Your Horse Needs Exercise This Winter
Winter is just around the corner. One of the worst things you can do for your horse is to let him get out of shape and lose his conditioning over the frosty winter months.
Just as we humans do, your horse needs routine exercise and workouts for optimal health and to ensure he’s in proper shape when warmer weather rolls around in the spring.
Proper exercise in the off season will not only make training your horse easier in the spring, but will also help maintain his physical endurance and mental preparedness.
Warm-up is vital
Giving your horse a thorough warm up important for getting the most from a workout while helping to avoid injury. In colder temperatures his muscles will be tight and require ample time to loosen up before trotting or jogging. A proper warm up will not only get him limber, but will allow his body temperature to rise gradually as well.
Tara Gamble, BSc (Ag), AQHA Professional Horseman and Certified Horsemanship Association president explains her usual warm-up.
I always walk in both directions and bend the horse both ways to encourage equal muscle development. A warm up should be progressive with lots of time spent feeling how your horse is responding — straight lines and gentle bends initially are better handled by the horse…The time frame I spend in the winter walking to warm up is 10 to 15 minutes.
Slow, easy stretching movements are key to a good warm-up. Plus, if your horse is confined most of the time, he may require longer to get proper circulation to the large muscle groups and lower extremities. Don’t be afraid to allow a few more minutes of warm-up time to help avoid pain or injury.
Plan your workout
Before you begin a winter exercise regimen with your horse, take ample time to plan out the best routine for him. This will ultimately depend largely on his current conditioning and whether he is used for pleasure or performance.
If your horse is not well-conditioned, consider exercising him indoors rather than outside in frigid temperatures. Also, if you plan to exercise him strenuously to a sweat, an indoor arena is a better choice for his overall health.
Gamble says there are a number of less strenuous exercises you and your horse can do outdoors when the temperature plummets. She advises to try straight line walking or jogging, bending and counter flexing, doing circles or figure eights, stopping and backing up, or simply standing still.
If your facilities are small or you’re otherwise limited on space, here is a great article loaded with tips and tricks for maximizing the space you have for exercising your horse in inclement weather.
Proper cool down
Always allow your horse to cool down after a workout—indoors or outdoors, cold or warm temperatures.
Proper blood circulation through the muscles helps to rid your horse’s body of the byproducts of exercise. Andy Kaneps, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, says, “If these waste products are not cleared, they can lead to muscle stiffness and soreness.” Kaneps is co-editor of the book, Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery.
Always remember to dry your horse if his skin is wet. A little dampness on the tips of his coat is fine as long as his skin is dry.
A few minutes of quiet walking by hand or under saddle is good way to dry him. Keep in mind that a full, unclipped coat will take longer to dry.
In addition, consider a quick grooming session with a brush or comb to fluff up his coat. Doing so creates an insulating layer of air to help keep him warm during cold temperatures.
Winter doesn’t mean your horse (or you for that matter) has to stagnate. Take some time to plan and implement a structured exercise regimen that will be good for the both of you. You’ll thank yourself for it next spring when riding season is in full swing.
And finally—here’s a bit of advice for the winter from Julian Marczak, chairman of the Association of British Riding Schools. “Feed good-quality oil to your horses through the winter months. It’s brilliant for keeping condition on and for the coat.”
You can buy high quality, 100% rice bran oil and other great equine feed and supplements from Winchester Feed here.