So Just How Cold is Too Cold to Ride?
By Kelly Sheehan
How can you really know when it is too cold to ride? It seems like each year, temperatures fluctuate leaving humans and horses alike struggling to manage the extreme weather each winter. While each rider seems to have his or her own rules for when it’s too cold to ride, what do the experts say? It turns out, there are different risks and recommendations for exercising horses and avoiding a sick horse. When you are ready to stock up on warm gear head over to Horse Tack Co. and save 15% off your order by using the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout, all-the-time and anytime for all of your cold weather needs.
Water and Hydration
One of the biggest winter risks is tied to water consumption. Horses often drink less water in the winter and water is necessary to maintain health and reduce colic risk. If you are expecting freezing temperatures, take stock of the water in your barn. Are pipes insulated? Do you have additional containers to store water that can be thawed safely as needed? Do you use heated water buckets? Electric buckets may short, shocking horses when they try to drink. If you notice a reduction in water consumption, provide an unheated bucket and see if drinking improves. A water bucket can freeze in a short time, making it important to plan to thaw buckets or at least ensure buckets are thawed in the critical three hours after eating. Also, horses will drink more when warm water is available. Adding a product to your horses water that will promote drinking, such as Horse Quencher is crucial in the colder months as well.
Extreme weather and snow accumulation lead to the risk of increased weight on the roofs of barns and structures. If you have concerns about the weight your building can sustain, consider having horses weather snow outside with blankets, hay, and shelter from trees or lean-to structures. Plan to have two weeks or more of hay, grain and supplies in the barn during the winter months- especially if a known storm is coming. Additional supplies to have on hand include tractor fuel to help clear drives and paths and non-clumping cat litter to help de-ice paths without causing damage to pasture plants or hooves.
Horses are considered to be most comfortable around 41-degrees Fahrenheit, which is colder than most humans prefer. Planning ahead for cold weather can help maintain exercise and movement which is critical not only to mental stimulation, but also to maintain health and support gut health. Although horses tolerate colder air more than is often expected, it is important to consider individual health and exposure. For example, horses who are body clipped in the winter, or accustomed to heated barns or stall areas, may not be as prepared to exercise in significantly cold weather. It is also important to consider what type of work is being asked of the horse, since increasing speed of breathing may make it more difficult for the horse to adequately warm the air.
Extra Time & Boredom Busters
Many experts recommend providing additional warm-up and cool down time when it’s too cold to ride. Additionally, utilizing wool coolers to allow sweat and moisture to rise away from the horse’s hair coat can facilitate health by not allowing the horse to get chilled. While there are no hard and fast temperatures, consider what is typical for the environment where your horse lives. Horses in the Midwest may be more tolerant of cold temperatures, while those accustomed to the Southeast may need increased warm-up in more mild, cool temperatures. If horses are inside due to weather or unusual temperatures, consider allowing indoor turn-out time. If that is not possible, it may be possible to handwalk horses in the barn aisle or work on ground work to maintain mental stimulation and engagement. Horses that are used to turnout for the majority of their day can have significant health impact when they are confined to stalls, which can contribute to other health concerns such as increased colic risk.
Overall, when determining if it’s too cold to ride, it seems like change from typical is the concern for horses in the winter, more than a specific number or set of weather conditions. Making modifications like warming your horse’s bit before putting it in his mouth or providing blankets for barn dogs and wool or fleece coolers for horses post-workout are basic considerations that can make a difference in keeping your four-legged family safe and happy this winter. Shop with Horse Tack Co. for all of the cold weather essentials you need to survive the bitter cold months and don’t forget to use the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout to receive 15% off your order, all-the-time and anytime. Stay warm friends.