In New England, where I grew up, it could get so cold the footing would freeze solid and the vets would warn us of lung damage from breathing too deeply in sub zero weather. I had to learn a thing or two about riding effectively in cold weather. The following are a couple tips, from tacking up and riding to cooling off, that will help keep your horse more comfortable this winter.
- I leave the blanket on as long as possible – I groom the face, legs, mane and tail and even put boots or wraps on before taking the blanket off. The moment I take the blanket off I put on a cooler or quarter sheet and will fold it back and forth while I groom the body.
- If you know your horse has a sensitive back – get an electric blanket (they sell ones with batteries – no cord!) or a heating pad to really ensure that the back does not get cold or tight before you get on.
- For riding I like the quarter sheets that have a hole cut out for the saddle and Velcro for the front closure. You can put on the cooler under your saddle flaps, but still take off the quarter sheet during your ride.
- Start your ride with at least 10 minutes of brisk walk to really get the blood flowing. During these 10 minutes you could add lateral work for additional stretching and warming of muscles and ligaments.
- Exercises for warm up in cold weather could include: brisk trotting, trot canter transitions, serpentines full arena, spiraling in and spiraling out on circles, and shallow loop serpentines (two or three) on a long side. I also love doing posting trot to sitting trot transitions (meaning post 6 strides, sit 6 strides then repeat) during all these exercises because I usually need some warm up too!
- Depending on the temperature I make sure I take off the quarter sheet after my initial walk, trot and canter for the warm up. Usually after about 20 min. I try and watch carefully so my horse doesn’t get to hot and sweat more than necessary.
- I try to limit long talk breaks when it is really cold and keep my work focused and moving forward.
- For cooling down I put the quarter sheet back on while I walk out and immediately put a cooler on the moment I take off the saddle.
Liz Hendrix is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist and USDF certified trainer through 4th level. She trains horses and students at Greenville Equestrian center in Livermore. She is looking forward to the release of her new book Angel and Evie: Catching a Unicorn on November 15th that she wrote and illustrated. Please check it out at AngelAndEvie.com.