Sure, winter is nice when you can sit inside with a hot chocolate and look at the snow from the comfort of your own home. However, being out in the elements is quite a different story. Horse people know this first hand. It gets tough doing all the barn chores when the temperature drops below freezing, and then there’s always the question once all the hard work is done, to ride or not to ride? Something I’ve considered lately, as the temperature dips into the single digits with the wind chill factored in, how cold is too cold to ride?
In most cases, it will get too cold for you before it gets too cold for the horse. Most horses are able to be worked in cold temperatures. After all, what were wild horses supposed to do whenever threatened by a predator on a particularly chilly day? Take a rain check and tell him to come back another day? Of course not! If your horse is not used to a cold climate, that of course is a different story, but horses that have adapted to their wintry surroundings should be okay to be out working in the cold.
The thing most people worry about is if the cold weather will hurt their horse’s lungs. There is some truth to this. When researching this question I found an excellent article where the author states, “The mechanism is that at rest, when the body takes in cold, dry air, the upper respiratory tract warms it to body temperature as well as humidifies it before sending it down to the lower respiratory tract. When excessive exercise speeds up and deepens the breaths, the body doesn’t have time to perform this function and the surfaces of the trachea, bronchi, and lungs become cooled and dried” (Gray). So yes, there are some health implications to reckon with, but there are things you can do to help ensure your horse’s safety in the colder temperatures.
If you decide to ride when the temperature is especially nippy, there are a few things you can keep in mind to help your horse:
- Ride accordingly. If it’s especially cold on a given day you may just want to stick to flat work. This will help your horse’s lungs, which I mentioned earlier. There is a lot you can accomplish just at the walk and trot, and groundwork is also a good idea. Some days you may even just want to play with your horse or spend time grooming.
- Take care when warming up. Take your time; when it’s cold, the horse will take longer getting limbered up. The same goes for cooling down. Make sure you allow plenty of time for each to benefit your horse. Also, coolers are wonderful if your horse works up a sweat.
- Beware of the footing! Make sure you pay attention to the ground you are riding on. Not everyone is blessed with an indoor arena, so make sure you’re aware of what you’re riding on. If you walk your horse on a surface and there are no footprints or indentations, then that’s a pretty good indicator that you should just stick to a walk. Also, beware of ice and divots in the ground. This will help save your horse’s legs.
There are definitely factors that you should be aware of when riding in the cold, but you don’t have to go without riding just because the temperature drops. Use your best judgement, caution, and keep your horse’s personal fitness in mind. After all, there’s not much that can keep a barn girl out of the saddle; the cold never bothered us anyway!
Work Cited: Gray, Lydia, Dr. "Ask the Vet: Too Cold to Ride?" SmartPak Blog. SmartPak, 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
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