As the temperatures drop and the snow begins to fall, many people have a tendency to put away the riding boots until spring returns. It is true that winter brings days of below zero wind chills that are better spent in front of a warm fire with a cup of hot cocoa. But there are also days when the sun shines down on a fresh blanket of glittering snow, surfacing the urge to enjoy the outdoor winter wonderland.
Here are some tips to help you safely enjoy those beautiful winter days with your equine friend.
- Dress in warm layers. You can easily remove a layer if you get warm while riding. Keep in mind that fingers and toes tend to get cold first, so investing in some hand/toe warmers may be a wise choice.
- Wear appropriate boots. Your winter riding boots should be warm and have good traction for walking on snow and ice. Be careful to avoid boots that are bulky as they can get caught in the stirrups.
- Be mindful of your horse’s hooves. Snow can pack into hard balls in your horse’s hooves, so picking them out before and after the ride is very important. Extra caution should be given to horses with shoes, and if all possible, remove the shoes and let your horse go barefoot for the winter months. You can also discuss other shoeing options with your farrier if you plan to do a lot of riding in the snow, such as special shoes or pads. Check out this link for more winter hoof care tips.
- Be aware of the footing you are riding on. The biggest danger of winter riding is ice, especially when the ice is hidden under a blanket of snow. Knowing what the weather has been like the previous couple of days can help you determine the current footing. Remember that snow can cover other hazards as well, such as holes and fallen trees.
- Evaluate your horse’s workload. Riding in a deep footing, such as snow, is more work for your horse. Also, consider what shape your horse is in; many horses do not get as much exercise in the winter months. Plan out your time and workload so that you don’t end up overworking your horse.
- Be conscious of your horse’s energy level. If you plan to ride on a nice winter day, be aware that your horse is probably also enjoying the sun and warmth, therefore he or she may be feeling frisky. You may want to consider a quick turnout or lunging session to give your horse a chance to get any excess energy out before mounting up.
- Plan for extra time to cool down your horse. If your horse gets wet from sweat, they will need to wear a cooler (a special fleece blanket designed to absorb moisture) until they dry. This is to prevent your horse from getting chilled. Never put a regular blanket on a wet horse, the blanket will trap the moisture and potentially chill the horse.
- Have fun and enjoy the beauty of winter!