Riding horses in the winter months
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Riding horses in the winter months

Now that the clocks have gone back, all equestrians are facing the battle of short daylight hours and usually inclement weather to go with it. With so many chores that need doing around the yard at any time of year, it often proves difficult to fit in time to actually ride. So if you are working or have other commitments, how is it possible to keep your horse in work throughout the winter, here are some top tips:-

  • If you keep your horse on a livery yard that has a riding school attached, you could opt to put your horse on working livery over the winter months, this will keep him in regular work and will cut your livery bills as well for the duration
  • Team up with a friend on your yard and share the chores between you, this is better use of time and should create some much needed space to ride
  • During the winter months, plan your riding around the five day forecast, particularly if your horse is sharp or sensitive – there is no point trying to school in a blizzard! Pick the best weather days to ride and the worst days to get other chores done then you are less likely to be defeated by adverse weather
  • Review your yard routines to ensure that you are as efficient as possible in all the main tasks and not wasting time
  • Find a sharer who has time available when you do not so if you work full time, perhaps a mother who has time on her hands during the day or a student home for the holidays – most people are only too happy to do a few chores in exchange for having a horse to ride
  • Lunge your horse and if you don’t know how to then learn. A twenty minute lunge session with a competent handler or groom is equivalent to forty minutes under saddle and should certainly form part of your exercise routine whatever the season, but is especially helpful in the winter months when time is short

Handy hints around the yard during the winter

  • Putting a tennis ball in a water bucket or water trough can help prevent the contents freezing completely – it allows enough movement within the water to ensure that even if it does freeze, the layer of ice is sufficiently thin for the horse to push his nose through
  • Icy surfaces on the yard can be treated with rock salt or you can use mucked out bedding to form a pathway – the heat from the manure ensures that the material will not completely freeze and it provides a secure footing for both horse and handler in a very cold snap
  • During the summer months, gateways will benefit from treatment with hardcore or rubble which can be packed down to help provide a secure and less muddy footing during the winter
  • Keep a small winter trash paddock for days when turnout is otherwise impossible, this allows each horse sometime outside and protects your main winter grazing from severe damage from poaching when conditions are really bad
  • Make sure that all your rugs are washed, repaired and re-proofed during the summer months
  • Ensure you have adequate hanging space for wet rugs and that the room is heated otherwise they will never dry
  • All yard and stable areas should have sufficient lighting
  • Hoses left outside overnight will freeze up so if you need to use a long hose to run water, buy one on a roll and at the end of each day, roll it up and leave it next to a heater in the tack room, this will ensure that the residue of water inside it will not freeze up and it is usable the next day
  • Piped water to field troughs may freeze in very cold conditions causing the pipes to burst which will waterlog the grazing and leave you with a large bill. Make sure the stopcock is working and easy to use and disconnect piped water supplies when the temperatures are forecast to be freezing or below

Adverse weather conditions

Horses that are stabled ideally need to either be turned out in the field or ridden every day – it is no coincidence that the majority of colic incidences occur in stable kept horses as gut motility is linked to the horse’s mobility.

If the weather is too difficult to permit turnout or ridden exercise then the first thing you will need to do is cut your horse’s hard feed ration to reflect this. Having a tiny paddock or sand pen to turn out in can prove a godsend in these circumstances, or walk the horse in hand if the footing is safe enough.

A large strawed barn can provide a good turnout pen and some horses actually winter better like this than in stables – it is a good compromise for horses that cannot live out in the winter months but perhaps need to be kept moving such as elderly animals with arthritis. The base is deep littered and skipped out daily with fresh bedding added as required and then the entire contents are removed with a tractor during the following spring.

For You

There are some essential pieces of equipment which you really should not be without and these are:-

  • A selection of warm hats – the majority of our body heat is lost through the top of our heads
  • Warm and waterproof gloves of different types depending on the task at hand
  • Thermal socks
  • Insulated non slip yard boots
  • A hand held torch and a head torch
  • Light waterproof coat and pull on trousers which can be quickly added over the top of warm and less water resistant clothing

Many of these items make fabulous Christmas presents and stocking fillers so get writing your list straightaway!

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