Even though it's snowing, you can still ride your horse as long as you follow some simple tips to keep you both safe and comfortable.
· Never ride out in icy conditions especially if you have to use roads to reach the trails. Remember that in very cold weather even on a sunny day ice can lurk unseen in shaded areas where the sun can’t penetrate.
· Always have your horse shod and ask your farrier to fit road studs to prevent slipping on compacted snow.
· Snow accumulates in horse’s hooves so much so that they can end up walking on balls of ice. Not only is this uncomfortable for the horse, it’s also potentially dangerous as he could easily injure himself or slip over if you encountered an icy patch. Pack his hooves with petroleum jelly before you set off; take a hoof pick and make regular checks to ensure his feet are clear of any packing ice.
· If you’re riding out, always wear items of hi-viz clothing and equip your horse in a hi-viz exercise sheet. Low sun can dazzle drivers if you’re using the roads and hunters might mistake you for a large deer if you’re riding beneath the trees in woodland areas.
· Remember that thick snowfall can obscure hazards like ditches, water and holes. Use routes you know well and don’t be tempted to go ‘off piste’.
· Check the local weather forecast for the area you intend to ride out in and don’t be tempted to ‘chance it’ if it looks like rough weather could arrive while you’re out.
· Always make sure you have plenty of daylight left to complete your ride and get home safely.
Comfort for your horse
· If your horse is in regular work and carrying a thick winter coat, it’s a good idea to clip him so that he doesn’t sweat too much and lose condition. A blanket or trace clip is usually all you need to keep him comfortable.
· If you clip your horse, always rug him up well both in and out of his stable – you need to replace the cosy furry coat you’ve removed!
· When tacking your horse up, warm the bit up in your hands before you put it in his mouth.
· When the weather is very cold it can be tempting to set off at a fast pace to warm up. This can result in pulled and sore muscles for your horse so always warm up slowly before beginning any fast work. If you’re hacking out, put an exercise rug on your horse to keep his back and loins warm so that he doesn’t get chilled.
· Remember that travelling through thick snow is very hard work for your horse. Don’t push him too hard or ride for too long as he will tire more quickly than he would do on a sound surface.
· A really good winter investment for your horse’s wardrobe is a Thermatex cooler rug or something similar. If you get back from a ride and he’s sweaty or wet, just pop the cooler on for half an hour to dry him off before you rug him up properly.
For a more traditional method of cooling, try ‘thatching’. Place a layer of straw underneath a medium-weight day rug; the heat from the horse’s body combined with that generated by the straw will dry him off very effectively.
· When you’ve ridden, offer your horse a drink of tepid water – not freezing cold straight from the tap as this could cause colic.
Comfort for you
· Layer up in warm clothing starting with a thermal base layer. You can always remove layers if you get too warm. Add a pair of fleecy-lined over-chaps to keep you warm and dry if you’re riding out. Sitting still for long periods in the same position can be very chilling indeed especially if it’s raining, too!
· Choose thick gloves made from textured fabric; there’s nothing worse than having freezing cold fingers and slipping reins! If you suffer from freezing fingers, try wearing a pair of thin cotton gloves underneath your thick ones. This layering effect is great for keeping your fingers nice and toasty.
· If you’re doing fast work in freezing weather, a pair of goggles is a very good idea to stop your eyes streaming and stinging.
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