Winterize Your Riding Life
The wonderful thing about riding horses is that it can be an all-weather, year-round sport! But when temperatures go below a certain temperature threshold, it could be dangerous for both the horse and rider.
Cold-weather riding can still be fun, if you are prepared. Learn the limits for you and your horse for when temperatures drop, and hang up your spurs when it dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Horseback Riding in Winter
As a tried and true Texan, I can honestly say that my dreams of wearing a riding cape and cantering through a snowy forest will never come to fruition. But a girl can dream!
Even though we don’t get epic snowstorms in Texas (ok… rarely), we do get below freezing weather. So I’ve had to learn best practices for riding in cold weather.
How cold is too cold to ride?
Yates Equine Sports Medicine did a comprehensive review of the research surrounding exercising horses in cold weather.
According to their studies, riding when it’s below 20 degrees Fahrenheit could be dangerous.
- Riding indoors allows us to ride in colder weather more comfortably. Remember if you are going from indoors to outdoors that your horse will not have time to acclimate their lungs to the colder air. You should still stick to the 20 degree rule, but it would be in regards to the temperature in the indoor arena (vs. outside).
- When you’re outside, anything below freezing (32 degrees) can be dangerous for the horse due to frozen footing. Ice can be a big hazard! It’s recommended to only walk and avoid excess exercise when things are frozen outside. You should also stick to the 20 degree recommendation for outdoor riding, even if it is just walking.
That said, there are parts of the country where it is below 20 degrees for a long time! If that is the case, according to Dr. Joyce Harman of Harmany Equine Clinic in Virginia, “There is no temperature where it is too cold for a horse to be ridden or to go outside IF they are adapted to it.”
But you should always adjust your activities accordingly, as well as consult your vet.
If you are in the frozen tundra up north, you still need to be aware of frozen footing or other hazards and keep exercise to a minimum as the cold air can stress a horse’s airways.
Cold Weather Considerations
Staying warm is important for both horse and rider during the winter, so make sure you are prepared with the right apparel and gear.
Rider Gear and Apparel
When riding in cold weather, layers are key! Start with a thin base layer, like a silk or wool undershirt. Then add a long sleeved shirt, a quilted vest, and then an overcoat. This will allow you to take off layers once you get moving so you don’t overheat.
There are a lot of equestrian brands that sell riding-specific outer layers. These have unique features like a button flap at the back for greater ease of movement in the saddle.
I would also recommend investing in a pair of fleece lined riding pants! And don’t forget—keep your toes warm with wool socks and insulated riding boots.
Horse Gear and Apparel
Keeping your horse warm while warming up is important for their muscle health.
A quarter sheet is a great idea for cold weather riding. These blankets cover the horse’s hindquarters. You can even wear it over your thighs for extra warmth!
After the Ride
We all know that warming up your muscles in cold weather is important—it is also important for horses too! But did you know the cool down is just as, if not more, important?
How important is cooling down a horse in cold weather?
Imagine having a super sweaty workout and then plunging into an overly air conditioned room. You’d be freezing!
Cooling down a horse is integral to their health in cold weather.
You want to make sure you take your time with the cool down and also ensure they are not sweaty before blanketing them at the end of the day.
How long does it take to cool down a horse in cold weather?
You will want to take at least fifteen minutes post ride to walk out your horse. You can do this in the saddle.
When you dismount, throw a cooler or thin stable blanket on your horse and then take off the saddle. This will prevent your horse’s back from getting a shock of cold air.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific set time it will take for a horse to dry off from sweating—you will need to check on them frequently. It depends on ambient air temperature, humidity, how sweaty they are, how thick their winter coat is…etc.
You can speed up the process by using a towel to wick away some of the moisture.
How do you know if you should clip your horse?
For me, I knew it was time to clip my horse when I was at the barn over an hour after my lesson and the poor guy still wasn’t dry from sweat.
If your horse is having trouble cooling off after light or medium work, it is time to clip your horse. If you don’t want to do a full clip, an Irish Clip is a wonderful option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What happens if a horse gets too cold?
Horses can get dehydration-related colic, hypothermia, or even tied-up—which is when all their muscles seize up.
Q: Can you ride a horse when it is cold out?
Yes! You just need to monitor the temperatures and weather conditions. It’s not recommended to ride if it is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare both you and your horse for cold weather by layering up!
Q: Is 45 degrees too cold for a horse?
No, horses are comfortable with cooler weather than this. You can ride a horse safely when temperatures are above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The key to cold weather riding is preparation—preparation in your layers of clothes, coolers for your horse, and a plan for an adequate warm-up and cool-down. If you follow these tips you will be able to ride throughout the year!
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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