Winter riding challenges

Does your horse’s enthusiasm wane on frosty mornings? Mine inhales flakes of forage to keep his digestive system roaring.

Leather reins crack. Saddle flaps stiffen. Metal bits retain cold even after hot water or breath attempts fall flat.

Sub-zero temperatures and feet of snow crimped my winter riding in my adolescence. At the farm where I boarded, outdoor arenas stayed hidden beneath mountains of snow. Horses enjoyed three months of winter in acres of pasture and stayed wooly and warm in their winter coats. I rarely rode, only managing a short trek along the gravel road by the barn. Winter riding was a non-starter.

Spring ushered in hours of shedding and reconditioning. Targeted weight loss exercise in the hilly pasture built up muscles and heart rates. Tender grasses tempted ‘illegal snacking’ in horses of any age.

Flash forward thirty years. Adulthood offers opportunity, and for me, I ride most days in an indoor arena to keep my horse in shape year-round.

Plunging temperatures and high winds do throw a wrench into best-laid plans, however. Circumstances open other doors for equestrian activity in winter. New and creative thinking ensures that my 17.3 hand horse stays mentally and physically on track.

For some, lunging a horse might be akin to practicing piano scales- repetitive and uninspiring. A change in perspective arises with a few questions when asked with riding in mind.

Does your body move in a relaxed or rigid state? Where are you in relation to your horse? Too close to the shoulder or positioned near its haunches to drive energy forward? Are your horse’s ears set towards your body and commands? Is your horse’s eye following you or a rider entering the arena? How do your energy and clear signals influence your horse’s change in gaits?

On bitterly cold days, I haul out the coffee-table sized ball for a game of equine soccer. The force and accuracy of Darcy’s powerful nose force me to run between quarter lines. I think he’s just trying to make sure I meet my daily step goal!

Cavelliti in the saddle or on a lunge breaks up the monotony of cloudy winter days. If poles welcome Darcy to the arena, his ears spring forward, and his body inflates.

The past two winters challenged all of us. Winter isn’t for everybody, even on a good day. Horse people adjust, substitute, and discover new ways of thinking.

Tune into your own flexibility this winter. Stay connected to your horse no matter what the weather!