Suggestions for Wintertime Riding and Horse Care

Tolland Falls Equestrian Center Guest Author: Cynda Dyer

I have had some good questions about horse care, riding in the cold, how to warm up and cool off for workouts and how to prepare your horse for winter stabling.  Here are some answers to your questions and some things to keep in mind when working with horses in the cold winter months.

Many horses do not like to drink very cold water. Because water intake is just as important to a horse in freezing weather as it is in hot weather water should be maintained at a cool and appealing temperature – but above freezing to enable and encourage your horses to drink.  Even if there is automatic waterer in your horse’s stall it can still freeze, clog or have trouble working correctly.  If your horse only has access to water via a bucket double check to make sure it is filled and not frozen.  Make a habit of checking all water systems in stalls to make sure there is access to water and that the water is clean.

In addition to checking your horse’s water supply, always check if to see if your horse is eating hay and grain, listen for gut sounds while you are grooming and pay attention to any sign of distress. You know your horse the best over any barn owner, worker and teammate so always be watching for any abnormal signs.  This is a prime time of the year for wide fluctuations in temperature and barometric pressure and so colic is always a concern.   If you bring your horse in from turn-out or from a cold stall, bring your horse into a warm barn or space to drink water, let them go to the bathroom and start to warm-up and adjust to the warmer temperature before riding.  Both the horse’s lungs and muscles need time to warm up so that they are not straining to breathe.  Workouts in very cold weather should be as physically un-stressful as possible.

When it is really cold I make sure and give the horses a little more time warming up after getting on their backs and take more time cooling them off when I’m finished. It really helps if your horse has some type of body clip so that they don’t sweat and become chilled.  A fleece cooler for pre and post workouts will help him warm up and cool down more comfortably.

Horses are also pretty hearty.  Just because you feel the cold does not mean that the cold temperature feels the same to a horse.  Remember that a horse’s normal body temperature runs almost three to four degrees warmer than a human and they have a natural fur coat.

The horses will especially need you to work them if they don’t get a chance to go in turnout because it is too cold or if the footing is not safe.  So riders – dig in and dress warm.  Dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature.  Just as you want to prevent your horse from becoming chilled from perspiration, prevent this in yourself too. Layering allows you to add or remove clothing easily as your body temperature changes. It also works because you build pockets of warm air within the garments for insulation. Choose fabrics to wear next to your skin that are designed to wick away perspiration so that you don’t feel damp, which makes you colder.  Avoid wearing tightly fitting clothing and footwear. Wherever your body comes in contact with the surface of a garment or boot, you transfer your body heat to the item – in other words, you lose heat. On top, consider wearing a high-necked shirt such as a fleece turtleneck. Fleece is an exceptionally warm layer that allows perspiration to move away from your skin. Vests are wise layering choices as they keep your torso warm and fit well under outer layers.

The benefits of fleece can also be found inside winter breeches. Some brands like Riding Sport Powerstretch Tights as well as fleece lined breeches from Kerrits and Tuff Rider. Insulated riding pants such as the Riding Sport Full-Seat Thermo Riding Pant and the Mountain Horse Forest Rider Pants are more options for keeping your legs warm while riding. I either wear a base layer under normal breeches or I have a pair of insulated Romph breaches that keep me pretty warm. When you’re thinking in terms of outer layers, there are many options to consider in jackets and parkas designed specifically for equestrians. Not only are these garments moisture-resistant and insulated, they’re cut to help you ride comfortably, they won’t hinder your position in the saddle.

Insulated winter riding boots are intended to create space for warm air to circulate inside the boot. If your toes touch the end of a boot, your foot will feel colder, so be sure that you select your perfect fit. You’ll find tall winter riding boots and winter paddock boots help insulate and protect you on or off the horse. Most tack stores offer this kind of gear. Some people wear winter snow boots especially if you have to hike out in pasture and get your horse and then you can change into a riding boots once you are ready to get on.

Wear gloves! It is your fingers and toes that get the coldest. This may sound weird and personal but go to the bathroom, don’t hold it because your body parts will be colder when you do hold it. Bring water and put it in your water bottle either at room temperature or slightly warm. Bring snacks and keep yourself hydrated even when it’s cold.    Check weather reports and find out the wind chill factor. The wind chill factor is a combination of temperature and wind speed. It makes your body lose heat faster and makes you feel colder than the actual temperature reading on your thermometer would lead you to believe. For example, if it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit with no wind chill factor, you may actually feel warm when standing in the sun. But 32 degrees Fahrenheit with a negative 10 degree wind chill factor will leave you feeling miserably cold, and you’re more susceptible to frostbite.

About Cynda:

Cynda Dyer is the owner and head trainer of Champions Equestrian, Inc.  She currently trains most of her students at Tolland Falls Equestrian Center, located in Sedalia, CO. 

Cynda’s expertise is the starting and training of young horses and young riders.  She is an all-around horse trainer with experience in Dressage, Hunters, Jumpers and Western competition on the National level.  Cynda is also an advocate of the Natural Horsemanship training methods.  Cynda strives to be a role model for her students and runs the Champions’ program with the utmost ethical standards and integrity.

Cynda grew up in Arkansas and competed Quarter Horses nationally.   She won three World Championship Titles in Trail, Hunt Seat Equitation and Western Riding; she also was Reserve World Champion in Reining.   After moving to Colorado, she competed in Dressage and the Hunter/Jumper Divisions (both the CHJA and “A” shows). 

Cynda can be reached at (303) 210-2433 or her email address is:  pastrswiff@gmail.com.

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