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Braving the Chill: A Winter Horse Riding Guide

Part 1 Rider Edition


girl standing with horse in the snow

Hopefully, you’re not stuck in this spring/winter cycle that my area seems to be in. We’ve had some beautiful sunny days quickly followed by multiple inches of snow and the cycle repeats. I get so excited about the warm weather that I start to consider putting away my winter gear, but Mother Nature just loves to laugh at me at this point. 


For those of you who haven’t followed me for a long time, I HATE the cold. I’m not a fan, I don’t like having a numb nose, toes, or fingers. It’s just not fun and my horse seems to feel similarly when the temperature drops. We have to spend a lot longer getting her tacked up and warmed up - and even then it’s evident she would much rather be left alone in the paddock than dragged out on a ride. 


As frustrating as the cycling of the weather has been this year it hasn’t been nearly as hard as last year. We had 6 months of deep snow and subzero temperatures that made riding impossible and left me with extreme cabin fever which I could have handled better... 


After how I dealt with the cold last year I knew I needed to come up with a solution for this year so I wasn’t so grumpy. I started to do research into how the cold affects my horse as well as stocked up on all the warm weather gear, and in lieu of the winter weather coming back in this March day, I wanted to share with you what I found and how I’ve been able to cope with the cold weather better this year. 


Before I dive into the considerations for our equine friends I wanted to touch on the preparations we need to make for ourselves first. As I mentioned above, the cold is something that always makes me grumpy and makes it 10x harder for me to want to get out and ride, so, I end up making excuses. This year I was determined to shift my mindset around how I looked at the cold and here’s what I did:


Asked myself - “What is it about the winter season that I hate so much”


It won’t surprise you to hear that the thing I hate most is the COLD, and as I identified that, I realized the cold was something I could control. But, as I thought about the snow clothes I had on hand that kept me warm I realized that wasn’t enough. Yes, they keep me warm but also make it hard for me to move and ride in, so I needed to come up with solutions that allow me to move freely and ride without feeling like I was being suffocated. 


So, I asked for this heated vest for Christmas. I’ve loved it because it gives my arms freedom and keeps me toasty even without turning the heat on. Then I added hand warmers, a helmet cover, and thicker socks to my list! 


You may find that you get a different answer than I did after asking yourself this question. Still, whatever the answer may be, I want to challenge you to take ownership of it and find solutions instead of allowing yourself to be stuck in the same old patterns of misery and grumpiness. 


You have to warm up!


Almost every single time there is a cold snap I get messages from my client’s who have tweaked their backs, hurt their necks, or even fallen off their horses because they haven’t taken the time to prep their bodies for the cold. 


When it’s cold outside our muscles, ligaments, and tendons all become stiff and harder to move. This means moving the 50lbs bags of feed that you do every couple of weeks can now be the cause of quite a bit of pain, not to mention the increased risks of falling or injuring yourself when you are riding.


What can you do to warm yourself up?


You want to make sure that you warm up your body as a whole and not just your legs or just your arms. Some of my favorite movements that I have my clients do are;


  • Walking: Before mounting your horse walk with them for a few minutes, you’ll be warming yourself and them up at the same time!

  • Walking lunges: These can easily be done while you’re leading your horse and will get your knees, hips and leg muscles ready to do their jobs. 

  • High knees: put your hands out just above hip height and bring your knees to them as you walk. Again this will help both your knees, hips and leg muscles prepare for your ride. 

  • Arm flies: Similar to swinging your arms just slowed down quite a bit. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move your hands apart and letting them come forward as you move them closer. This will help get your shoulders and upper back ready. 


Winter doesn’t have to be the end of your riding journey for the year, just play it smart and be prepared. And remember that horses are horses, so, always be aware of their moods and how the winter may affect them as well. Never do anything you and your horse are not prepared for, or that you are not comfortable with.


Stay tuned for Part 2 Cold Weather Riding: Horse Edition coming out later this week! Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe and share this post with your friends!


If you want more ideas on what to add to your cold survival list listen to episode #67 of The Horsewoman Project Podcast!


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2 Comments


I live in Salmon, ID—so I think we have similar winter woes. I am not able to stay inside all winter, either. Waaay too depressing. I’ve come up with a lot of the same solutions as you for riding in the cold. I got battery-heated socks, too, but I found the best thing for keeping my feet warm has been the shoe insoles made by Hothands and then a sock liner that wicks moisture with alpaca wool socks over, and a good pair of winter boots. I use tapaderos over my stirrups, and you can put warmers in those, too (tho I haven’t tried that) I wear insulated riding overpants (tho my friends in western MT like riding skirts) an…

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McKayla
McKayla
Mar 07
Replying to

Oh man, Idaho weather is no joke! 😩Thank you so much for sharing these ideas! The more we know the safer we can be!

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