Winter Riding Tips – Part 1
We are delighted to welcome a guest blog by Lancashire-based Grand Prix Dressage Rider Hannah Doggett. Hannah is an up-and-coming young dressage rider who has her own yard where she breeds, produces and competes dressage horses, with a special love of PRE (Andalusian) horses.
Hannah has trained with international Grand Prix rider Lisa Marriott for six years. Lisa offered Hannah the ride of a lifetime on Lisa’s international horse, Saphira, who has won thirty-six first places, twenty second places, has qualified for five National Championships and been invited to compete internationally at both Biarritz and Seville. Hannah aims to be competing her at most of the premier league shows all over the country in the coming years, as well as qualifying for the British Dressage Regional and National Championships, and being invited to compete in international competitions. She is 100% dedicated to producing happy, comfortable, successful horses and here we benefit from Hannah’s sage advice on keeping your equine athletes warm at all times through the cold winter months.
Keeping Your Equine Athletes Warm
By Hannah Doggett
The weather has most definitely turned – have you changed your horse’s management to suit? If you’re a groom caring for, or you own a ridden or competition horse then you need to consider the change in temperature. You might have started with thicker stable and turnout rugs on the horses in your care, but are you ensuring that the horses are warm at all times?
A human athlete is very careful about caring for his/her muscles, ligaments and tendons, making sure that stress and injury is avoided to maintain peak fitness and performance. As riders and grooms we need to be mindful of keeping our equine athletes warm during the times that they aren’t rugged up in the stable or field. Whether a riding or competition horse, it’s easy to neglect keeping a horse warm whilst we “quickly” groom them and tack them up before a ride, but this is actually a fundamental part of ridden exercise and, ultimately, his/her training programme.
If you are grooming a horse or getting ready to ride you might take all the horse’s rugs off, then it’s a further 20 minutes before you put them back on or he/she is ready to ride. Or you might get distracted having a chat with your friends (we all do it) and the horse is stood for an hour naked in the cold! Obviously a horse cannot tell us he/she is getting chilled – we bear the responsibility of forethought to avoid this happening to them.
What actually happens?
As a horse stands in the cold, their muscles start to tighten up. As muscles lose heat they start to contract, joints tighten and muscles, tendons, ligaments and even nerves are more easily damaged. A horse’s body has to work much harder in the cold weather which can lead to soreness and injury when not properly prepared.
So, what can we do to help with this?
You don’t have to have a fancy solarium to keep your equine athletes warm. A few simple measures you can take to protect a horse when riding and training in the cold:
- If you’re grooming, leave rugs on and groom the horse one half at a time.
- Fold the rug back first and groom his/her front end, then replace it and do the same with his/her back end.
- If you’re tacking up, put a fleece on him/her and simply fold it back when you come to put the saddle on.
- If a horse has to stand for a while in tack you can throw the fleece over the saddle and fasten the fleece at the front to secure it. Either tie up the surcingles securely on one side, or loosen them so they fasten over the saddle and girth.
A fleece is also a great way to help keep your legs warm as you both warm up – tuck the fleece around your thighs for the first 10 minutes of working. If you have a sharp horse that won’t tolerate it then try an exercise fleece. Lunge in it a few times first if you’re concerned to let a particular horse adjust to the movement of the material. You can ride your whole session in one of these and I’ve found they hardly move if you fasten them properly. You can get exercise fleeces and sheets (including waterproof sheets) that are designed specifically for wrapping over your legs, or sitting on if you prefer.
See a range of exercise rugs on Naylors online store here.
Be mindful of your horse’s comfort and needs
- Go slow with your warm up and cool down – do both thoroughly to prevent injury and soreness.
- Don’t stand chatting whilst sat on a horse at any point, keep the horse moving even just in walk to keep him/her warm.
- A good cool down will not only help to avoid muscle, tendon and ligament injury, but also decrease the amount of time you have to spend waiting around for the horse to dry off before you can put his/her rugs on and move on.
Always remember, horses can’t tell you if they’re stiff, under the weather or feeling the cold! Make sure you know the vital signs of each of the horses in your care and keep a record of each horses information. This gives you a benchmark for each individual horse that you can compare against when you’re unsure if he/she is feeling well.
On a day to day basis, if you take care of his/her temperature before AND after work I guarantee everyone will see and feel the benefits!!