January 06, 2010

Horses and riding in cold weather

Today we have -26C (-15F), and the temperature is falling.
I have been riding tonight, and it was a bit difficult to keep the fingers warm, lol!
Low temperatures is a topic which often raises some questions with horse owners, so here are some facts and tips.
When does the horse get cold?

Studies are made by the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) on how horses handle the cold.
Food is the most important factor.
When hay is digested, the process also generates heat.
The more the horse eats, the lower temperature he handles without getting cold.
Horses can handle low temperature much better than humans.
They have seven times more body mass than us, but only 2.5 times more skin.
Extra fat is more important than the coat. The fat isolates three times more than other types of tissue. So make sure your horse is not underweight when the winter comes!
All clipped horses need a blanket.
An unclipped horse in medium work (up to intermediate level) normally does not need a blanket during winter time if the temperature is over -10C(14F).
If the temperature is around -10 or below, you might either add extra hay (1-3 kg depending on temperature) or add a blanket.

If it is raining, snowing or hard wind, a blanket is better.
Wind, rain, sleet and snow are harder to handle for the horses than the cold is.
If the wind is 10 m/s you would need to increase with an extra 15 kg of hay to compensate!
On the other hand you might remove the blanket on a sunny but cold and still winter day.
When it is cold, the horse raises the hair to get extra insulation.
If he is very cold, he shivers.
You can be quite certain that your horse is not cold as long as the hairs in the coat lie flat against the body.
Jonna Lindås, Ingrid Olsson, 2004: När behöver hästen täcke? Fördjupningsarbete nr 259.
Enheten för hippologisk högskoleutbildning, SLU, Uppsala
Johanna Perman, 2000: Behöver hästen täcke på vintern?
Fördjupningsarbete nr 111. Enheten för hippologisk högskoleutbildning, SLU, Uppsala

Can I work my horse in cold weather?

Yes, you can.
Horses have a long way from the nostrils to the lungs, and again, their respiration system works much better in low temperatures than the human eqiuvalent does. The air is warm before it reaches the lungs, so you can work your horse as normal even if it is cold outside.
The racing season for harnessed horses goes on all through the winter in Scandinavia.
Horses competing here work at top speed, with maximum air intake.
A study has been made by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences:
Five standardbred horses were subjected to a treadmill exercise in a climate chamber, first in +17C (63F) and then in -25C (-13F).
Conclusion was that the cold exposure (-25C) did not seem to have any untoward effects on near maximal exercise tolerance.
On the contrary the cold environment seemed to be beneficial for heat dissipation during exercise. Further, no evidence of tissue damage in the respiratory tract was observed.
The horses showed no sign of discomfort during exercise in the cold.
(Source: Dahl, Gillespie, Kallings, Persson, Thornton: Effects of a Cold Environment on Exercise Tolerance in the Horse. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.)
Article can be found
Riding in new, deep snow is fun, but it is strenuous work for the horse, and can be tough on the tendons.
(Walk in deep snow yourself. Hard work compared to normal walking, right?)
So have fun, but keep it short!

How do I equip my horse?
When we are closing in on the winter season here in November, we shoe our horses with fixed studs and rubber inlays, Huf-grip®.
If you do, you won’t have any trouble with footing, come what may. We work them all through the winter on the snow, which is a super surface to work on. Jump them too.

Before and after work, cover your horse with an exercise rug. Take it off during work, your horse won’t need it.
If it is very cold, I personally prefer not to ride with a metal bit as I imagine it is uncomfortable to the horse. I use one in plastic, or ride bitless.
If you do ride with a metal bit, remember to warm it up before putting it into the horse's mouth.
Never, ever put a sweat horse out in the cold. He must dry up first. Cover him up and/or walk him dry.
Also remember that the horses might not want to drink enough water if the water is cold. Keep an eye on water consumption, and offer luke warm water in addition after training.
If you reduce your riding during the cold spells, reduce the hard feed but keep up/increase amount of forage to keep the horse warm.

How do I equip myself?
Riding in very cold weather can be…cold!
Use layers of clothes, and always wear wool as the first layer closest to your body. Best there is.
On top of my riding breeches, I use chaps. They are better to ride in than thermo trousers (which can be bulky), and they keep you reasonably dry also in snow, sleet and rain. Give you a good grip in the saddle too!
Invest in a good winter jacket. Mountain Horse has a good range and quality. I prefer something with down because it keeps you warm without being too heavy.
Use a bum warmer on the saddle. Either synthetic, or in sheep skin or reindeer skin (which is the best!)
Metal stirrups make your feet cold. Exchange them for wood, or use some type of isolation/cover.
Your feet and hands are most problematic.
Feet: I swear to Muck boots. Buy them large enough to get a thick pair of wool socks inside, and you’ll stay dry and warm. The riding model is also high enough to walk through the snow without getting it down into your boots. Earlier in the season you can handle the mud without problems when fetching the horses – yay!
Winter boots can be bulky. Check that the stirrups are wide enough to accomodate them so you won't get stuck if something happens.
Hands. Not easy. Thick gloves are problematic to work with. Again, Mountain Horse is my choice.
Keep your training short, but in up tempo. That is the easiest way to stay warm. If you are cold, jump off your horse and walk/run beside him, that will get your temperature up.
Ride bareback! Now is the time to train on seat and balance. It will keep you warm too!
Protect your face. Use a cold protecting cream, and cover up if it is really cold.

AK is desperately trying to get her feet thawed in warm water after a -26C riding experience.
Hjalmar is pretending she is a horse, and she gets a snack for good behaviour (while the rest of us are just cracking up with laughter!)


Stephanie said...

You riders up there sure are brave!! I find the articles about how the horses handle exertion in the cold weather very informative, thank you.
I must say... I still feel a bit wimpy about acyual working out of doors in those kind of temps.
Maybe if I had no other choice!

Stay nice and warm and toasty :)

Irene said...

Intressant läsning. Skulle vilja veta när man för hästens skull behöver rida med ländtäcke. Vet du? Jag gillar också MH-kläder. Men gillar termobyxorna mer än chaps...

Anonymous said...

I ride down to about 10F (including the effects of wind chill) if the footing is OK - we tend to get a lot of ice and there are periods where we can't ride. I have especial trouble keeping my hands and feet warm, but I've had success riding in my Mudruckers insulated boots - they're not designed for riding but whatever works!

You certainly have to be hardy to live where you do and work a horse!

Di said...

Ok, you're the third of my blogger friends to work their horses in the snow, so I feel really guilty now, but I am warm!!!! lol. Unfortunately I'm a paid up member of the indoor school brigade, just wish I could afford one!!!!!

Grey Horse Matters said...

It's really much colder there than here and I still haven't ridden in the snow. I should just suck it up and go take a walk with one of the horses. I have lots of Mountain Horse stuff and I should put it to good use.

Thanks for all the information it's very helpful.

jme said...

ok, now i really feel like a wimp! this is all great advice and you have inspired me to toughen up and ride in the cold this weekend! now if only i can find a willing partner ;-)

Merri said...

I thought I was doing well when I rode in +15* F. It's always my toes and fingers that get the coldest. Since I doubt I can stick on well bareback, I'll stick to a saddle at +15* F and read about your beautiful cold cold rides : )
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Siri said...

Lots of good info, and with actual sources!

To the bit about sweaty horser: remember, the horse dries up from the inside, so even if the horse looks sweaty it's often dry and warm close to the skin. Altho if i ride the horse sweaty i usually walk them completely dry since they usually dont have thick winter fur. The ones that do just needs to dry the fur close to the skin and then they can be let out.

Last time i went to Trollspeilet i got to try out some thermo chaps, they were brilliant! You could use the seat they way you wanted to, and it keept the thighs warm! I need to get me one of those!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I was originally taught that if I feel the need to wear a jacket, then I should blanket my horse. However, then I heard that 40 degrees F is comfortable for a horse, which I would normally need to wear a jacket in. Now I err on the side of not blanketing them if in doubt, because there have been too many times when I've gone outside shivering in a coat and found the horses to be sweating under their blankets. It also depends on how thick the blanket is.

Wolfie said...

Wow. This post was timely for me. I just bought snow pants! We will be around -15 C today with the windchill, (and will be much colder next week!) so I can appreciate everything that you said. It's my first winter riding outside and I love it! I haven't had a problem with my feet or hands yet, but I know some of my riding buddies use those "hot shot" warmers and say they work very well. Need to get me one of those seat warmers, though! Thanks for the info!

trudi said...

Thanks for a good write up! I am fine with minus a bit but yours is minus a lot, ouch. I guess it's what you're used to but I admit I like the dry cold that I've experienced in winter in the Scandic lands. Keep warm!

RuckusButt said...

I hear you! When it gets between -17C and -20C I won't ride if it is also windy and night time. Mostly that is because either the riding school will cancel lessons or Brumby's owner doesn't like it. Snow is better than a frozen arena to ride in, I think.

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments all!

I kind of stop telling degrees below -20, then it's just bl**dy cold, but there IS a difference between -20 and -26, and it can be felt, lol!
Today it's even colder, and I think the horses will have a day off.

Irene, the use of exercise sheet.
I just try and use some common sense.
When the chilly weather comes in the autumn, I cover up before and after the training. But I use it somewhat earlier on training (to warm up/cool down) than on hacks as I believe the horse stays warm anyway as long as he he moving.
To me it's more a question of keeping the muscles warm, than a question of the horse getting cold.
Don't know if that answered your question?

Kate, with the ice. You don't use studs?

Trudi/RuckusButt - when it is cold as it is now, it is a dry cold and no wind.
I believe the central Europe suffers more at this time of cold and snow than we do in Scandinavia. We are used to it. Our houses are insulated, we have car tires that handle snow and ice, and equipment to keep the roads clean.
I heard on the news that Germany and Belgium were out of road salt. Not easy.
I must also admit that when visiting Ireland in feb a couble of years ago to do some X-country riding I was freezing to death indoors. I was so greatful I had brought my wool underwear, and ended up sleeping in both that and an extra pullover....and then it was only some +5 to +10C!

My Friend Grayson said...

Nice post! My barn mates and I are always debating what temperatures to blanket, stable the horses and/or both. But once again apparently we are wimps...we get worried when it's 25 degrees F. I'm in North Carolina so the weather doesn't get cold and stay cold. It might be 65 one week and a high of 35 two weeks later...makes it tough for the horses to get adjusted to the cold. I've been putting off buying a blanket for my gelding for months but I just bought one to have in case.

Kudos for riding in truly freezing weather!!

HorseOfCourse said...

Hi Greyson Friend, and welcome!

I guess we all want to do our best for the horses, so we worry. Hopefully with some reasearch facts we might worry less...
I guess even if the temeratures are higher you get some wind and rain, so that blanket will probably come in handy anyway!

Wiola said...

Ah, I just answered your comment on my blog and asked you what do you use shoeing wise to stop the snow balling up ;) Found all the answers in this post, great read! Love the picture with the hot water bucket :)

RuckusButt said...

I should have added that I am talking about riding in an indoor arena. Makes a difference as it breaks the wind. Our weather is about the same as yours, just a shorter season and we do get wind and damp cold sometimes. Not as damp as Ireland in February though, I was there in Feb last year and was quite chilled often, even though the temp was higher.

stilllearning said...

Interesting research about cold air and lung damage; I've heard you can cause damage and have erred on the side of caution when working a horse in the winter. Good to know it's not an issue. (Especially since I'll wimp out WAY before the horse does...)

Shorty said...

Hi, just found your blog, love it! Photos are stunning, and you inspire me with your fortitude!! I live in Kentucky so we don't have your winters, so I will think of you when I think it's too cold to ride! Really liked your Christoph Hess articles and looking forward to reading more.

Best wishes,

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments all!

Wiola - Huf-grips are one of the best inventions in the horse world! Did not exist when I grew up, and it makes such a difference during winter time.

RB - it is not only the temperature that decides how chilly it is, is it? Wind and moisture content makes it worse.

stillearning - how's life? Things going well with your horse? (No blog yet?)

Hi Virginia, and welcome! Glad you liked my blog.
Kentucky is in the middle of Horseland, isn't it?

stilllearning said...

Hi HOC, Life if fine, just busy at the moment...
My horse is still a work-in-progress, but we are making progress. He teaches me something new almost every day.

No blog. I'm actually trying to cut back on my computer time, to find a few more minutes in the day. I'll just have to write a book after I've figured him out completely. :)

How's the new job?

Once Upon an Equine said...

Great information HOC; very useful.

I'm a wimp. I haven't ridden since late November. But you inspire me.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Very helpful post!! Followed you over here from Mugwump.

Being from California I have never needed such knowledge, but you never know when things will change.

What are your thoughts about riding in cold vs rain?

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was debating whether to clip my big girl, or suck it up and ride outside. I rode outside the last two weekends, but the temps were hovering around minus 5C, which is really nice for us. My limit was -10C, but after reading your post now I just might have to reconsider. Riding outside in the sunshine and bright white surroundings beats the dusty arena anyday, and blow drying a Perch is a big job.

Long underwear under breeks....-40C wool socks, and mittens (not gloves). Best thing ever, my friends gave me a polar fleece helmet cover with attached neck gaiter.

They harness race through the winter here too.


HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments!

stillearning - looking forward to the book, but I'll keep nagging about the blog though ;-)
Job's fine, thanks - I am enjoying myself.

Once Upon - you will be very motivated to start the work when the spring comes, I guess!

Whywudya - welcome!
I believe the horses have more problems with cold rain. Visiting Denmark and Ireland at wintertime, I see that the horses there have much longer winter coat than ours at home. Which should be an indication?

Alberta - don't clip, go out and enjoy yourselves. Fine winterdays are just fantastic!

nblackthorn said...

Thanks for the information and resources. I don't ride in such temperatures, but I would suggest thermal Horse Riding Chaps and insulated riding boots as mentioned before would help. Keep posting!

DS said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am moving to the Northern Rockies in the USA soon, from a much more mild climate, and have been wondering what I would/could do with my horse next winter. Temperatures there are often -20ºF (-28ºC) through the dead of winter. You've brightened my winter outlook tremendously! Thanks for all the great tips.

Adventures In Colt Starting

Shinyfluff said...

very interesting and informative article! thanks!

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments!

DS - even if it is cold wintertime, I often think it is the most beautiful time of the year.
To ride out in the snow in full moon on a dark but starry winter night is just an incredible experience.
Good luck with your move - I honestly believe that the horses prefer coldness to wind and rain. When the first snow comes here, they get playful like the kids do!

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