A great way to stay in shape is to head outdoors on your favourite steed! Take extra time to warm up your horse's cold muscles by spending more time at the walk and trot before venturing into deep snow or at faster speeds. Cooling down also takes longer because of the heavier winter coat, especially if a sweat has broken, so take your time again.
Warm water, salt, good quality hay and a balanced diet will help to keep your horse in good health and condition throughout the winter. Even though hooves typically slow down in growth, continue to monitor quality of the hooves and keep them trimmed up nonetheless. If left barefoot, it is best to leave the hoof a little longer just enough to provide extra protection and grip on the snow. Hoof Boots make an excellent alternative to using shoes for a winter ride - you can even use socks over the hooves before slipping on the boots to protect the coronet bands from any crusty edges of snow. Socks made for diabetic adults are soft and stretchy, and are easy to slip on a clean hoof. Exercise bandages will help to keep tendons warm and protected as well.
Your horse will appreciate a good rub down after an enjoyable ride. While doing so check for any pain points, swellings or unusual tenderness; treat accordingly. If the coat is still damp then blanket until the coat is dry to prevent your horse from getting a chill. After your horse is comfortably resting, it is worth taking a few minutes inspecting your saddle blanket and tack for any signs of repair, damage or wear.
Winter riding is a great way to keep your horse in shape all year round. Sometimes our cold and snowy Canadian winters don't always make it possible, plus the shorter days make it a challenge too. If I am lucky, and the weather is on my side, weekend rides are just the thing I need to help me get through another winter!
Jean, Equine Nutrition Consultant
Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc,