Winter in Michigan brings many changes from colder weather to different pre- and post-ride care and preparation of our horses to give special attention to.
Don't feel like reading the whole post? Here's the Winter Quick-Tips and Takeaways
- Help Warm your bit up by putting your bridle in your coat while you groom. - Walk your horse in a warm cooler made with wicking fabric after your ride UNTIL DRY and breathing normally. - Ask for help if you need it but DO NOT just throw a blanket back on your horse and toss them back out in the cold after your ride. They work hard for us and deserve detailed care and attention. - Clipping helps sweaty horses dry faster and can look sharp but is higher maintenance and requires vigilant blanketing to make up for the coat that has been taken away. - Some horses are extra sensitive after a fresh clip job and with large temperature changes. - Leather products can dry out and crack in the colder, dryer months. Don't neglect your tack care and conditioning in the cold and inspect them regularly.
Give yourself ample time to prepare for your ride by arriving at the farm early. I choose to keep my horses back covered with a blanket or cooler while I groom to help keep their muscles warmer - picking feet, brushing legs, mane and tail, and bandaging or booting the legs can all be done while the blanket is still on. When ready, I will remove the blanket from where I place the saddle by folding it back and putting my tack on.
Keep in mind bits will be cold at the start as well so be sure to warm them before expecting your partner to accept it in their mouth. Warm water, warm breath (a lot of it), and sticking it in your coat while grooming are all options to consider and utilize.
For clipped horses, I use a quarter sheet for my warm up to help them loosen up. Don't ever rush your warm-up but ESPECIALLY in the cold. Take 10-15 minutes to walk around loosely at the start of your ride to shake some of the cold off and ease your way into work from there.
By December (usually sooner) most of our summer athletes are no where to be seen and wooly beasts stand in their place. The winter woolies serve to keep our horses warm but result in heavy sweating when in work and and extensive cooling out and dry time after riding sessions. Your horse should be covered in a warm cooler made of a moisture-wicking material after work and walked until breathing normally and allowed to dry completely before being curried and getting their blankets back on. Blanketing or turning out a wet horse can result in them potentially getting sick and stiff, tight muscles - as well as a sour attitude.
To negate the several hour care required, many riders select to clip their mounts if they will remain in training programs. Clipping allows the horses to dry at a significantly faster rate and be more comfortable while working but requires vigilant blanketing to make up for the coat that has been removed.
Leather is a "living" fabric and requires constant upkeep to remain in good condition and winter is no time to skimp on the care. The cold, dry air that accompanies the winter months can wreak havoc on your leather products. Be sure to wipe down your tack after each use and condition as needed. Your boots should be regularly cleaned as well, especially with the salts that are used to maintain safe roads and walkways drying out and ruining the leather.
Changes in weather can mean changes in temperament - safety is the first priority, remain vigilant at all times while riding and handling horses.
Colder temperatures mean your horse will expend more energy maintaining their body heat which means they burn more calories. Blankets cover the bulk of their body so your trainer or farm manager might not be able to see changes as much as you would while grooming or handling your horse. Keep any eye on your horses body weight during winter and speak to your trainer or barn manager about any changes you see to make adjustments to their diet.
Winter brings snow, snow brings ice and ice brings injuries. Keep and eye on the footing when riding and handling your horse and choose your path carefully to avoid any dangerous situations and injuries to both you and your horse.