It comes every year and it is almost here again. Yes, I am talking about winter. In this part of the country many of us tend to put our horses away for the winter like we put away our summer clothing, but winter is a great time to ride and enjoy our horses just like any other season. In fact, it can be a lot of fun! It does take a little extra preparation and you need to think ahead when riding in the winter, so here are a few suggestions to help keep you safe:
- Before you head down the trail or the road make sure you check the weather report. In the Midwest, weather changes happen quickly and can become dangerous – putting you and your horse in a precarious position that could be life threatening.
- Go with another rider if you are going on an extended ride. Again, winter weather can change and terrain that was fine in the warmer months can be dangerous for riding in the winter months. Accidents can happen in any type of weather, but extra care is the name of the game when riding in the winter.
- Pack the right gear – when you are going on any type of ride there are items you need to put in your saddlebags. A cell phone is one of these items and you want to make sure you have good coverage and a charged battery. You can buy survival kits that are fairly compact and this would be a good addition to pack in your bag. A first aid kit is another item you should pack. Make sure you have enough liquid, as well as some sort of protein. Our horses’ bodies are not as forgiving in the winter, so don’t bite off more than you or your horse can chew. Time in the saddle in the summer is much different than time in the saddle in the winter. The cold will set in much quicker than you may expect. Again, use common sense!
- Footing for the horse is a big issue, in my opinion, for the health of the horse in the winter, it is best to keep the shoes off of the horse, but in doing that you cannot put any kind of corrective items on for riding. If you are planning on doing winter riding you may decide to keep shoes on so that you can put a pad under the shoe to keep snow from balling up and ice from building up. There are also shoes that allow you to add a traction device on the shoe, ice cogs or borium.
Around this area of the country a lot of riding is done on the road or by having to cross roads. Reflectors are really essential and you also want to be aware of the footing on the road. While riding in the winter – watch for ice, you can be really deceived by a snow covering and can think areas are fine when there is glare ice under the snow causing the horse to slip and go down. Injury to you and your horse is a much higher risk in the winter.
Again remember; don’t trust your terrain just because you ride there in the summer. Ice is a huge factor in the winter and I can assure you that there will be ice under snow-covered areas. So in essence, it is still rider beware when it’s from experience. It is very dangerous and the horse can end up with its back legs under the trailer when unloading. The same thing applies to loading; make sure the mats or floors are not slick. You should have a bag of kitty litter or a bucket of gravel with you to use in case you need it.
- Trailer brakes and hauling in the winter. Make sure your trailer brakes are properly adjusted for the road conditions; they will lock up much quicker on a slick surface, causing the trailer to start sliding.
- Mounting your horse. You may find limitations as to which side you can get on and off of while out riding, and horses will tend to be a little fresher in the winter, so make sure that you are capable, with the extra bulk of clothing, to mount and dismount from either side. Your horse also needs to be disciplined enough to stand still when mounting and stand for at least 30 seconds after you are mounted. Standing still is a lesson that can be taught easily in the barn and reinforced every time you ride, but teaching it now, when you are ready to go out and ride, is not the time.
This is all about safety and is something that should be taught and reinforced every time you ride, winter, spring, summer or fall. As I said earlier, your horse should also be taught to allow you to mount on either side. This goes back to everything I teach in desensitizing. Whatever we teach them on one side should also be taught on the other side.
It is also a good idea to teach your horse how to stand next to a log or a stump, while you mount. This comes in handy in the winter when you have all the bulk of winter clothing to deal with.
- I said this earlier but will say it again, when you are riding, even if it is not at night, wear reflective clothing.
- If you are road riding, think about plows and other road equipment you might meet up with. You cannot always count on a snowplow driver, or any other vehicle, to slow down. Just like mounting, this is not the best time to train your horse to get used to traffic. If your horse is not used to traffic and trained appropriately, quite frankly, you don’t belong on the horse on the road trying to deal with things like plows and tractors. Stay away from lakes and ponds also. Don’t go into unfamiliar terrain unless you go with someone who knows the terrain. It does not take long to get hypothermia should an accident happen.
- What to do if your horse is sweaty after a ride – the best thing to do is cool the horse out by walking them. Don’t throw a winter blanket on them and kick them out in the pasture. There are wicking blankets that you can cover the horse with and then take time to walk them out. The wicking blanket will help remove the moisture and facilitate drying. You don’t want to stick a sweaty horse in a trailer either, open or enclosed. So make sure your horse is properly cooled out. If you are hauling them when they are not completely dry make sure that there is sufficient ventilation. I don’t want there to be open drafts, but there should be air circulating.
- Blanketing the horse for winter. If you insist on blanketing the horse for winter it is best to let them grow a little hair before you start blanketing them. Horses are a hearty animal as long as they have a windbreak and a shelter. You can do more harm than good by blanketing them too early. If you do decide to blanket them make sure all the blanket buckles and ties are in good condition and that the blanket is the appropriate size for the horse.
- The barn – if your horse is kept in the barn make sure all their vaccinations are up to date because the air in the barn, when it is closed up, is ripe to pass viruses and flu bugs around.
Words of caution: think of the worst thing that could happen on a winter ride and then prepare for it.
Be a Responsible Rider ~ Take care and stay safe!
About Dennis Auslam: Dennis has been a trainer for over 30 years, working with many different breeds and disciplines. He grew up with horses and has worked with some of the best trainers in the industry. His passion is horses and people and he loves helping people learn how to work with their horses, progress in their riding abilities and make that connection with their horse. You will find Dennis at various horse related events in 2018. He also does numerous clinics and demos, both at his stable Redwood Stables in Morton, MN and at other venues. His main focus is on confidence building for the horse and the rider.
Do you have an idea for an article or have an equine related question for Dennis? If so, please email Addie O’Neil at firstname.lastname@example.org