It has now become apparent that this winter seems to be settling in nicely. It has challenged us with ice induced power outages, frigid temperatures and a lovely dumping of snow.
While we’d all like to be snuggled up next to the crackling fire and forget about looking out the window, the outdoor work won’t look after itself.
During these times, and for the duration of the winter, it’s important to keep in mind what our horses require for activity. After all, they don’t appreciate a crackling fire quite like we do.
Exercise should not stop during the winter months. During extreme winter weather, many horses are often confined to stalls for longer periods than they are used to. As well, their valiant riders tend to reduce the number of times they tempt frostbitten toes in the arena.
Confinement and limited exercise can lead to lower leg edema (stocking up). Efforts should be made to provide turn out or exercise as often as possible. Although these periods of exercise may be shortened due to the cold, even shorter bouts are better than none.
For those who enjoy the great outdoors, caution needs to be taken when riding in deep, heavy or wet snow as this could cause tendon injuries and is extremely hard work for an unfit horse. Sometimes we forget the extra effort it takes to walk through a foot of snow – especially for our horses.
Avoid icy areas for both horse and rider safety. This is especially important given our current weather conditions. Spreading sand or salt on icy patches will help reduce injury from slipping.
One of the greatest challenges with winter riding involves cooling down a horse with a thick winter coat. Leaving a hot, wet horse standing in a cold barn can lead to illness. If horses are exercised regularly to the extent of generating sweat through the winter months, a ‘trace clip’ can be used
With a trace clip, the hair is shaved to about 1/8 inch in length from the underside of the neck and abdomen to the sides of the horse and from the elbows to about a quarter of the way up the body. Other types of clipping patters are often used as well.
It does need to be kept in mind that clipped horses have higher energy needs to simply maintain their body heat, and should be fed accordingly.
Clipped hair will not grow back as rapidly in the winter as it does in warmer temperatures. Once horses are clipped, appropriate shelter and blankets must be used throughout the winter and into the early spring months.
So, enjoy the snow safely and with health in mind, whether it be from the back of your horse, in a heated tack room, or beside the crackling fire.