Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Winter Riding

By Larissa Cox

The winter months should not mean that your horse lies dormant through the colder days.  This is a  time to have fun with your horse without all those biting flies, scorching sun and the unbearable summer heat.  So, put on those warm socks and gloves and go for a ride!

Avoid working on bare, frozen ground, inside or out, especially if your horse has thin soles. Bruising could result.

Consider how your current weather conditions may affect your horse and you should adapt your winter rides accordingly. If it is sunny and the air is still, your horse will warm up faster and could work up a sweat much faster and will require a longer cool down period.  If it is a cold and cloudy day, you may need to warm up longer and may be able to have a longer more intense workout with much less sweat resulting in a shorter cool down period.

Warming up those cold muscles prior to exercise if very important for getting the circulation going and loosening up still muscles and joints for both you and your horse. It is very important to include warm-ups as part of your riding program as this is critical for the prevention of injury throughout the year.   Warming up between 10 – 20 minutes is generally adequate, but you must consider the weather condition and your horse.  A horse that stands in a stall all day/night may require a longer warm up period to get them moving comfortably than one that is turned out during the winter months as he is already moving around a little and may not need as long a warm up period before getting down to business!

I generally start my warm up program with about 5 minutes of stretching at the walk followed by stretches and large circles at the trot for the next 5 – 10 or so minutes. I then slowly collect my gelding, Rio, and ask for smaller circles, lateral movements, counter flexion, halts, walk and trot transitions.  Cantering larger circles going into smaller 10 meter circles generally signifies the end of my warm up period.  At the canter I perform counter flexion and lots and lots of transitions between gaits and changing of speed within the canter.

Even during the winter months, I gear my riding towards keeping my horse in condition and use this time to refine his skills. For example, during the winter months I try and ride at least three days per week.  The other days I mix with hacking out and lunge work .  According to Kaneps, DVM, co-editor of Equine Sport Medicine & Surgery, cardiovascular fitness, regardless of the discipline you ride, requires at least 15 – 25 minutes of active exercise, five days a week in order to maintain baseline fitness.  “Although the basics of cardiovascular fitness are no different from one discipline to another, discipline-specific exercises are very important.  A dressage horse, for example, will need to do a lot more lateral work, leg yields, etc., than a trail horse.”

If you have the opportunity to ride on hills, I would highly recommend this form of riding. Walking hills really gets the horses to use their hind legs which seem to loose condition first.  Walking hills also allows your horse to work both sides evenly without causing excess sweating as when cantering hills.

Riding in light snow up to 2 feet in depth provides excellent resistance training.

Don’t forget to ease up on your training and indulge in some hacking if you are able. The change of scenery and breaks from obvious training is healthy for both you and your horse.  Hacks break up the boredom of ring work, keeps your horses mind fresh and can help with conditioning. Periods of trot during the hack can help with cardiovascular conditioning, so start out with 10-minute intervals of two or three times working up to a 20 minute period.  Caution, do not ride on frozen surfaces nor ride on snow-covered ground that could hide holes or other hazards!

Hand walking is a good way to cool down your horse.

After your winter workout, your horse needs a proper cool down period prior to returning to his stall or turn-out. The best way of cooling down your horse is by quiet walking either under saddle or in hand.  Plan on spending at least 15 – 25 minutes for the cool down process.  If your horse is clipped, he will dry faster than one with his natural winter coat, so judge accordingly.  A clipped horse will also become chilled, so you may want to consider covering his hindquarters with a sweat sheet or quarter sheet.  The key of this cool out is to give your horse time to stop breathing hard from exercise.  If he is flared at the nostrils, blowing hard or his veins are popped out, his heart is still working quite hard and he still requires a longer cool out period.

Clipped horses benefit from the extra warmth of a quarter sheet during warm-up or cool down.

Your horse’s skin should be dry before you end the cool down. A wet horse should not be put back into his blanket as the trapped moisture will give him a chill during the cold weather.  For those horses that are still damp, you will need to continue walking them out, or put a fleece cool down blanket on him until he is quite dry, then switch over to his regular blanket.  I use a polar fleece type of sheet on Rio which allows the moisture to wick through.

If you find the lengthy cool downs are really inconvenient, shorten the intensity or length of the sweat causing exercises.  Winter riding can be fun and shouldn’t be a time of hibernation for both you and your horse!

Happy Winter Riding – Larissa  🙂



  Haynet wrote @

Great blog/web page!! Why not come and post it on hay-net.co.uk the UK’s No1 Equine Social Blogging Network for more to follow.

  Jordan Vosakalo wrote @

Thanks again for the competition and for you great blog I always look forward to your new posts Laura.

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