We have asked around how working with your horse can be fun and full of variety during the dark season and most importantly how you can enjoy the winter safely. Here are the best tips and tricks for you.
Especially during winter, most horses live in their boxes. The fields are too wet and the paddocks are usually too small to really allow enough independent movement for the horses. Added to this, the early onset of darkness takes away the opportunity of most working riders to go horse riding - rain, snow, and storm do the rest. Due to the predominant stable housing and only a few alternatives, both horse and rider become bored. After a week of dressage work on the inside, the horse becomes unmotivated and the rider loses his/her joy of the hobby.
Even during winter, horses should be offered as much fresh air as possible. Be the paddock ever so small: Air and light are important for the health of the horses. Especially since training during winter takes mainly place within the gym, every opportunity should be taken to move the horse out into the fresh air. This also supports the immune system and protects the horse from inflammation of the respiratory tract, which can be easily caused by excessive dust.
Especially during frosty temperatures, horses need to be provided with enough water - the need for fluids does not change in winter. Especially during colder temperatures, horses seem to have more energy and they frequently express their running pleasure through leaps and going wild. Such bundles of energy should be moved a little before going on paddocks or the field to reduce their energy. Especially on uneven and frozen ground, the risk of injury increases rapidly. The same applies to the movement under the saddle: During winter, the musculoskeletal system takes longer to be at operating temperature. Allow enough time for warming up. This does not have to be boring, many lessons can be ridden going slow.
Especially in stables, where no riding hall is connected, the movement of the horses is much more difficult. During frost, many riding areas cannot be used without risk, because the holes of the hooves can be dangerous trip hazards. Therefore, the right preparation is crucial: The riding arena should be made even thoroughly on regular intervals - especially before the onset of frost (the weather forecast is helpful). The riding place can be used without problems once all footprints are made even and the puddles are gone. Nevertheless, the same applies here: Mindful and careful riding, because the ground does not cushion the horse's weight so well. In order to prevent a freezing of the riding place, special magnesium chloride can be incorporated into the soil, which can keep it frost-free up to -10 degrees. The mixing of wood chips, carpet or tiles residues into the ground enables better soil quality during winter.
What could be better than a long ride in freshly fallen powder snow? Unfortunately, the winter is mainly characterized by mud and rain, once there is enough snow, there are a few little things to note, in order to not endanger the winter idyll:
Rain and mud already require a certain awareness from the rider, as the horse can quickly slip. With snow and frost, the risk of accidents increases additionally. Special grips in the horseshoe prevent a 'scuffing' of the snow under the horse's hoof. This measure costs only a few additional euros but is essential for a safe winter ride. For barefooters, the hoof sole can also be covered with "Huffett". Just under a thick blanket of snow, stones, branches, and other bumps can easily be overlooked, so always ride onto familiar ways and only across meadows, from which you know the conditions. Increased slippage of the horses can be avoided if studs are screwed into the horseshoes or directly special pins are welded when fitting. These are called 'Vidia pens' and give due to their small size a better grip in the area. As already described above, most horses feel an enormous need for running especially during low temperatures, snow intensifies this energy surplus in most horses even more. In order to minimize the risk of an unintentional runaway on frozen ground, the horses should be moved in advance onto the riding field or hall until the accumulated energy has disappeared.
If the weather should be too bad or it is already too dark outside, it is important to change the routine, so as not to bore the horse. For example, learning circus lessons is a nice alternative. It's a whole new challenge that is fun for horses and humans and also strengthens the basis of trust. A certain, anti-fright training brings a lot of variety into your everyday life. You do not even need extra equipment: umbrellas, plastic sheets, colorful ribbons, and poles are enough to start with and can be used in a variety of ways.
The horse has to think more intensively about the new tasks and at the same time learns to overcome the frightening specters. An umbrella from afar does not look as frightening as close up, nor does it when it is opened and closed. You can work in a variety of ways with the tarpaulin: Walk, hang up, wrap around - there are no limits to your imagination. The important thing is: The horse determines the speed. So give them the time to get used to the new items. Rods can be placed either at an 'L' or in a row at different heights. Here, the horse has to make an extra effort and think, so as not to bump against one of the rods. Very important are the praise and the patience you need to bring with you. Do not underestimate the effort that such "puzzles" have for your horses. Ultimately, it's about the fun and the variety for horse and rider. A subsequent walk provides the necessary relaxation.