Winter should not be a period when your horse has no exercise. In fact, it is important for their mental and physical well-being that they remain active in the colder months. This activity may not be as strenuous or extensive as it would be in a temperate time of year. However, you can safely exercise your horse in cold weather if you prepare it properly, do a reasonable level and amount of exercise, and care for it thoroughly afterwards.
Part 1 of 3:Preparing to Exercise a Horse in Cold WeatherDownload Article
1Take your horse's condition into consideration. If considering taking your horse out in cold weather you need to take its current fitness level into consideration. Don't have expectations of it that it cannot physically fulfill. Remember that exercising in the winter can be more difficult for the horse, so rein in your expectations.
For example, if your horse does not exercise much during more temperate months, then expecting it to go on long rides in cold conditions will set you up for failure and possibly injury.
Keep your horse's activity level the same or slightly lower when the weather starts getting colder.
2Acclimate your horse to cold temperatures. While horses can be acclimated to most temperatures, it can take some time. Get your horse used to the cold gradually. This means not throwing it out into freezing temperatures for long periods when it is not used to them.
This is especially true if you are relocating a horse that has never experienced freezing cold weather before. Give it some time and allow it to gradually get used to the cold before thoroughly exercising it.
Keep your horse's blanket or cooler (a moisture-wicking wool or fleece covering) on it over your tack (horseback riding equipment) as you walk it to let the horse warm up slowly. Do not let the horse get sweaty under the blanket.
3Allow your horse to properly warm up. One of the best ways to protect your horse from injury or illness due to exercise in cold weather is to properly warm it up. Warming up a horse allows its muscles to loosen up and more blood to flow into its joints.
Have your horse do 10-15 minutes of slow walking and stretching to allow its muscles to warm up. This can be a good time to do some easy training exercises, such as making the horse walk next to you without physically pulling it with ropes or reins.
If your horse has been standing in its stall for a long period of time, then it will need a long warm up period to get its muscles ready for exercise. A horse that has been turned out in a field all day, and thus has been moving around, will need less time.
Before getting on your horse to work out, warm up your horse's neck and chest by doing some carrot stretches. While using carrots as a lure, have the horse do three different motions, including:
Side to side (lateral) bending
Part 2 of 3:Exercising Your Horse in Cold Weather SafelyDownload Article
1Adapt your work to the weather. Just because your horse can exercise in very cold weather doesn't mean that it should be exercising really hard or for long periods of time. Taking your horse out and keeping it at a walk will be much easier on its lungs than making it exercise really hard. If your horse is breathing too deeply in cold weather it's lungs can be negatively impacted.
If your horse has to breathe really hard, its upper respiratory system does not have enough time to warm and hydrate the air before it gets into the horse's lower respiratory system. If dry and cold air gets into the horse's lower respiratory system it can impact your horse's breathing and immune responses to airway pathogens, along with other issues.
Just remember, if you are miserably cold, then your horse probably is too. If it is painful for you to be riding, consider abandoning the ride for a time when the weather is a bit warmer.
Also take wind chill into consideration. Wind chill can have a big effect on the impact of cold weather on your horse's lungs. Check wind chill before going on a ride outside and take that into consideration when deciding how hard your horse should work.
2Consider various types of exercise. Just because it's too cold or blustery to go on a ride, that doesn't mean that your horse can't get exercised. Do other types of exercise and training. This can be as simple as walking your horse around in a ring next to you or working on other groundwork skills.
If working in a ring, make sure that the ground surface is not slippery and frozen before taking your horse out on to it. A hard-packed icy surface can be a hazard to your horse's footing, and thus its safety.
Incorporate hill work if available. This can be done at a slow walking pace, if the ground is safe to do so, and is great for maintaining glute muscle which deteriorates fast in the winter without work.
Take indoor arena workouts as an opportunity to work on specific drills and moves or to do long periods of cantering.
See if there is a nearby indoor arena where you can take your horse 3-4 times a week. Most barns are happy to share in the winter when people are riding less anyway.
3Avoid icy areas. Just as with humans, horses can have a hard time getting a good footing on hard packed ice and snow. While a layer of light snow can be easy for a horse to walk in, deep snow can cause the horse to work too hard. It can also cause injuries to the horse's tendons if the horse struggles for its footing.
Use your best judgement about when and where you should, and shouldn't, take your horse out for a ride. If you suspect an area is icy, avoid it instead of risking your horse's health and safety.
If you must take your horse into an icy area, consider removing its horseshoes. Horses with bare hooves generally have better traction in the snow and ice.
If you come upon an icy patch during a ride, dismount and lead your horse over or around it on foot. Your horse will be able to navigate the ice better without a rider aboard.
Part 3 of 3:Caring For a Horse After Exercise in Cold WeatherDownload Article
1Cool down the horse. After your horse exercises in cold weather, it needs to be given a period of cool down to help its muscles recover from the exercise. This usually includes at least 15 minutes of easy walking.
Cool down periods help your horse's muscles continue to have good circulation, which is essential to exercise recovery.
Cool downs will help your horse acclimate to the air temperature and will also help its body temperature return to normal.
Your horse should be dry once cool down is done. This means walking it until it is dried off or taking it into a warm area where excess moisture can be totally dried off. Leaving a horse wet can drop its body temperature and promote illness.
If your horse is body clipped in the winter, putting a cooler on it after exercising will make the temperature transition less harsh and make your horse more comfortable while you walk for 10-15 minutes.
2Check your horse for ice and snow build up. Make sure that your horse's legs and hooves are free of ice and snow after a ride or other type of exercise in the snow. Getting this off, and then drying your horse's legs, will help to keep your horse's legs healthy and infection free.
In particular, balls of ice that build up in a horse's hooves can make it very hard for them to walk. These should be removed to avoid the risk of slipping and falling.
3Make sure your horse has its basic needs met. After a ride you should take the time to make sure your horse has its other needs met. This means that it at least has access to cover and has food and water available to it.
Frozen water troughs can be a big problem in the winter. Make sure to break any ice accumulating on troughs so that your horse has access to water.
Feeding needs to be adjusted in the winter. Make sure that your horse has more hay available in the winter if it is exposed to cold temperatures. This will help it to keep its internal temperature up.
Horses that have their coats clipped should also be given a blanket and more feed in order to keep their temperatures up.