With Maryland temperatures reaching record lows and more snow days than we've seen in many years past, finding the motivation to leave your warm house to go out and work your horse can be hard to find. I will admit, on the frigid Polar Vortex days, I went to the barn only to check if Picasso (Pig/ Pigpig) was warm enough in his blanket, and after ensuring a toasty pony, I promptly fed him a treat and hightailed it back to my still warm car to escape the blistering cold. This time of year should be spent keeping your horse fit and active, but with this cold snap, I thought to myself "What is worse, not riding Pig or riding him when it's super cold?" So I decided to look up the facts and get some tips on how to ensure that I was doing all could to keep Picasso comfortable and working even in the extreme temperatures.
Horses Are Tougher Than You Think
Horses can naturally grow a coat sufficient in keeping them warm through the winter months, but as always there are exceptions. To find the correct blanketing instructions takes a lot of trial and error, but remember it's better to under-blanket than to over-blanket your horse. Most owners want to bundle up their horses in layer upon layer of blankets when the temperature starts to dip down to the single digits, but this can cause the horse to overheat and start to sweat. Also, all the extra weight from multiple blankets can add tension and stiffness to your horse's neck and shoulders. Rather, by only putting the horse's heaviest blanket on and leaving it with plenty of hay to munch on in the night, your horse will be far more comfortable. If your horse isn't getting his regular turnout time due to the weather, shake hay flakes and sprinkle them around your horse's stall, by doing this you are simulating your horses natural need to graze, but without the pasture! Sure, it makes a mess in the stall, but because the hay is scattered about the horse is more likely to "browse" around the stall. When hay is just left in flakes in the corner, a horse will stand there all day until it is gone, this sedentary position will cause your horse's tendons to tighten and temporarily lose their elasticity, which only furthers the stiffness problem. So remember, horses are tougher than you think: they don't need to wear as many layers as their owners and try to simulate their natural habits as best you can for a happy horse.
To Ride or Not To Ride, That Is The Question
As previously stated, keeping your horse moving is the goal. Depending on your discipline and goals for the warm season really justifies your need to ride your horse. Also the ring situation at your farm impacts your ability to ride. Those lucky individuals with indoors definitely have more opportunities to ride than those who don't, but riding isn't the only way you can work your horse! At my farm we do have a sand indoor, but I don't ride if the temperature is below 20 degrees, just as a personal preference, because most often the footing in our indoor is frozen in some places and I feel that is unnecessary wear on the horse's tendons and joints. Obviously, if your indoor has a higher quality footing it won't freeze as easily, but use your judgement as to the status of the ground, you wouldn't want to run on something as hard as concrete in your bare feet, right? On days that it's just too cold to ride Picasso, I like to do some sort of groundwork with him, whether a super deep grooming or natural horsemanship type stuff or even learning new tricks! Thanks to snow days, Picasso can bow and give Eskimo kisses! doing groundwork with your horse is a great way to bond with and further develop the understanding between you and your horse. Plus the horses love it, because it not only really stimulates their brain, but there are lots of treats involved. So if it's too cold to ride, just go play with your horse and take the time to truly appreciate how much they will love you for it. I know what I'll be doing at the barn tonight!
Happy Winter Riding,
Courtney and Pigpig
Courtney has been an Anytime Tack Sales Associate since 2009, and is the Demo Ride Program Coordinator. When she's not at the tack shop she enjoys teaching lessons and training horses at her barn.