Thursday, February 12, 2009

Advice from New England: Riding in the snow

When I complained about the Vermont winters recently, my instructor reminded me of the benefits of riding in the snow. Much like training in sand or water, snow creates gentle resistance as the horse moves. The horse builds more muscle and gets a more aerobic workout than they would in the ring. Not to mention the change of scenery is nice for horse and rider.

(Photo caption: pony ride in Russia) We take both boys out Saturdays and Sundays this winter. Usually we go with two or three other riders. We ride through drifts over their bellies. We stick to areas we know to have good footing. Otherwise we could hit a rabbit hole or tree stump hidden under the snow. Riding through powder is easier than wet snow. Very crusty snow can cut the horses legs, so we avoid that.

Bell-boots can come off in the snow and leg wraps will get wet and slide around. So those are usually left at home. As for shoeing, the barefoot horses slip less. The shod horses have studded fronts with "bubble pads" and barefoot backs. The bubble pads pop snow out of the hoof to prevent the walking-on-snowballs effect.

Most horses act like puppies on their first snow rides, mine included. They leap, buck, or dance before they learn that it is easier to walk. Once they settle in, horses take very long strides through deep snow. You can feel their back, shoulders, and haunches lift and reach. I give mine a long rein and let them balance. I try to ride "balanced" rather than "pretty". So I lean forward or back and lift out of the saddle when I need to get out of my mount's way. Mostly we walk. But we trot and even canter occasionally. We are very careful choosing the footing and depth for fast work.

After a ride our horses are damp with sweat and melted snow. We cool-out at a walk. Then we untack and put an Irish knit or other cooler on them. To keep them warm, I only peel back the knit a little to reach each body part with the curry. Then everybody likes a little treat after a snowy ride, including the riders! Pass the hot chocolate!

Cold weather riding considerations


Grey Horse Matters said...

I like the pony ride in Russia picture. I've only ridden in the snow occasionally but I think it would be fun to do more often. We've had so much crusty snow this year and it's been so cold and the horses are out of shape(ditto for me)so maybe next year it's a goal I will shoot for. Glad to see you all had fun and didn't let the weather keep you from riding.

allhorsestuff said...

I loved reading this! I wish we had some of that deep stuff...jsut once!
Our snow this year was not deep enough to enjoy most of the benifits ere mentioned save one...what a treat it was for the both of us to view new white surrouyndings. My mare is barefoot -all 4's- so no snow balling effects and our legs wraps are Thinline non absorbent ones.
Fortunately, she got her bucks out ihn the arena prior to riding!

LizGoldsmith, EquineInk said...

I love riding in the snow. We've had some nice deep fluffy snow here and it's a joy to gallop through a perfectly untouched field.

For the horses it's akin to working over cavaletti the whole time so I try not to overdue it. My horse seems to really enjoy it and it's one of the few ways to tire him out!