Horseback riding in the winter can be pleasurable for you and your horse assuming you take a few extra precautions.
Begin by preparing yourself properly. Dress in layers to keep warm. Avoid 100 percent cotton clothing, which doesn’t insulate well; and wool, which can be itchy. Instead stick with silk or polyester blends for the best moisture-wicking and insulation properties. Top off the thin inner layers with North Face jackets that have Gore-Tex or Cordura nylon; both are waterproof, lightweight and breathable, but will keep you warm. Insulated breeches are available, or wear a pair of silk or polyester long johns under your jeans.
Keep your feet warm in winter riding boots that aren’t so tight they cut off circulation and cause your toes to get cold. Polyester-filled gloves will suffice if precision contact with the reins isn’t necessary; otherwise, opt for leather riding gloves with liners. An insulated helmet or hat is a must; and a gaiter will keep your neck and ears warm. For sunny winter days, sunglasses with at least 98 percent UV ray protection are recommended.
Once you’re dressed properly, prepare your horse for winter riding. Have your farrier put shoes with pads on your horse for better traction. And apply petroleum jelly to his hooves before riding so snowballs don’t form and freeze. Horses can get chilled too, so keep a quarter sheet on your horse while riding if he’s usually blanketed. And, if you’re using a metal bit, warm it between your hands before putting it in the horse’s mouth.
While riding, go slow and stick to terrain you’re familiar with. Just like you, your horse expends more energy moving in the snow, so a short, leisurely walk or trot may be all that you both need. Also, don’t jump your horse outdoors during winter. He can injure his legs landing on hard, frozen ground, or he can slip and fall on slushy snow.
Finally, when it’s time to put your horse away, take extra time to cool down and to groom him. A hot, sweaty horse can get chilled, so give him a half hour to cool off before putting him back in his stall. If he’s usually blanketed, put on a lighter covering during this time. Before returning him to his stall, do a thorough brushing to remove dirt that can clog his pores and interfere with his ability to keep warm.