Exercising your horse in cooler weather
Just like we humans, horses need exercise all year long, even when it's cold outside! If you only ride when the weather is good, chances are you won't be doing much! Daily exercise is essential for the overall health of your horse all year-round. They need to warm up before exercise, just like us, in order to avoid soreness and injury. This is especially true during the cooler months, when the muscles and joints are stiffer. Here are a few tips to help you and your horse have a healthier and safer ride.
Take your time
Allow extra time for your warm up. Increase it by about 10-15 minutes or until you feel he is limbering up. You’ll notice that as you ride, his stride will get longer and he will not be as hunched up as when you started out. This means his muscles are warming up and he’s more comfortable or more importantly he’s ready to start work.
Warm up properly
Allow 10 to 20 minutes of warm-up exercise. This is usually sufficient for most horses and will depend on whether they're turned out or not. Obviously if they're not turned out at all, they'll need longer to warm up than horses that are turned out.
Once you’re on your horse, start walking, making sure to give him plenty of rein to lower his head so he can stretch his neck muscle and up, over his back too.
Keep him warm
A good exercise sheet will help to keep your horse warm and dry if there's a downpour or other poor weather conditions. There are several different types of exercise sheet, so get the one that meets your requirements or that you think you'll get most use from.
If you school mostly, there are two choices: a waterproof exercise sheet or a fleece one. If you want to protect your horse from the rain, go for a waterproof one. It will keep your horse warm and dry. They often have reflective strips or piping on them, like this one, Weatherbeeta 600D Exercise Sheet, so they can be used for riding out.
If your horse suffers from cold, a fleece exercise sheet would keep his back and quarters warm. The HKM Pro Team All Stars Exercise Sheet comes in fun design which, again, at a push, could be used for riding out.
If you ride out mostly and you want an exercise sheet to alert other road users of your presence, then there's no doubt you need a hi viz one, like these from Equisafety. The beauty of these is that they're waterproof and warm.
Cool down thoroughly
Equally important as warming up, is cooling down. After you finish your ride, especially if it’s been a vigorous workout, it is a good idea to again walk your horse for 10-15 minutes, allowing him to slow his breathing and cool down. If lengthy cool downs are inconvenient, shorten the intensity or length of sweat-inducing exercises.
After you untack your horse, use water (warm water, if it’s available) to sponge off the areas that have become sweaty - the saddle area, chest, and around the ears where the bridle has been. Be sure and scrape off any excess water using a sweat scraper, and make your horse as dry as possible. If your horse is still breathing heavily, you should hand walk him until his breathing has returned completely to normal.
Celebrate the cooler temperatures of winter: no biting flies, no debilitating heat or no scorching sun from summer. Real riders have one thing in common: they recognise the importance of working their horses throughout the rain, wind and snow. Workouts at this time of the year are invaluable for maintaining fitness, preserving training, and promoting mental well-being. Think positively: it also provides an opportunity to fix problems in a horse's training and prepare you both for the better weather and all that it includes. So pull on your warmer jackets, don a pair of warm gloves and go for a ride out or a schooling session and... enjoy it!