Winter is an excellent time to go horseback riding. Nothing compares to a long, leisurely trail ride in cool temperatures when your horse is fresh. Winter is the perfect time to relax and let up on serious training. Winter riding is healthy for both horse and rider.
The best riding conditions in winter is a light covering of snow, so long as there is no ice beneath it. Snow, even deep snow, provides an excellent cardiovascular and leg work out for your horse. It is not necessary for your horse to gallop in order to accomplish a good work out. Instead, the task of pulling his hooves from the snow provides the horse with an adequate work out at merely a trot. A leisurely walk over long reins might be adequate to provide a refreshing scenery change and renewed out look on daily work for you and your steed.
While riding in winter, be certain of what is beneath the snow. It is a good idea to ride only across trails and terrain that you have come to know in warmer weather, so you know the land and are not likely to risk your horse stepping on something that might harm him.
If you are not inside an arena with proper footing, you should not jump your horse outside during winter. The jolt from the landing could hurt your horse’s legs, even if there is soft snow covering the ground. Also, should the snow be slippery and wet, your horse may skid or stumble upon landing, even if outfitted with borium shoes.
After riding in cold weather, cool your horse properly, even if you only had him walking. In the case that your horse is neither blanketed or clipped and has grown winter fur, a longer cooling period will be necessary. Regardless whether he is regularly blanketed, allow your horse to spend a half hour under cooler cover eating hay before returning him to his stall.
Of course you must take proper care of yourself as well as your horse in order to enjoy winter horseback riding. Mostly, this means dressing in a way to stay warm while you ride. Here are a few tips for dressing effectively for winter riding.
Choose the right fabrics. Silk is a good choice as it absorbs a lot of sweat without feeling wet. It is good for under layers because it is thin, but warm. Polyester is also a good choice here. Down is light and resilient and gives good insulation. Gore-Tex is great for an outer layer as it is wind and waterproof as well as breathable.
Allow for release of sweat. Wear necklines containing buttons or zippers. Choose material that move wetness away from you. The key to staying warm, is staying dry.
Dress in layers. This traps air keeping body heat in and cold out. You should have an under layer for sweat, a second layer for insulation and an outer layer to keep out wind and precipitation.
Dress suitably for your level of activity; passive, active or extremely active. Leisurely trail riding is passive, therefor your toes and fingers might get cold. A cross country gallop is extremely active and seldom results in the rider becoming cold. Increase your level of activity if you become cold, for instance, go from a jog to a trot, or get off your horse and walk him for a while. If you become to warm, decrease your level of activity or take off a layer of clothing.
Do not wear tight clothes. Wearing tight clothes slows blood circulation, reducing body heat. Instead dress in loose clothes. This will trap in air, that will serve as insulation. Also, when in full gallop in heavy snow fallen areas, make sure to have some type of ski goggles or other type of eye protection.
With the proper preparation and care for both horse and rider, winter riding can be rewarding and exciting experience for all. It is a healthy and invigorating way to spend the winter months.