Are you a winter-weary equestrian? If hunting is your thing then it may well be that winter is your favourite time of year! And hats off to you for getting out there in all that mud and embracing all that the British weather can throw at you.
But if you’re more of a fair weather rider, or indeed, would just rather not receive an ice-rain exfoliating facial treatment whilst trying to stay on your horse in gale force winds and appreciate the sensation of actually feeling all your toes, have no shame. You are not alone!
For you and the horse! Whilst walking around in too many layers and channeling Michelin man vibes, can be a bit restrictive, choosing the right number & types of layers for the weather can be the difference between being able to feel all 10 digits and not. Equally you don’t want to get too hot so having layers that are easy to strip off when you’re mid-way through mucking-out is really important.
Wear a wooly hat around the yard – lots of body heat is lost through our heads! A Buff (or similar) is ideal for slipping under your riding hat and will keep your ears and neck warm too.
Always keep a change of dry warm clothes in the car in case you get caught out in the rain/snow! Investing in a pair of waterproof trousers or long johns (especially if you suffer from chilblains) really helps to make winter more bearable too!
When it comes to layers for the horses, the same principles apply. However, use the winter to your advantage if you have a good doer by rugging down a layer and allowing them to use some of their excess reserves to keep warm. The opposite applies for poor-doers, ensure they are rugged adequately so as not to waste any precious calories!
Even just low levels of dehydration results in less functionality and reaction time in humans! It’s easy to forget to drink plenty of water when it’s really cold & wet outside so take a water bottle up the yard with you so that it’s easy to access. A flask of hot tea ( why not mix it up by trying a herbal or fruit variety?) is an absolute must for the morning chores too!
Hydration for our beloved equines is just as important so ensure that you break the ice on water troughs daily (putting a tennis ball in can help keep them from completely freezing over). Some horses don’t like to drink very cold water but adding warm water to take the chill off can really help to encourage them to drink. For very fussy drinkers, you can use SPEEDY-Mash Fibre and make it up to a soupy consistency – it’s an absolute failsafe! Some horses will also drink more when fed soaked feeds.
Check water pipes are properly protected to avoid pipes bursting after freezing. You can also fill up water containers at home and take them to the yard with you if you know it’s likely that the pipes will be completely frozen.
Cold weather and extra mucking-out can make you hungry! Take plenty of snacks with you when you go to the yard but remember not eat them in your stable or the feed room (and don’t share them with your horse!). Instant noodles and soups are ideal in cold weather!
As ever, it’s important to feed our horses according to body condition. Many horses will be in less work and and spend more time in over the winter and thus also have a reduced energy (calorie) requirement. Avoid over feeding to prevent excess weight and reduce the risk of your horse making his own merriment in the field or under saddle. Ad-lib forage and a balancer is often plenty for the majority of horses and ponies in light work. If your horse does need more calories choosing feeds high in fibre and low in sugar and starch can help to maintain an even temperament throughout the cold period. Cereal starch is the most common culprit when it comes to feed related excitability!
Ice, frost and frozen things!
Horse riding is risky enough, without injuring ourselves before we’ve even made it across the yard! Invest in a bag of salt so you can spread it on potentially icey areas such as concrete that you may need to walk across or the mounting block!
Stop gate catches, padlocks & hitches becoming completely frozen solid with WD40 (life-saver) or even a plastic bag tied overnight!
A sense of humour
In winter, it’s best to be prepared for what can go wrong, to go wrong. Even when conditions aren’t favourable for riding there’s always jobs to do around the yard, tack to clean, rugs to organise, the 2021 season to plan and horses to just groom and enjoy. If your sense of humor is strong enough, you’ll not only survive winter but have fun doing it!