Winter Riding. Weather and Footing.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, November 22, 2007 07:15 PM
I have been riding outside through the winters for 7 years. During all this time I didn't have any accidents in regard of winter hazards such as fall on slippery footing, lameness or catching a cold either me or my horse. Through trials and errors I have found what works and what doesn't. Today I will talk about the weather and footing.
  • Through my experience I have found that -15C(+3F) with no wind is a good mark to decide whether to go outside or not. Colder than -15C is hard on human body and on a horse. Human body will get cold and horses will breathe great amounts of very cold air when they trot or canter.
  • If it is windy I will not ride below -10-12C. Wind chill is a very important factor and it affects horses as much as humans. If I ride on a windy day I usually go into the forest and work my horse on trails or into the corner of a field where tree line brakes the wind.
  • Falling snow even heavy one doesn't usually present a problem as long as you know the way. In some ways it is an axillary aid and helps to keep horse round and stretching down. Couple times I got caught up in a blizzard and it was interesting to have a horse as a companion in such situation.
  • If you leave winter coat on your horse be careful to work him hard. he shouldn't soak in his sweat. Dry him with the towel or a hair dryer and keep him inside wearing a cooler until he is dry. If the weather is calm, not very cold and sun is shining it is better to put your horse outside to finish drying then keep him in a cool and damp barn.
  • If your horse is clipped with competition clip, all winter hair is removed, or hunter clip and you usually ride inside but you want to go out sometimes choose a calm, sunny, not very cold day. No colder than -8C.
  • You do not need to put winter shoes if your horse doesn't wear shoes. Just avoid icy and slippery surfaces as much as possible. If you must walk slowly on them and choose shortest path. Make sure your horse's frog is healthy and full, do not let your farrier cut it. Healthy frog acts as an anti-slippery device.
  • The good alternative is boots that you put on hooves during riding and then can take them off. There are some very good designs on the market.
  • The best footing to ride in winter is hay fields or lawns. Outdoor sandy arena even if it is covered with snow freezes and has bumps and holes. They can injure your horse, same with cultivation fields. Hay fields on the other hand are perfect. They stay soft enough for riding even when ground is frozen and snow didn't cover it yet.
  • If you ride in a strange place for the first time be very careful. The footing under snow is impossible to see and you can wreck your horse's legs going fast. It is a good idea to visit fields you are planing to ride on before snow so you know what kind of footing is there.
  • In a field I usually choose a spot of arena size and ride there a few times. When I start to see that I have packed the snow and it hardened I move on to the next spot.
  • Snow is a very heavy footing. When there is enough of it to go higher then horses fetlocks be very careful with how much you work your horse. Give him lots of brakes and do not work for long. When snow is so deep it comes up to the knees treat it as riding through water. Stop your horse for brakes, even walking is a hard work in such snow. Watch your horse's breathing and sweating to have a better idea how hard it is for your horse to work. Try to run through the deep snow yourself and you will realize what a workout it is..
  • When the snow comes up to the horse's belly I just walk. And I give him standing brakes here and there.
  • If you are careful your horse will adapt to work in a snow and you will get wonderful suspended and powerful gaits. You can imagine that you have an Olympic champion :)
Next time I will talk about riding itself.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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