Riding a horse during winter can be dangerous, very uncomfortable, or outrageously fun depending on the rider’s knowledge and skill set. It is also common for equestrians to encounter various challenges while riding in icy cold temperatures or short daylight hours, especially if you lack proper knowledge of horse care. So, to stay in the saddle all winter and have your animal strong, healthy, and ready for more activities in the heavier riding season of the year, you should ensure that your horse remains in good health condition at all times. However, enjoying winter rides is a risky adventure no matter the health status of your horse therefore keeping them safe from adverse weather conditions is fundamental.
This article provides useful tips that can make your winter ride unforgettable.
Use common sense before you saddle the horse for a ride in winter. Horses are like humans; in cold weather conditions, it hurts to take deep breaths and this could be worse for the animals being forced to take wintery air into their lungs. A renowned horse trainer named Dustin Grams, who owns a horse training centre in the United States and Canada, says lesson sessions come to an end whenever the temperature in outdoor arena falls to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. ‘Riding horses in atmospheric conditions colder than -20 degrees Celsius exposes the horse to sucking ice crystals and this isn’t good for its lungs.’
During the coldest season of the year, horses should remain in their stalls where there is no wind chill. But if you must take a ride outdoors, consider the health implications on your horse and don’t forget to check your local weather forecast before tacking up. Exposing horses to rain and harsh winds increases their chances of falling ill.
Take it easy
Saddling your horse when the weather is cold and the ground snowy or hard could be a risky adventure. You should therefore consider your comfort and safety as well as the animal’s health. Enjoying your moment with the horse in winter isn’t exclusive to being able to gallop through the terrains at supercharged speed. A quiet walk in the woods or through on a field can help you bond with your horse, and more importantly, appreciate the beauty of nature.
Understand that riding a horse through deep snow or slippery footing is tiring. Moreover, the animals tend to burn more fat during rigorous winter activities and this presents health risks in post-ride cooldowns, so it makes good sense to save the horse’s energy in frigid temperatures.
To stay safe with your horse, never ride in unknown terrains. And before saddling the animal, ensure that you check its feet to remove traces of ice or snow balls. If you are unable to keep the hoofs free, consider grooming the horse until the ice or snow thaw. Within this period, you can maximize the ample time to examine your horse for any signs of ill health. However, grooming should be a routine activity for every horse owner because it helps the animal to unwind, improve blood circulation, and unclog blocked pores that could stop its natural sweating process.
Give time for proper warm up
Before hopping on your horse for a winter ride, you should endeavour to give the animal some time to warm up and regulate its body temperature. According to Tara Gamble (a president of Certified Horsemanship Association and AQHA Professional Horseman), horses generally feel numb in winter, so it is important to give them time to warm up by walking a distance and gently stretching their bodies in lateral positions. This exercise is also crucial for an all-round muscle development.
The warm up activities should be progressive, including gentle bends and crosswalks. In about 10 or 20 minutes, the horse should soften up and you would have had enough time to assess the animal’s response and know its readiness for a ride.
Don’t overwork the horse
Before embarking on a winter ride, you should understand that your horse’s performance depends on its breed. A performance horse can be stronger and more energetic—with a higher reliability ratio—than pleasure horses. So, if your schedule involves a strenuous workout, especially for horses that are not used to such exhausting training sessions, the best option would be an enclosed training facility which provides enough time to cool down in extreme weather.
However, you need to be consistent with your horse’s training sessions. This will help the animal to improve fitness level and maintain good health in the long run. You can start your winter ride with simple exercises which include jogging or walking in straight lines, sharp bends, or figure eights as well as stretching of muscles. Short breaks may be allowed during training to enable the horse stand still for a short time because, interestingly, the animal’s ability to stand still promotes good health and is considered an attribute of a well-trained horse.