As the winter months grow colder in some parts of the globe, you may be wondering how to ensure that your horse maintains proper exercise. Colder temperatures and snow or rainy conditions, coupled with icy footing, may make it difficult or dangerous to exercise your horses during the winter. Still, with a few helpful tips in mind, you can make sure your horse is getting the right exercise safely. Keep the following in mind to exercise safely and keep your horse healthy.
Before getting started, determine your horse’s condition. If the temperature is too cold, riding in these temperatures can cause stress and damage to your horse’s lungs. When your horse is working too hard in the cold air, it will breathe heavily, which can cause irritated or inflamed lungs, which we want to avoid. Consider your horse’s fitness level, age, and any pre-existing health conditions before taking them out in frigid air to prevent any damage to respiratory tracts.
Consider the weather and surrounding surfaces as well. We know that maintaining exercise through the winter is essential for you and your horse. However, if weather conditions are particularly rainy, icy, snowy, or a high wind chill, consider skipping that day or doing short and easy exercises instead. Even if the sun is out and it seems like a great day to ride, be sure to check that the footing is not slippery outdoors or indoors, as it could be dangerous and tricky to spot. Icy footing could be hidden under snow and is also easy to miss on slick indoor tracks, so be sure to check those before riding. If you are unsure of icy patches, then ride at slower speeds. Also, be sure to discuss winter shoeing with your farrier, as ice can damage or bruise your horse’s feet.
You can also help your horse get comfortable with warmups. Allow your horse to warm up slowly and get acclimated. Keep your horse’s blanket or cooler on it over your tack as you walk it but do not let your horse get sweaty under the blanket. You can tack up with a blanket or cooler on and walk with one if you wish. You can get exercise sheets which you can ride in or put them on the walker or lunge in as well.
Have your horse do about 10-15 minutes of slow walking and stretching to allow its muscles to warm up. Consider some easy training exercises as well. Some trainers recommend warming up your horse’s neck and chest by doing carrot stretches. While using carrots as a lure, have the horse make three different motions, including rounding (flexion), hollowing (extension), and side to side (lateral) bending. Choose smaller, daily workouts such as 20-minute sessions of lunging, riding at the walk, hand walking, and turnout in a paddock.
The cool-down period for your horse is just as crucial as the warmup. Focus on 10-15 minutes of stretches that will gradually lower the heart rate and breathing. These should be easy, light stretches. If your horse is sweaty, consider hand walking and use a fleece blanket to maintain warmth. Provide some clean water for your horses to drink as well.
There are several ways to ensure that your horse is safe and healthy in the winter. Provide a proper warmup and cool-down when exercising in the winter months. Pay close attention to footing, as well as your horse’s shoeing needs. Ensure your horse does not get sweaty, and if the conditions are too harsh, be cautious and do not force it. Always keep in mind the extreme conditions of the day and how your horse is feeling. If the conditions seem too harsh for you, it will be for your horse as well. Managing these details will help you and your horse have an enjoyable, injury-free winter season.