Just because the weather is turning colder doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy a crisp, winter ride. In fact, traversing a freshly powdered trail with the snow sparkling around you can be quite fun. Imagine your horse leaving silent tracks behind you as you and your four-legged pal experience the beauty and peacefulness of a winter ride.
However, there are certain things you can do to best prepare for a romp through the snow which will keep you and your horse comfortable and safe.
Wet winter riding
When you’re preparing for your winter ride just be aware that it is quite different than riding in the warm, summer months. You’ll need to be ready to go a little slower based on trail conditions. Taking some time to plan our your ride will help to make sure that you avoid any potential accidents and truly enjoy yourself.
Check your trail
Horses can walk just fine through the snow, but ice can present a problem. Be sure to evaluate snow and trail conditions before tackling a long ride. Avoid riding in truly icy conditions and check underneath new powder for hidden sheets of ice. It is also wise to only ride in areas you are familiar with so that you can be certain there aren’t hazards hiding below the surface of the snow.
Slower activity levels will help to keep your horse from working up too much of a sweat too because sweating in the cold can be harmful to horses just as it is to humans. This is especially true because horses can take a lot longer to cool down as their thick winter coats will likely stay wet with sweat far longer. (Be sure to check for sweat under any saddle blankets they are wearing).
Take time to cool down
You’ll need to plan to take some extra care with your horse after your ride. Cold weather can be detrimental to a wet horse. Remember not to put a sweating horse out in the cold and wind. As you take time to check your horse’s feet for any accumulated ice or snow build up, you’ll be giving him extra time to try off. Choose wicking blankets which will draw moisture away from your horses coat, and then change to a fresh blanket before leaving him. Your horse should not be turned out to pasture until he is dry all the way to the skin.
Leather care tips for colder months
All of your riding equipment can suffer in the cold. If you can’t store your tack in a temperature controlled environment, it is likely warming and cooling over and over again throughout the winter. Add in moisture accumulated during a winter ride and you could have a recipe for cracked, and even molding leather.
Use a soft cloth to remove any moisture from the surface of tack when you come in from a winter ride. Being proactive and cleaning your tack immediately after returning from a ride is the best defense against winter weather. Cleaning and conditioning all of your leather tack weekly is also essential to winter care. Using a product this has a neutral pH and is specifically designed for use on saddlery. Look for a conditioner containing a natural oil too.
Must have items for winter rides
Wicking Layers for you and your horse
The key to horseback riding in the winter is dressing in layers. Your bottom layer should be made of breathable and moisture wicking fabric (not cotton). Additional layers can be flannel or fleece, designed to provide warmth. Making sure that your top layer, is a waterproof winter coat. You can add layers depending on the temperature.
Do not wear snow pants, or other slippery waterproof pants because they may make it more difficult to stay in a wet saddle. There are winter riding breeches specifically designed to help you stay warm and are also waterproof. If it is going to be a sunny day, simple lined jeans may be a warm and valid option.
Winter riding boots are a must have essential. They should be both tall and waterproof, but not bulky. Adding wool socks will help to keep the chill away from your toes.
If your horse tends to build up snowballs in his feet, a layer of petroleum jelly on his feet will help to avoid this problem. This will also help keep down any ice build up.
A warm bit
Keeping bridles in the house or warming the bit with a warm gel pack before placing it into your horses mouth will make him more likely to want to take the bit, and more comfortable in general. (Test to make sure it’s not too hot before placing it in your horse’s mouth too!) If you don’t have the ability to store it in a warm place, and don’t have gel packs you can warm it in your hands first.
Sunscreen and water
Just because it’s chilly doesn’t mean you don’t need to prepare for some of the same things you would on a summer ride. Sun will reflect and intensify off the snow and you will dehydrate the same way you do in warmer weather. Horseback riding is an intense exercise, don’t forget to drink water and protect your skin just because it’s cold out.
A sturdy crop
Snow can be distracting to some horses, so a riding crop with a secure handle will be useful in directing your companion. You will be able to instruct them more readily if you have this tool to help you, even if they would prefer to play in the snowbank.
The cold weather and snow may certainly provide some unique challenges for horses and their owners but they shouldn’t keep you from enjoying time out on the trails. Following these suggestions will help to make sure your ride as is safe as possible, despite any complications Old Man Winter may throw your way.