuries.
To prevent snowballs on your horse’s hooves, you can ask your farrier to fit special pads, or you can apply a layer of petroleum jelly which should stop the build up of ice and snow.
Adjust workload if riding in snow
If you’re taking your horse out in the snow, bear in mind that this will be harder work for them. Imagine running through snow and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like for your horse – and, obviously, the deeper the snow, the more effort is required.
As such, lighten their workload depending on how much snow there is to ensure they don’t get worn out.
Cool out your horse properly
Hopefully you know the importance of cooling out your horse effectively after exercise (ensuring they cool down effectively and not too quickly), but in winter this is especially important. A cold winter wind on sweaty skin will cool your horse down far too quickly and can be incredibly dangerous.
It might be tempting to ensure they stay warm by placing a heavy blanket on them, but this can actually do more harm than good. A thicker blanket can keep moisture trapped, preventing your horse from drying off.
Once you’ve rugged your horse, you should also walk your horse for a short while to ensure their body temperature cools down slowly. Once they’ve dried off, take off the blanket and either replace with a dry one or turn them out as they are.
If your horse still seems to be breathing heavily or is still sweating, then continue cooling them out.
Do you have any tips for riding in winter or cold weather?