So it’s mid-January and we have gone back into a bit of a cold-snap. Though not near as frigid as last week, the thermometer still reads 61 days ’til spring. And don’t get me wrong… I really love winter. I love winter sports, snow days, hot toddies and cozying up to the fire. I love trees dressed in diamonds, the glee of kids and dogs playing in the snow and the excitement of an impending winter storm. I don’t even mind that the fat on my body seems to stay chilled long after I have gotten out of the cold. But there is something I do mind: and that is the realization that in spite of my love of horses, it is really hard to go to the barn when the temperature dips!
Mentally, the cold weather seems to put up a roadblock; a mixture of wanting to avoid the inevitable blast of biting air, the never-ending safety precautions surrounding animals and people alike and the just plain old being happy indoors. You know that in spite of cold weather gear, proper warm-ups and how good you know you will feel after a ride, that initial step out into the arctic wind will just be breath-taking. And not in that “Oh my gosh did you see that horse go?” way. Nevertheless, you grab your best gear and head out. Thinking for sure that if someone saw you, the authorities would be called for impersonating a masked marauder who can’t put their arms down. Even the children and dogs run inside at the site of you.
But we go. We go because the hairy beasts need cared for. The barn needs cleaning, the buckets need de-icing and the athletes that our horses are need exercise. So in honor of our dedication, here are the top 4 quick tips for beating the cold and staying safe in winter:
1. Dress in layers. You can always slip off layers as you warm up; adding them back as you cool down. Also be sure to remember that you can still sweat in sub-zero weather. A wicking layer against your skin is as important in winter as it is summer. Also avoid the chill by removing any clothing that may become wet.
2. Wear a hat. Whether you add ear warmers to your helmet or not, wear a hat before and after you ride. Also, wear some sort of hand protection. If you feel you need a lighter glove to ride in, cover back up when you don’t need that feel. You lose heat out of any uncovered part of your body. Hand and foot warmers work wonders!
3. Warm up and cool down properly when you ride. Whether clipped or not, horses need to be warmed up. And a longer than usual warm-up may be necessary when the temperatures really dip. If your horse is okay with it, a quarter sheet is a great way to ease the topline and hind quarters into work. Whether you lunge, warm-up or continue your ride covered, how long you use a quarter sheet depends on your level of work, the temperature and the breathability of the fabric. As with your own layers, a quarter sheet with wicking ability really helps to keep things warm and dry.
And as you finish your work-out, it is important to remember that a proper cool-out is necessary. In the event your horse sweats, use a cooler or anti-sweat sheet of some sort. Clipped or unclipped, coolers or even properly installed heat lamps are a great way to expedite the cooling process and avoid chill. And under normal circumstances, it is never wise to throw a winter turn-out blanket onto a sweaty horse and expect them to dry. A horse will chill long before they dry and you can create an environment for bacterial growth.
4. Know and care for the surfaces you ride and walk on. Riding out in winter can be magical. But snow-covered areas may camouflage holes and slick spots. Outdoor riding rings and footing may even become dangerous if frozen. Pits and divots can trip and twist a footfall. Even indoor riding rings can become hazardous. Blown-in snow or certain types of footing can absorb dampness and become slick. And don’t forget to clear pathways to cars and the manure pile!!! Trampled snow can become ice in no time at all. Just remember: know where you go!