Whether you’re battling heavy rain or frozen conditions, winter weather can result in an increased risk of injury to your horse, either in the field or when ridden. But by making a few simple adjustments to your routine it’s possible to reduce the chance of a problem.
When to turn out?
While we all know that plenty of turnout is an important part of our horses’ management, it’s not necessarily best to put your horse in the field at all costs. If he’s used to living out, he’s likely to cope fine with whatever the British winter throws at him (provided he has access to shelter and a tough, waterproof rug (such as the Whistler Turnout Rug & Neck Set) to keep him dry. However, if your horse is on a combined system there may be days when it’s better to adjust his usual turnout routine by turning out for a shorter period of time, or providing him with other ways of stretching his legs – for example, turnout in the arena, using a horse walker, or hand walking in addition to ridden exercise. Very slippery ground, either due to ice or heavy rain, increases the risk of slips or falls, which can cause soft tissue injuries that may take many months to heal. If your horse is turned out as part of a large group, consider whether subdividing the horses in these conditions would help everyone remain more settled – or why not feed hay in the field to keep them occupied? Remember to always offer more piles of hay than there are horses, to avoid arguments.
If you’re heading out hacking, pay extra attention to the going, particularly when trotting and cantering. Avoid going at speed through deep ground, which could cause damage to the delicate tendons and ligaments in your horse’s lower legs. Look for good grass cover to reduce the risk of your horse slipping, too.
Essential warm-up tips
The more mobile your horse is, the looser his muscles will be. So, if he’s stabled more than usual at this time of year he’ll also need longer to warm up before a schooling session. Your first priority should be to keep him warm while tacking up – folding a fleece rug over his quarters is ideal, then leave it handy in his stable to put back on him as soon as you return from your ride to avoid him catching a chill.
Using an exercise sheet while warming up, or even for the whole session if the weather is particularly cold, is a good idea. Incorporate plenty of walk work and suppling exercises – for example, spiraling in and out on a circle – alongside lots of transitions within and between the paces before moving on to longer periods of trot or canter. Some horses really benefit from massage pads or rugs to help keep them feeling loose and supple – why not try to borrow one from a friend to try before buying your own?
Your horse’s winter coat is likely to have almost completely stopped growing by mid to late January. While it might not be falling out just yet, the lack of blood supply to the roots of the hairs means they’re much more prone to damage – for example, rubs from reins (on the side of the neck), girths (behind the elbows and under the tummy) or from the binding on saddlepads (usually just behind the saddle). Don’t wait until he has a bald patch – or worse – before taking action. Check him carefully every day for signs of rubs or sore areas and adjust his clothing as necessary. Merino Lambskin is soft and naturally wicking, allowing air to circulate and improve blood circulation. Lambskin-lined saddlecloths, Lambskin girth sleeves and the Lambskin general purpose sleeve (which can be used anywhere that a bit of extra padding is needed) can be used to keep him comfortable.