Friday, December 14, 2012

Winter Riding

As a Minnesotan, I have already had my lion's share of winter riding experience. Lately I've really been enjoying my "Track My Hack" app by Woof Wear. Today Fox and I were out on the roads:

For those of you new to winter riding, make sure if your horse has shoes, you're picking feet out (sometimes I ended up needing a rubber mallet to get packed snow out of shoes - tapping gently on the side of the hoof or even using it VERY carefully with a hoof pick to chisel away ice) and consider one of the many ways of keeping snow from being packed in hooves: PAM, snow pads under shoes, etc. 

Another consideration is to pick good ground- while I do trot and canter a large amount of my "trail rides" I make sure to do so only on level surfaces or slight hills that have a snowy shoulder and aren't packed down or icy. I would make sure to walk your chosen area first and "feel" the snow under your horse's hooves - any crunching or typical ice sounds and I would say no go! Ice can be hidden under even the most benign snow drift and can prove very dangerous for your horse.

I dress warmly in layers - I learned fast from my 3 hour lessons at HHTC (and we had lessons outside down to 0*) . I have both the Kerrits Long John capris and "Cuddle Dud" brand long johns and they both work well under breeches (the cuddle duds come in an amazing 4-way stretch - don't get anything else, they are the BEST!) and wear a thermal or long john top. I love love love my Kerrits breeches - I have both the Sit Tight and Warm and the Powerstretch models, and the Windpro fabric especially is amazing, and the full seat helps you be a little tighter in the tack where fleece breeches tend to be slippery. Wool socks, Mountain Horse Ice riders, a vest and a coat with a warm layer AND a wind layer usually top me off. I also like using face shields when outside to keep my lungs from burning and my face from being too cold and usually add one of the dorky helmet covers with the fleece wrap around to increase ear coverage (the behind the neck ear muffs sit too low for my Tipperary, but a band works fine) and hold the face shield up better. Gloves are also a HUGE deal - and I like the SSG silk liners not only on their own, but they are great to put between your hand and a hand warmer pack and then put gloves over the top - that way the handwarmer pack doesn't burn you when you're too numb to feel! 

In the winter and late fall Foxie wears a quarter sheet either at the beginning of our rides, or all the way through. I have two:

The fleece Dover Saddlery, modeled by me here:

And our new addition, a Horze brand quarter sheet with a nylon windproof/waterproof top layer and fleece underneath. 

It has a tail string that you can shorten, lengthen or do away with all together, and is cut away so there is no folding and stuffing involved to get a clear girth area (check the video for what I do with the Dover). The nylon was a little scary for Foxie at first, as it makes noise in the wind where fleece is silent, but it's a cozy riding sheet and has the little details - like plastic dees for the tail strap over metal, that can get cold and "zing" your horse's haunch that I really like. I also like 50% off Coupons, making this a 25$ quarter sheet.

Fox also wears boots of some form, though they are harder to maintain in the winter because they need more frequent washing if you ride on warm days, resulting in wet, sandy wraps that tend to freeze instead of dry. 

As a plea from your horse, please make sure to warm up your bit - like that scene in "A Christmas Story" where the kid gets his tongue stuck to a metal pole... that's what can happen to your horse's tongue, lips or gums. Beyond that, you can actually cause nerve damage to your baby's sensitive mouth and cause him or her to be headshy for later bridling, a habit that can last a lifetime. 

Finally, I stretch Fox before I ride. Some people do the leg lifting stretches shown here:

And yes, I support the lunging before a ride - not just on a line, but with loose side reins to encourage back stretching! Fox isn't as big of a fan of this:

And now, last but not least, me stretching Foxie. Pardon my voice, my crabby horse and the crappy video. 

As Always, Comment with questions!

Ashley + Foxie

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