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Winter Horseback Riding Tips

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With the winter coming, many horse owners will be hanging up saddles and taking time off from riding. But I think it is a total mistake, and they will be missing big opportunities for some spectacular riding.

My favorite time to ride is winter but you have to be prepping your horse carefully to guarantee an enjoyable and safe ride if you go in the field. If you plan just to have a quiet walk amongst the snow covered trees, you will discover a new dreamy way to get through the winter with friends.

I personally prefer riding bareback so the body temperature of my horse will keep me warmer because of more contact with the horse skin.

If you choose to train in an indoor riding arena–which eliminates the concerns of ice, snow and wind–then winter is less a problem than for those that do not have an indoor arena. Riding can be done outside as long as there isn’t ice, and you will need to take special notice to your horse body temperature, water and feed. When it comes to snow, you want to make sure that the layer on top of the ice doesn’t get too icy or it could lacerate the horse’s lower legs. Remember, your horse has to work extra hard during an outside ride in deep snow.

Riding should never be attempted on ice.
Unless you want to see your horse playing the Bambi scene.

Winter is always the time when you wish you could ride as often as summer. Weather conditions can be slippery, so riders have to be careful for both horse and rider to make it as enjoyable as if it was a easy summer ride. Riders should dress in layers in order to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Layering apparel allows you to add or remove clothing easily as rider body temperature changes.

With a little bit more consideration for both horse and rider, winter riding can be an enjoyable experience. Challenges brought on by winter are not insurmountable. Follow the following tips and suggestions to make sure your ride is as safe as possible, despite the ice and snow and all hazards winter can throw at us.

Horse care winter tips:

As you arrive into the stable you should warm the bit. A cold bit will be uncomfortable for any horse. Keep bridles in the house or warm the bit with your hands, or put a warm gel pack around the bit before putting it in your horse’s mouth.
Before getting on your horse you first have to remember to take special care when warming up and cooling down your horse in winter.

  • If your horse is wet with sweat beneath the saddle, it could cause sudden changes in body temperature–such as a cold wind blowing on a sweaty back–and can have harmful results.You must use special care to prevent chilling!
  • Placing a heavy blanket on a sweating horse can trap moisture, preventing the horse from drying. It is better to use a light blanket over the sweating horse in cold weather and lead it around until the hair is drier.
  • Walking your horse after taking a winter ride will help keep its body from cooling too rapidly, and the light blanket will protect it from the cold while moisture is evaporating.
  • Once your horse’s coat is dry enough, remove the light blanket and cover him with a dry blanket.

Working at a slower pace is also a way to prevent big sweat. Cooling down or warming up muscles can take much longer. Horses need time to adjust to the cold weather. Riders have to remember that horses naturally decrease their water consumption and water sources should be keep between 45 to 65°F. You can add salt to the water as needed. Also be aware that horses require more calories as the need to maintain core body temperature increases especially with short hair.

And bring a snack, a warm drink or sport water for yourself. Working hard in cold dry weather can be dehydrating. Horses’ training schedules might become somewhat altered stop altogether in the winter months, so don’t expect your horse to be ready for a full riding session like you may be accustomed to during warmer months. If your horse is out of shape, you should not force a lot of exercise during bitterly cold temperature.

  • Planning to ride on slippery ground can be more difficult for your horse and unsafe for you, so ask your farrier about shoes with pads and ice caulks. Pads are good to prevent snow balls.Many riders equip their horse’s front shoe with calks and leave the hinds bare. Don’t forget that untrimmed hooves chip more easily on cold weather, so make sure to be up to date with your farrier during cold season.
  • If you venture yourself into the field, avoid hazards such as areas where holes, branches, poles or other hazards might be hidden under the snow. Injury will occur if the horse trips or falls over a something hidden under the snow cover.

Now that you have your safety tips, enjoy your rides this winter!

December 16, 2014 |

The Apple Tree Game

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niki-marie-hansenSome days when I close my eyes and the summer breeze is just right, I find myself on top of my big potbelly I called “Power,” my childhood quarter horse. Sixteen hands of fat, brown laziness…except when it came to going back to the barn. Those summers were drenched in dog slobber, horse dirt, a little blood, sweat and goose poop squished between bare toes from a wrong step. Whatever. Who cared? I grew up on a Wisconsin farm and mud puddles and cow patties were the norm. The barn cats were abundant as were the rabid opossums hiding behind the snow shovels in the winter that we fondly shot. I remember bats’ flying out of the attic and cold fresh springs bubbling forth drenching the field grass in a waving stream of green after the snow melt.

There were big tall maple trees covering the acreage; one with a rope swing (I think it’s still there). There was the icky bean tree that always clogged the septic tank, the peonies with climbing ants, the ever-green fluffy pine stark against the winter white and the fragrant lilacs that wafted gently in from my open bedroom window from the voluminous bush below. There were the old Indian pipes and arrowheads found in the fields, the deep, sticky mud we got stuck in trying to follow the rainbow exactly and the quarter –mile long gravel driveway that was often the nemesis of my always bare feet. Then there were the apple trees…

My horse, by all meaning of the word, was fat. He was rotund. In fact he was so large that I found my 10 year old self able to almost do the splits on him. Not being allowed to ride in a saddle until I was big and strong enough to put it on myself, I became quite adept at hanging on at varying stages of on-ness. I jumped from Power a few times, but he never managed to be successful in toppling me from my perch atop his rotundness, try as he may. Power did try. He was no dummy and knew that if he could un-mount me, he could run away and go eat.

The apple trees were a favorite game of his…although I will admit I didn’t enjoy it much. There’s only so much staying power a little girl has on the reins of a 1200lbs horse. He seemed to realize that the branches of the apple trees were just high enough to clear his back, but not me. Power liked to take off at a dead run with my little, gangly self hanging on for dear life. He’d make a bee-line for the apple trees and attempt to scrape me off of his back like a pesky horsefly. These scrape-you-off-on-the-apple-tree games of his were not fun at the time and usually resulted in my quickly learning to hang from his side with a death-grip on his mane. Scrapes and scratches were battle scars I earned…winning ones. He never did scrape me off. Every time I think about it, I laugh out loud and tear up just a little.

Even though Power has been long gone to the big hayfield in the sky, there are a few things that have never changed from then until now. One, I will always love that big old nag for as long as I live. Two, Power gave me the passion for my life’s work. Three, just like he couldn’t scrape me off, life will not scrape me off either. I still carry that stubborn determination with me, learn quickly and hang on with a death-grip and I now use it to help big ding dong horses like Power that little girls love so much…minus the apple trees.

September 30, 2014 |

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