Winter Riding Tips

Prepare Your Horse (and Yourself) for Cold Weather Riding

Girls riding white horses along snowy lane.
Brightly colored rump rugs can help your horse's large muscles stay warm, while making you more visible. Image Credit:Chris Jackson/Getty Images News /Getty Images

Cold weather, ice and snow present special problems for horses and their owners. But the challenges brought on by winter are not insurmountable. Here are tips and suggestions on how you can make sure your ride as is safe as possible, despite the hazards winter can throw at us.

  • Provide More Grip: If you plan to ride, and the ground is slippery ask your farrier about shoes with pads and ice caulks. Special pads will prevent snowballs and may help prevent ice bruising on their soles. Ice calks on a horse's hind hooves can cause a lot of damage if they kick another horse with these. So you may want to shoe the front hooves with calks and leave the hinds bare, but trimmed. Untrimmed hooves chip easier in frigid weather, so don’t skip farrier appointments just because it’s winter. 
  • Adjust the Workload: When riding in the snow remember that it is harder work for the horse then traveling on bare ground. Plan your time in the saddle and your speed accordingly. Think of what it's like for you to flounder through the snow--deep snow can be similar for your horse.
  • Slow Down: Plan to school or work at a slower pace so your horse does not sweat as much. Cooling down can take much longer, and chilled muscles take longer to warm up. Horses sometimes need time to adjust to the footing in an arena if they're used to walking on frozen, uneven ground and their gaits may feel a bit stilted until they learn they can step out with confidence.
  • A Wet Horse Can Get Cold: Plan extra time to cool down after your ride. Don't put a sweating horse out in the cold, wind or damp. Blanket so that moisture wicks away from your horse's coat, and change the blanket if it becomes damp. When the horse is dry to the skin, you can turn it out.
  • Keep Muscles Warm: If your horse is used to being stabled and blanketed consider using a ‘rump rug’ or ‘quarter sheet’ to keep his muscles from getting chilled while riding. Try the rump rug before you get on, however, so your horse gets used to the feel of it. You don't want it spooking at the strange blanket over its haunches when you're in the saddle.
  • Dress in Layers: Dress yourself in layers that can be removed easily if you get warm while working your horse. Fabric that wicks sweat away and dries quickly is best for any athletic winter activity. There is a variety of under and outerwear made especially for riders. Ear warmers can be worn under your helmet, or hoods can be put over your helmet.  
  • Wear Safe Boots: You may want to wear warmer boots while riding in the winter. Be sure they are not so bulky as to get wedged into your stirrups. They should still slide out easily if you take a spill.
  • Prevent Snowballs: If snowballs form in hooves while you ride, give the bottom of  your horse's hooves a coating of petroleum jelly.
  • Avoid Hazards: When riding out, make sure you stay away from areas where holes, branches, poles or other hazards might be hidden under the snow. Injury to you and your horse could occur if the horse trips or falls over a something hidden under the snow cover.
  • Warm the Bit: A frosty cold bit can be uncomfortable for your horse. Keep bridles in the house, warm the bit with your hands, or put a warm (not hot) gel pack around the bit before putting it in your horse's mouth. 
  • Bring a Snack: Pack a granola bar and a vacuum flask of hot cider or chocolate to warm you up after your ride. Working hard in cold dry weather can be dehydrating so don’t forget to drink water or pack along a bottle of water or sport drink too.