Winter blues got you down? Here are six things you can do with your horse (or relating to your horse) when your riding is limited by the cold weather.
By Sophia Hall, originally published on the SmartPak blog.
I have lived in Massachusetts my entire life and I wouldn’t change a thing about that! Well maybe one thing — if I could change the weather to only snow on Christmas Day, that would be perfect. I always joke that anyone who says they love winter hasn’t cared for livestock in the cold. They haven’t had the pleasure of taking a hammer to a frozen water bucket or shoveling out chunks of ice in your outdoor ring in hopes it’ll thaw faster to be able to ride. Accidentally spill water on your pants while filling up buckets? No worries, there will be instant icicles! While riding certainly is an outdoor sport, not having an indoor can get me thinking about how creative I can be when the New England weather hits. I have compiled a list of some of my favorite winter activities while my riding gets a bit limited.
1. Tack Walking
Although the ground might be frozen, the good news is that my barn manager is very proactive about dragging our ring before any frost or rain, so if it does freeze, it’s freezing nice and flat. Although that might limit the intensity of my ride, the great news is it still allows for tack walking and perhaps some trotting in the areas that have softened. I also find this a great opportunity to enjoy my mare bareback in a hackamore or in a neck rope as we work on perfecting our tack-less riding. I do like to keep it interesting and safe, so if I want to tack walk outside of my fenced in ring, I’ll often attach my SmartPak 10′ Laced Trail Reins to her halter and off we’ll go! While it’s never a foolproof plan, my horse still thinks she’s working when I do these more casual rides, so when I do get the opportunity to really ride once the ring has defrosted, she’ll be a bit less energetic and less concerned with the spookiness of the ring. While I still have riding goals, without any planned shows over the winter months, I can embrace the joys that just riding my horse brings me.
While the word ‘desensitizing’ can mean various things to every equestrian, my mare can become a bit concerned when it comes to flags, if we must get specific. If you asked her, they are going to eat her and she must get away from them. My goal for her this winter, is to work on this and commit more time to desensitizing. While I always recommend working with a professional, my trainer and I will slowly introduce flags to her on the ground and eventually work up to me on her while she adapts and realizes they aren’t there to harm her. There is so much more to horse ownership than riding, so I look forward to tapping this potential with Phoebe.
Last winter, I also made some progress with clippers. Since Phoebe has a thin coat and came from the south, she hasn’t needed to be clipped before I got her. Since she struggles with scratches in the winter and spring months, especially if there’s a lot of rain, I do like to clip around her fetlocks and lower legs. While I was happy with how she handled them for the first time last winter, I know there is always room for improvement.
Speaking of clipping, I can already predict that all the ponies and horses at my barn will be gifted with many hours of cross-tie standing through the winter months. I love to take the extra time to really curry my horses and the others when it’s a bit too cold or raining or snowing outside. I love to put on my HandsOn Gloves for grooming to get every inch of dirt off. I am always happy to pull other horses’ manes too and make them feel their prettiest, even if there’s nowhere specific we’re going. I like to think our school horses enjoy the extra pampering during their “vacation” months.
I sometimes refer to myself as one of the most organized people I know, but over time my tack locker and tack room can start to look a bit disorderly. Over the winter, the other riders and my barn manager like to tackle projects that require going through cobwebbed filled tack and the dreaded buckets underneath the tack room bench, that are always filled with many unknowns. Whose sweatshirt is that? How long has that water bottle been back there, again? I find this a great opportunity to prioritize what I need to have in my tack box, what should be taken home in the winter (like my supply of fly masks that could use a good washing before spring) and an opportunity to sweep every nook and cranny. As soon as I feel like everything is organized in my barn, there is always another project that can be done. I recently redid our grain room, and now there is no confusion on whose supplement drawer is whose!
5. Tack Cleaning
Since we’re organizing, we should also be cleaning those old, cracked bridles as well as shining up our show bridles. I like to shut the tack room door, turn on the heater and begin the tack cleaning process after heating up some water. My go-to tack cleaner is the Glycerine Conditioning Soap. It comes in a tray, which makes it super easy to store and use with the Hydra Sponge Tack Sponges. Since my barn has a lesson program, I think the winter allows for some of our school tack to finally be thoroughly cleaned after a summer of fun. It’s also a great learning opportunity to show the littler kids just how much elbow grease goes into getting a bridle, halter or boots supple and bright again. If you think you’ve cleaned all the tack there is at your barn, chances are you just haven’t found it all yet!
6. Hand Walks
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoy hand walks when the ground may not allow for safe under saddle or bareback walks. My barn has some trails that go on the outside of our ring and into the woods a little bit. My barn is also near a neighborhood. So, when the weather isn’t great, but I can tell the horses may need a change of scenery, I’ll walk them, like a big dog, in and around the property. It’s nice to get their legs moving and it can help warm me up too. Sometimes, you’ll even catch me walking my horse in one hand and dog in the other!
So, while the winter may damper my riding plans a bit, there always is something that can be done around the farm! What other ways do you spend time with your horse in the winter?
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Go SmartPak and go riding!