If you are like me and don’t have a heated arena to ride in, you may not get much riding done over the winter months. But when there is a nice day, it’s great to catch a few hours in the saddle. Winter riding can be dangerous. Here are a few tips to keep you and your horse safe.
Check the Footing
Footing is a major problem in the winter. A nice layer of fresh snow will provide nice footing for a bare-foot horse, provided there isn’t any ice under it. Of coarse ice is dangerous for both the horse and rider. A horse carrying a rider is more likely to slip. Mud can be just a dangerous as ice. Many times only the surface is muddy and the ground underneath is frozen, creating a very slippery surface.
Dress for the Occasion
This is important for both you and your horse. If your horse is typically stabled or blanketed, you may consider a rump rug or quarter sheet to help keep your horse warm. For yourself it is best to dress in layers. Make sure to have gloves and a hat along. Even if it seems warm, the temperatures in the winter can change suddenly. Bulky snow boots are probably not your best choice for foot wear. It is important to wear boots that won’t get wedged in your stirrups.
Warm the Bit
We all remember the scene from The Christmas Story where Ralphie gets his tongue stuck to the flag pole. If you don’t warm your bit your horse is going to feel like Ralphie. Even if your horse’s tongue doesn’t stick to the bit, it isn’t comfortable for him to have a frozen chunk of metal in his mouth. I try to keep my bridles in the house, or warm the bit with my hands before bridling up.
Stay Close to Home
When riding in the winter, it may seem warmer than it actually is. For that reason I like to ride close to home. I try not to ride far enough away that I can’t make it back to the barn in a half hour. Usually I make several short trips out, instead of setting out for one long trip. That way if my horse happens to pull a muscle or I get cold, we aren’t too far away.
To avoid any unforeseen riding hazards, I try to ride in an area that I am familiar with. Snow covering can hide holes that your horse can step in and injure himself. It is best to ride on paths that you know.
If you plan on riding often in the winter months you may consider horse shoes with pads and ice caulks. If you are an occasional winter rider you can help prevent snowballs from forming in your horse’s hooves by coating the sole of his hooves with petroleum jelly. Also it’s not a bad idea to take a hoof pick along and occasionally check your horse’s hooves for packed snow.
Slow and Steady
Because your horse has extra fur (and maybe some extra pounds), it’s best not to work him too hard and get him sweaty. A sweaty horse can cool too quickly and become cold. If it is necessary to work your horse up to a sweat, make sure to take the time to properly cool him down before turning him out.
Getting out for a winter ride can definitely help fight cabin fever. Just make sure to play it safe. Consider your horse’s health and safety when deciding when and where to ride.