6 Ways To Cope with Winter Freshness
Most horse owners will be well familiar with winter freshness, which can add a whole new challenge to the colder months. While we all try to get through the mud, rain and wind with our sanity intact, the last thing we need is a horse that turns itself inside out before both feet are even in the stirrups.
Getting a bit fed up of your horse’s acrobatics? Here are 6 ways to cope with winter freshness.
Don’t Get On a Cold Horse
A horse who is chilly when you get on is more likely to throw a few shapes. If your horse is clipped, they shouldn’t be allowed to stand around freezing while you tack up. Some owners use a heated massage rug which, although expensive, will warm up your horse’s back before you get on.
On especially chilly days, you might want to put a fleece or exercise sheet over your horse’s rump to ensure their hind end stays warm while you ride. This should be left on until your horse is properly warmed up, or it can even be kept on for the duration of your ride.
Warm Up Slowly
It’s essential that both horse and rider are warmed up before you take on any difficult exercises. Tackle sharpness and spooking by warming up gradually, with exercises that require your horse to be focused on you. While the temptation is to blast your horse around on the lunge for 20 minutes, doing this when their muscles are too cold can lead to injuries.
Build your horse’s confidence in your warm-up by making things easy for him. Ride lots of circles and transitions, and try some gentle lateral work to get their muscles warm without winding them up. Avoid trotting aimlessly around the school on a sharp horse, and instead, let them know that you are there. When your horse is warm and feeling more relaxed, you can start to ask a little more of him.
Check for Pain
Of course, we shouldn’t ignore it if our horse is trying to tell us something, and while a little winter freshness is normal, dangerous behaviour is most likely not! If your horse is acting out a lot more than you might expect, it could be worth getting a vet or physio to check them over.
While bucking, spooking and having a play could just be your horse expressing himself in the colder temperature, it’s worth investigating if this is very out of character.
Turnout as Much as Possible
A horse that’s very fresh and excitable may simply need more turnout. If your horse is stuck in a stable for too long, their energy will start to bubble and finally boil over completely – often with you on board!
Allow your horses as much turnout as possible so they can blow off some steam in their own time. Horses can transform from crazy to calm with just an hour or so more turnout each day. While winter turnout can be tricky, sufficient field time can have a hugely positive effect on your horse’s wellbeing.
Try In-Hand Work
The first few months of the year can be difficult for horse owners, but with fewer competitions, clinics and weather-related cancellations, it’s the perfect time to perfect some new skills at home like long reining, lunging and in-hand work.
Doing poles, figures of 8 and weaving in and out of obstacles in-hand is great for your horse’s muscles. This is especially useful for owners who have lost their nerve or have had an injury, as it keeps their horses fit and helps build a topline while they grow their confidence until they can get back on. Set up a few exercises in the arena and see how your horse gets on.
If All Else Fails…Turn them Away!
Many owners who are struggling with the weather, freshness and the workload in winter choose to turn their horses away until the spring. This is especially useful if your horse has had a busy season, or they have a full-on year ahead.
Remember that your horse should only really be given a few months off if you have a good turnout and an adequate field shelter. While keeping horses in a stable for long periods of time isn’t ideal, a solid workload will keep them healthier and happier. If you have access to turnout, a break over January and February could do your horse (and you!) the world of good.