4 Ways to make the most of winter
by Cheryl Debie | 14-1-2017
We all know the difficulties that winter brings to our time with our horses… shorter days, dark evenings, cold and unpleasant weather and festive distractions to name a few. We look at 4 ideas that may just help you and your horse enjoy a merry Christmas and a rewarding New Year!
1. Keep Warm….
Cold muscles injure more easily and this also applies to your horse.
When you ride or do ground work with your horse it is more important than ever to have an effective and thorough warm up process in place. Tendons work well when cold, however, muscles do not.
The phrase cold backed is often used and indeed there are situations where the horse can react to muscle ache for example by being less forward, rushing, bucking.
Regardless of whether your horse sports a thick fur coat or is well rugged, any exercise should be commenced gently. Walking is the most effective way of warming up the muscles. I have heard people say a light “jog” or “trot” is an effective warm up however this is not entirely true. Trotting often allows the rider to warm up more because they move more than at the walk, but the horse loads their body weight on only two feet at a time in the trot which can be a strain on a muscle that has become tight with cold.
By walking, the horse always has three feet on the ground and actually engages more muscles better for your warm-up.
2. …but not too Hot
The benefit of gentle walking and stretching exercises cannot be overstated and also make for an effective cool down allowing your horse to end the session relaxed, supple and connected. If you notice your horse gets hot and sweaty during exercise make sure you allow plenty of time for the cooldown. You may need to rub the horse dry and walk them off with a cooler sheet to wick away any moisture.
Horses’ coats are able to form a waterproof layer against the rain however as sweat comes from the skin it is beneath the protective coat and therefore greatly increases the horse’s risk of catching a chill. Horses can contract influenza and other illnesses just as humans can and so it is our responsibility to ensure they are not put at risk unnecessarily.
3. Quality Time
Plan your sessions with your horse to ensure you will have enough time to warm up your horse physically and mentally, successfully achieve your day’s goal with your horse, time to thoroughly cool your horse down again and any other chores and tasks you need to do at the stable.
This may be easy to do for a simple quiet hack but a longer or faster ride will require planning, as does any productive schooling session. Sometimes you may find that you just don’t have the time to do what you want and need to re-evaluate. Remember that you always want to leave your horse feeling positive about his time with you so it is better to build on something your horse can do then to begin a new task that you may not be able to satisfactorily finish in your limited time.
If you find yourself in this situation don’t hesitate to consider other alternatives. Quality time spent just hanging out with your horse is a great way to improve your bond with your horse. Many horses enjoy a massage and may likely benefit from one during the winter season or you can spend time in the stable teaching your horse new games to give their amazing mind something to work on even when you can’t exercise their bodies. Teaching your horse to “catch” carrots, back up through the stable doors or lift a leg on cue are examples of fun and interesting activities you can do with your horse.
4. The Perfect Fit
During the winter, it is essential to ensure that your equipment correctly fits your horse. Many horses lose weight during the winter months as they attempt to keep warm. It is also common for horses to actually gain weight as their feeds may be increased in anticipation of the effects of the cold and as their rider may have less time to exercise them.
Regularly check your tack, keep an eye on whether you need to adjust how much you girth your horse, run your hands under their saddle to check that pressure distribution remains even, watch that the saddle does not start to slip or tip.
The fit of your horse’s rugs are important too as too tight or loose can result in rubs or muscle aches which will affect how the horse moves.
Not only can the horse’s weight fluctuate but it is common for the rider to also experience seasonal changes. These changes can creep up slowly and it may not be obvious that your saddle seat size no-longer fits. A saddle that does not fit the rider will have a negative impact on riding performance. If you suspect that your saddle is suffering from one two many mince pies, or that your horse has changed shape since it was last checked it is recommended to get a fitter out to check. Learn more about this on our page: Saddlefit.
Some saddles are more flexible than others and if you and your horse regularly change shape, as is very common, then it may be worth looking into having equipment that you can easily adjust to ensure you and your horse can enjoy the optimal fit at all times. Read more about the different kinds of flexibility and adjustability on our page: Brands.