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Let’s Discuss: What’s Your Winter Riding Weather Cutoff?

Horse Nation is vast and wide with plenty of climate zones included, as well as indoor arenas/outdoor arenas/the great outdoors. With winter upon us, let’s discuss: what kind of winter weather puts a halt to your riding?

This photo taken just moments before Red reminded me that there was no need to “cowgirl up” on super cold, snowy, windy days. Ask me how he taught me that particular lesson. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

While reading Meagan DeLisle’s piece yesterday “Winter is Coming: Helpful Horsemanship Tips for Colder Weather” I found myself thinking about how different each individual equestrian’s winter standards are likely to be: after all, Horse Nation’s home is the internet, which means that our readers hail from every corner of the earth, representing a thousand different climates and weather conditions as well as a thousand different ways to keep horses, from heated barns and fully-enclosed indoors to 24/7 turnout and the open range.

We can all agree that there are a few weather conditions that are just downright poopy for all of us: things like, say, raging thunderstorms, triple-digit heat with humidity in the 90% range, whiteout blizzards where you can’t see your horse’s ears from the saddle… but within those extremes, there’s a huge range of conditions and a varying set of individual rules for each of us for when we will and will not ride, especially once you factor in horsekeeping and riding areas as well.

When I coached and trained full-time at a university barn in western New York state, known for unpredictable weather and plenty of snow, we thanked our lucky stars each day that we had a fully enclosed and heated indoor arena. Horses lived in heated barn aisles on either side, meaning that the temperature was usually in the 45-50 degree F range — perfectly suited for maintaining a heavy training schedule all winter long, perhaps with a body or trace clip to stay comfy.

Now my horses live out 24/7 (yes, with shelter, free choice hay in unlimited quantities, heated water sources that do not freeze and blanketing according to individual need) and with no indoor arena, nor a groomed outdoor arena, I play every winter day by ear. My two riding mounts for the winter are an OTTB, who’s a bit thinner than I’d like and a weight-gain work in progress, and a senior citizen, both of whom could probably use the calories it would take to cart me around for a ride to instead keep themselves warm on days where it’s snowing and the high isn’t above 20 degree F.

There’s still plenty to do on a non-riding day — I’ve got a regular set of unmounted exercises and training activities I can refer to on cold days or days of blowing lake-effect snow. It’s worth noting that some studies have found that single-digit temps combined with heavy exercise can cause some health concerns for your horse’s airways, so for cold weather riding it’s important to warm up and cool down slowly and carefully consider your horse’s workload.

Generally speaking, I don’t ride in the following conditions:

  • Under 15 on a clear day
  • Under 20 on a snowy day
  • Heavy snow — I’ll ride in flurries or light showers with a quarter sheet but I don’t want to get my horse soaked

Factor in things like how much snow is on the ground, how deep that snow is, or if we’re down to bare but frozen earth, and my rides might be limited to just walking or not take place at all. Basically, I don’t plan on doing much more than maintenance riding in the winter months.

Now, there are probably riders reading this right now who are laughing, thinking “20 degrees? That’s BALMY!” and are preparing to put on 47 layers and go saddle up themselves. There are also riders who are thinking “riding under 30? That’s crazy!” and are counting their blessings for an indoor arena.

So let’s discuss: in what winter conditions will you ride, or not ride? Weigh in in the comments section — and go riding! (Maybe.)

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