Heading into winter 2021/22 with some ideas for a progressive riding approach to health and well being.
Having been involved professionally with horses now for many decades I have not failed to notice that it is often horses that stay fit all year round that are the healthiest, happiest, most successful and enjoyable to be around. I do not generally subscribe to the belief that horses need to be wrapped up for almost half the year and have their lives turned into an almost prison like existence because winter has arrived. Yes there are undoubtedly some challenges but here are ten suggestions to make your horse more prepared to come through the winter period in the best of shape come spring time. Aside from riding as often as you can here are ten ideas for you to try and for into your winter plans.
- I am going to start with one of the most basic, but most important subjects, feed. There can be a temptation to over feed or comfort feed horses in the colder months and it is widely accepted that horses do benefit form an increase in the calorific total of their feed to guard against the rigours of the winter. However, a note of caution here, do not fall in to the trap of reducing your horses level of exercise and increasing the feed rations too much as this can make unnecessary and counter productive weight gain an inevitable outcome. Make any changes gradual in both feed amounts and work routine. Always feed to the level of work, not a general idea of feeding the same regardless of how much or how little ridden work s being carried out, be honest with yourself.
- It can be challenging to ride if conditions do get very wet and muddy or even freeze, but what I will say here is that it is not that often we get weather which actually stops us from getting some ridden work done. It can just be the thought of getting out there, I always love to ride on cold days and feel the fresh air on my face and it can feel very rewarding afterwards to have taken up the challenge and got some much needed exercise completed, both for us and the horses. So stay positive and give it a go. A positive mental attitude is just as important as anything else. Buddy up with friends and motivate each other perhaps.
- I think more people could clip their own horses too. It is not a particularly difficult thing to do if your horses is reasonably behaved and it can be extremely gratifying and it does not have to be hair salon perfect. It will give you time with your horses and it will be easier to fit things in with any riding plans or events you have in mind.
- I have worked with horses all year round for many years and it my considered view that some horses definitely get depressed in winter, they can become generally less mobile and can close down, especially very young or older horses. When this is the case I think it is more important than ever to get creative and find ways to ride and keep yourself and your horses motivated and on the go. Letting the days and weeks just roll by is often the worst thing to do. So get stuck in. You could ride indoors to music or try some basic de spooking to give your horse variety and interest. Try to do these things as ridden exercises as often as possible, the weather can often be too cold to be standing on the ground leading tour horse around over, around and through an obstacle type course, do it form the saddle if you can.
- If you keep a decent level of fitness for both yourself and your horse as and when you can when you can this can be crucial for the health of your horse in the event of a prolonged very cold period of snow or freezing ground conditions, when everything is impossible. You will build up a reserve of fitness and wellbeing and avoid a situation where you could have done more on the less cold days but didn’t and then have to face a longer period of no work at all. This is not good for horses and of course it can be unavoidable but my advice is do what you can when you can and it might bring you some rewards in terms of getting through the winter with your horses in much better general shape. Riding in an arena for just an active half hour is so much better than nothing at all.
- I know not everybody can access them but the coastal areas with beaches can be an absolutely perfect way to both have a jolly good day out and a very much needed break from the usual routine. The beach never freezes or hardly ever does and as long as you can get safe access it can be a grand way to chase away the winter blues. Travelling to the coast by horse box maybe two or three times in winter will bring its rewards in both fun and fitness. Do remember to keep your horses on the bridle on the beach and I always recommend you walk in a straight line checking for soft spots or puddles that can cause spooks then maybe trot back along the same route to where you started. By now you will have checked the route for dangers and a bracing canter should be possible in safety.
- Roads and tracks and hacking in general can be another grand way to keep ticking over in winter. Do stick to walking and trotting though as slips and trips are far less likely. This avoids mud too and really is good for legs and joints in terms of building strength in ligaments and tendons. Always ride with caution in public places and wear reflective clothing. I see too many riders who presumably think they are too good for fluorescent clothing, however they miss the point entirely, we can never be too safe on roads and tracks but we can definitely not be as safe as we could be if we have a cavalier attitude to our horses safety and that of other road users. As horse riders we should set the highest standards and we all know other road users can be idiots buts let us not fall to their level let us set our own high standards for ours horses’ sakes.
- After your ridden work the care of wet and sweating horses in winter is important and can not be left to chance. If you have a horse that is both wet and sweated up be very careful how you deal with it, do not rush to get home but stay with your horses until they are safe, warm, dry and settled, then you can go home. Colic is to be avoided with such situations.
- Older horses can be more vulnerable in the colder weather but again I cannot stress enough that older horses too will stave off the challenges of winter if they are fit and well, exercised and fed correctly, they should not need to be molly coddled just because it is winter, on the contrary their needs for activity and interest can often increase if they get a little fed up in winter, so again get creative for them it will do them a lot of good. If they enjoy being ridden as so many do, try not to let weeks go by without tacking up and heading out for even a short stroll, every bit helps. Also consider good quality stable bandages to help circulation. I know this is obvious but it works, yet many people do not do it.
- Finally, I like nothing better than to use a cold day to give a horse a really good brush down in winter, the cold weather can make it seem like its too much but I would give all horses a really through grooming at least once a week during winter to promote good circulation and break the monotony of endless dark, cold dreary days. Horse love it as we all know. I actually believe grooming is far more beneficial in winter than any other season.
Winter does obviously bring challenges but it also brings opportunities and we really owe it to our horses to make whatever efforts we can to give them as varied and interesting a time as possible in winter. Have fun and enjoy the horses and the winter time too. Ride as often as you can and find ways to get it done.