When temperatures drop from the merely crisp to the downright cold, don’t cancel your riding plans out of concern for your horse’s health. Most horses can be safety ridden in the winter if you keep in mind the following guidelines:
• Footing can be especially treacherous in cold weather. Frozen footing can feel like concrete under a horse’s hooves, and mud that is churned up and then freezes solid can twist joints and bruise
feet. Watch to see if you horse leaves hoof prints in the turf you are traveling over. If he doesn’t, the ground has no “give” and you’ll want to stick to a walk.
• Cold air can worsen respiratory issues. If your horse has heaves, or other respiratory conditions, cold air could exacerbate the situation. You may want to skip the below-freezing rides until he’s breathing easier.
• Proper warm ups take longer in cold weather. Start with the walk and slow trot, with gentle bending and stretching exercises for about twice as long as you might in the summer. Keep in mind that a horse with arthritis is going to feel stiffer in the cold air, but should resolve after a gradual warm-up. If he doesn’t improve after the first 20 minutes of a ride, the problem isn’t the cold. Call your veterinarian to discuss an arthritis-management strategy.