Cold weather, snow and ice are a major challenge to horse owners, especially those who enjoy saddling their animals in extreme weather conditions—for games or pleasure rides. The risks of such adventures, however, outweigh the benefits.
Here are few tips to always make your winter-ride experience a memorable one:
Exercise to keep the horse healthy
Your horse needs regular exercise. You should therefore keep the horse busy at least for 4 to 6 hours per week. Regular horse rides during winter will improve the animal’s speed, strength and agility, thereby enabling high-level performance—whether used as a farm animal or for competitions. But training sessions should take place in a safe terrain to avoid obstructions.
Warm the horse’s bit before you set out. This task can be achieved with a non-toxic hand warmer or you can apply hot warmer over it. If none of the options are doable, simply take out the bit from the bridle and place it in a pocket—close to your skin—or breathing on it to heat it up. Sweet iron bit, which is never as harsh or cold as normal steel, can also serve as a good alternative.
Choose the right terrain
Winter rides are most comfortable on grasslands that don’t have mud, snow, ice, or other environmental hazards. So, choosing the best terrain for your ride can be quite difficult in winter. For example, you and your horse can get stuck in the mud, bump into dangerous holes and obstacles, or slip on ice. These situations may be life-threatening, and in some cases, leave lifetime scars for both horse and the owner.
You should therefore use familiar road tracks for winter rides as this eliminates or reduces the chances of accidents.
Alternatively, take a walk around the area if it is within your pasture.
If following a trail near your horse’s shed, don’t fail to ask for directions from other riders with better knowledge of the location. This will help you to understand the condition of the terrain and avoid unseen dangers.
Do not ride on road tracks with branches, roots, or holes covered by snow. Deep snow is dangerous to both horse and the owner because it conceals hazards and makes it hard for the animal to manoeuvre. Always stick to areas with a light layer of snow, and if possible, walk only on trails that are totally free of snow.
Use only trails that other riders have passed through during winter as this reduces the layers of snow and makes it safer for first-timer users.
If not sure of any hazards on the terrain, force a stick deep into the snow to see how far it can go.
You should know that it is easier and safer to ride up a slope than to go down. Nonetheless, stay on your guards to avoid a disastrous outing.
It is better to ride on areas with mud in the early morning hours when the top layer is hardest. But you should watch your horse closely to know if it is finding it difficult to walk in the mud. A muddy area is, however, riskier after the sun warms it up.
Choose to ride in an arena if there are no safe trails. To make it enjoyable, you can set obstacles (such as barrels) in the arena and try navigating your horse around them
Use common sense
When determining riding conditions—either through local weather forecasts or information from other riders—be sure that if the atmospheric condition is unfavourable to you, it won’t be safe for the horse, too. However, there’s no generally accepted temperature limit for regular horse rides during winter if the weather is not too cold for you and the animal to adjust with. But you should avoid exposure to blizzards, cold winds, or severe thunderstorms.
Take the time factor into consideration to enable you take care of the horse and enjoy winter rides. In extremely cold weathers, the days are usually shorter and this means that you’ll need more time to prepare for longer driving times.
Remember to charge your mobile phone and take a fully charged power bank with you.
Ensure that the terrain is not out of network. Moreover, try to remain in areas with strong signal so you can easily call for help during emergencies, particularly because hypothermia is a common occurrence in winter.
Don’t neglect hoof care
Mud buildup in your horse’s hooves can cause dangerous thrush illnesses, so you need to regularly trim them for better clutch on icy grounds.
Equine experts advise purchase of hoof pick to ensure a memorable horse ride during winter. The hoof care tool allows you to remove snow and ice crammed into the horse’s hooves—when necessary or at regular intervals.
Salt and sawdust are good de-icing agents you can apply on slippery or icy terrains. Other equally good de-icing agents are grit, sand and ash. You can use wheel barrows, buckets or basins to haul these to your pasture, terrain or stable area to provide a safer ground for winter rides. Sprinkling the de-icing agents on slippery areas provides the desired traction over ice and snow.
You can use petroleum jelly or non-stick cooking spray (together with the hoof pick) to properly clean out the horse’s hooves.
If the entire area is icy, be careful to ride only on the treated trail.
To deal with unexpected patch of ice during your ride, you should carry some of the de-icing agents in your saddle bag.
De-icing agents aren’t just for the trails, use them around your stable area and equally treat the doorway and tacking area, including any ground your horse will walk on.