Although it's been record-breakingly warm here at Valley View this year, there is still a lot to consider when riding in the winter to keep yourself and your horse safe, happy, and healthy.
- Warm up your horse properly before working. Warmups should be used to supple and stretch your horse's muscles and tendons to prevent injury, as well as develop rhythm, relaxation, and obedience so that your horse can be mentally ready for the ride. Warm up progressively, starting with walking, trotting, and easy, simple exercises before moving on to transitions, small circles, etc. Keep in mind that horses don't warm up as easily and quickly in the winter, so take some extra time to make sure your horse is effectively warmed up.
- Don't forget to warm yourself up too! Stretching before the ride and doing some rider exercises while mounted will help your body warm up for riding in the cold weather, which helps you ride better and can help prevent injuries in your own body.
- Cool out your horse completely after the ride. If your horse gets very sweaty and isn't cooled out, he could get chilled and sick. Make sure your horse is completely dry before putting him away. You can use a cooler blanket, hand walking, currying, and/or towel drying to help get rid of moisture.
- Be aware of footing in the winter. Even if the footing is completely dry, the ground could be frozen, which is unsafe for several reasons. Frozen ground causes more concussion on the horse's legs which can lead to injury. It can also cause your horse to trip or stumble. Make sure the footing is clean, dry, and soft before riding.
- Keep your horse's condition in mind. If your horse has had some time off this winter, be sure to condition him gradually and not ask too much right away. Your horse will not only need to strengthen his cardiovascular and respiratory system, but will need to make up for any muscle loss that may have occurred. Consulting with a trainer to write a simple conditioning plan for your horse for winter is a great way to make sure you are providing the right exercises to help him get in shape without overdoing it. Avoid excessive jumping, cantering and galloping until your horse is physically ready.