The light dissipates at such a rate in the winter that riding out becomes quite a challenge. The weather also plays a huge factor in whether you can venture out at all with your horse. The most important part of riding out is safety and if you can tackle it safely there is little reason why you can’t include at least some hacking into your riding schedule over the winter months.
The first thing to consider is the equipment you are using during riding and whether it is suitable. Even during a winters day the light can be dull. Any change in light can make horse riders hard to see. Be Safe and be seen first and foremost. Fluorescent and bright colours matched with reflective safety wear for you and your horse will sure make you seen in the dark depths of a winter’s day by cars and other vehicles. Consider your position on the road whilst riding. For example don’t tuck yourself into the road bends make yourself visible to oncoming traffic whilst holding your position on the road. After selecting the right colour and type of equipment consider the temperature. Wear gloves to keep your hands warm and functioning as well as warm socks. Make sure coats are zipped so as not to flap and then present a safety issue. Of course making sure your warm is important but also your four legged friend doesn’t want to be cold either. A clipped out horse can get cold easily and a cold horse can get fidgety and agitated which can result in him prancing which could cause you to lose control, balance or end up in the road with cars! Use an exercise sheet on your horse’s quarters if safe to do so. If your horse isn’t keen on the use of an exercise sheet you need to ensure your horse is kept warm. Make sure your horse is marching forward to keep the blood flowing and trot regular if safe to do so. If you are unable to include trot work consider a shorter ride so as not to allow the horse time to get cold.
Planning your ride is vital particularly over the winter months. You need to consider the amount to daylight you have. Light is lost faster in the winter months and horses can become on edge because of this as well as making it difficult to be seen by motorists. Often drivers don’t expect to see horses when it is becoming dusk so consider this when planning your ride. As the light drops often the temperature drops too and at quite a fast rate. Consider road conditions and ground suitability before choosing when and where to ride. Early mornings and evenings can pose ice risks particularly black ice which can be extremely dangerous for horse and rider. Check the weather forecast and check for freezing temperatures ride after ice has melted and make sure you are back before it freezes again. Some days in winter this only allows a small window and you need to be prepared it’s always safer to cut a ride short and stay safe than risk the well being of yourself and your animal. Make sure someone knows where you are going and how long you expect to be. Try to schedule rides with other people so as not to be alone. If you must ride alone make sure you have a fully charged phone and try and keep rides to areas that allow for signal or are more public to prevent serious accident or injury. If you don’t have a horse riding friend to buddy up with consider having someone walk with you on foot.
Deeper puddles can sometimes hide frozen water so take care and avoid where possible. If the ground is frozen consider the impact on your horse’s legs and feet. If in doubt avoid riding out.Snow can look beautiful whilst riding out but it is important to note that it can hide dangers beneath it. Avoid riding over surfaces that could conceal danger below such as rabbit holes or logs and of course ice. Stick to paths and walkways which have been cleared you don’t want to risk injury to yourself or your horse.Ice isn’t the only risk to horse riders over the winter months sometimes we have no option but to tackle muddy grass verges and wet fields during our rides. Mud and wet conditions pose their own burdens as they can cause cracked heels and sore feet on our horses. Prevention is better than the cure so a great tip is covering the heels with Vaseline to prevent the mud and wet soaking into the foot. Avoid hoof oils and use hoof grease where you can to protect the hooves. When you return from the ride hose off any mud and towel dry the feet. If you have no choice but to ride in excessive mud then speak to your blacksmith about using studs on your horse. The blacksmith can add stud holes to your horses shoes which studs can be screwed into which can stop your horse slipping in heavy mud. Speak to someone experienced if you have no experience of using studs as it can be quite tricky.
If your horse wears over reach or brushing/ tendon type boots the mud can get between these and the horses legs which can cause irritation. Wash boots and tack regular to prevent this and prolong their life. If you have ridden out in the rain and your saddle and bridle have got quite wet it’s important to protect the leather with a leather oil to prevent it from drying out. Make sure all mud is removed from any tack after a ride as this also has a damaging effect to leather. The most important thing to remember if you plan to ride out over winter is safety. Remember to do your best to be seen by cars and other vehicles and you make sure that someone knows where you are. Keep an eye on the weather and never put yourself or your horse in danger.