Fall marks the beginning of the cold-weather riding season, and riding during this time often means riding in snow. Riding year-round is important, because it keeps your horse in good physical condition. The ideal solution for riding year-round is a covered riding arena, as these can be temperature controlled and will keep snow and ice out. At ClearSpan, we specialize in indoor riding arenas, and would be more than happy to design and outfit a building specifically for you and your needs. However, if an indoor riding area is out of the question, outdoor riding during the winter months is a perfectly acceptable practice. Riding outdoors however, means that you must provide special care before and after riding, and if you follow the tips below, you’ll have a successful cold-weather riding season.
Prepare your barn
Of course, whenever cooler temperatures arrive, the main focus is to prepare your horse’s housing. Preparing your barn is the highest priority on your winter checklist, because this is where your horse will be spending the majority of its time. When preparing your barn, be sure that there are no drafts, as this can create a chilled living environment for your horse. Also be sure to change bedding and keep it as fresh as possible throughout the winter. Fresh bedding is important during the winter months, because the barn is so tightly closed up that it receives less fresh air and ventilation than usual. Dirty bedding can lead to polluted air, and remaining in an area with poor air quality can create respiratory issues in your horse.
It is recommended that you also remove anything that may be tempting for the horse to play with that could ultimately cause it harm. Horses tend to become curious and fidgety when bored, so as a precaution, you should remove or adjust items such as low-hanging lights and protruding nails, as these can be dangerous objects of interest for a boarded horse. You should also ensure that no toxic chemicals are left in plain view or within reach of your horse. Purchasing a simple storage drawer to put in the barn is an excellent way to keep these items handy, while also keeping them away from your horse.
If you do not have access to an indoor riding arena, you are still able to ride throughout the winter, but special caution must be taken before and after riding. For total riding time, you should aim for a minimum of four to six hours per week, as this is enough to keep the horse in good riding condition. Riding can be done any time of day, but be sure to avoid riding during blizzards, rain or heavy winds, as these could create hazardous conditions for both you and your horse.
When preparing your horse for outdoor winter riding, there are several tips that you should follow in order to assure that both you and your horse are safe. Before you tack up your horse, walk the area that you plan to ride. This will reveal any icy locations or any areas of deep mud that are only slightly frozen over. Encountering any of these areas on your walk means that you can now make plans to avoid them during your ride.
After your riding area is mapped out, bring your horse to a dry, warm area of the barn and begin your usual tack up. Be sure to always warm your horse’s bit when the weather is cold. Either run it under hot water, apply a non-toxic hand warming gel to it or heat it with a hair dryer before giving the bit to your horse. If none of these options are available to you, put the bit in a pocket close to your skin or breathe on it to warm it up. It is also recommended that for winter riding, you apply a layer of non-stick cooking spray or a layer of petroleum jelly to your horse’s hooves. This will keep chunks of ice and snow from building up.
After your ride is complete, the most important part of winter riding has begun. During your riding session, your horse’s body temperature will naturally rise. With your horse being hot and the temperature being cold, this is a very dangerous time if your horse does not properly cool down. One way to tell if your horse needs more time to cool down is by feeling its ears. Hot ears indicate that the horse’s body temperature is high, while cool or room temperature ears indicate that the horse has properly adjusted to the cold temperature. If you check your horse’s ears and they feel hot to the touch, walk them lightly around the barn or riding area while regularly checking their ears. Once their ears feel cool, they are ready to go back to the barn.
Before entering the barn, brush off any remaining snow on the legs or belly of your horse. This helps them warm up and dry off faster, and by doing this outside, you prevent water collecting in your barn that could turn into ice. Once in the barn, remove your riding gear and dry your horse. Any snow, rain or sweat that may be on your horse should be dried immediately, as any water left behind makes the horse much more vulnerable to catching a chill from the cold temperatures. When drying your horse, roughing up the hairs is recommended as it provides airflow, which helps any wet areas dry quickly. You will also want to clean your horse’s hooves and add a second layer of non-stick cooking spray or petroleum jelly. Finally, be sure to brush your horse in order to separate the hairs. This helps trap body heat and naturally keeps your horse warmer. If you regularly put a blanket on your horse, reapply the blanket and regularly check your blanket for any holes or tears that need repairing.
Riding your horse outdoors during the winter months means that you will need to put extra time into your riding schedule, but following the proper steps before and after will keep your horse happy and healthy. If you’re looking to ride year-round without worrying about freezing temperatures or snow cover, give us a call at 1.866.643.1010 to discuss how we can build you the riding arena of your dreams.