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Don’t Abandon Your Horse This Winter!

28 Nov

Another subject I feel is very important is the winter months here in the northeast, or in fact ANYWEHRE with snow, is how to make the most out of the blustery, snowy months, when sometimes riding cannot be an option. Many riders without an indoor hang up the whole idea of riding and being around their horses for the winter, simply because theyre at a loss of what to do with their horse. This is upsetting to me. I have always encouraged my students to spend time with their horses, even if they may not be able to ride.

How much snow is too much snow for a ride? My answer depends on the consistency of the snow. Powdery snow can easily be ridden through even as high as your horse’s knees. As long as you are absolutely positive there is no ice under the snow. “Snowman snow” or the snow that binds together easily can pose a real problem for winter riding. Unless your horse is equipped with borium poppers all around, its almost guaranteed your horse will get snowballs built up in his feet, which can damage his tendons and cause slipping. One way around this with some horses is to apply vaseline to the soles of the hoof, which may prevent snow from balling up in the hoof. If you plan on testing a snow-covered arena with easily packing snow, be sure to bring a hoofpick in case the hooves do become filled with snow, and also put splint boots on your horse to prevent tendon injuries. One tip for making sticky snow into safer footing is to pack it before riding on it, for example, by driving a snowmobile over it. Crusty snow, or any footing that could be icy is too dangerous to chance riding on. The dangers of your horse slipping and falling on the ice and injuring himself or you is too risky. I discourage this even if your horse is wearing studded shoes, as the protection the studs offer varies with the angle at which your horse is stepping as well as the amount of downward force per hoof.

So…..What to do if you cannot ride? Devote your time with your horse to working on things that, during the show/busy season, you didnt quite have time to perfect. Does your horse stand quietly to be clipped? Does he pick up his feet respectfully when asked? Does he move his hind end over on the cross ties when asked? Is he sensitive to the touch in any areas that he needs to become desensitized to? Other ideas include massage, carrot stretches (for those who haven’t done these, I will post about it) or a good detailed grooming session. 

If you have limited outside space that is safe to work in but not quite large enough to ride in, why not practice some in-hand work, leg-yields from the ground, disengaging your horse’s hind end or his shoulder, and improving his overall sensitivity to ground cues? And if its possible, why not park your trailer in a safe place and practice safe loading and unloading?

For those who are burdened by the winter weather, I hope this helps give some ideas on how to continue spending quality time with your horse. Post below with any other suggestions or questions on the article and I will be happy to respond!