You know as well as we do that it is essential to tailor any training program to the specific needs and condition of your individual horse. That being said, we wanted to offer you some “winter-approved” horse training and conditioning tips, to get you started! 

Remember, if you are miserably cold, your horse is likely miserable too. Use your common sense to do what is best for both of you when life hands you an ‘arctic freeze’ moment.

1) Spend Time on the Warm-Up:

Start each ride with a thorough warm-up. In colder temperatures, it takes horses longer to loosen up their muscles. Begin with a brisk walk to warm up their body, before moving on to more demanding exercises.

*Even better, begin your ride with the Equiband Pro System engaged. Buckling the bands on at the beginning of a ride is the best way to create proper neuromuscular stimulation and activation. Plus, it’s a perfect way to help your horse warm-up in the correct posture.*

2) Layer and Blanket:

Ensure that your horse is adequately blanketed to maintain body warmth. Layering blankets can be useful in extreme cold conditions, but be cautious not to overheat the horse. Using half-sheets and coolers at the beginning and end of a winter ride can be very useful for warm-up and cool-down. 

3) Adjust Exercise Intensity as Needed:

Recognize that extreme cold can impact your horse’s performance. Adjust the intensity and duration of your training sessions accordingly. Shorter, more frequent rides may be beneficial.

Again, don’t be too hard on yourself. No one has control over the weather and you just have to do your best during the winter months to maintain your horse’s fitness level as much as possible.

4) Watch the Footing:

Pay close attention to the footing conditions. Ice and snow can make surfaces slippery (particularly dangerous for horses with shoes), so choose safe areas for riding or lunging. If possible, use an indoor arena during particularly harsh weather.

If it has snowed, don’t forget to pick out your horse’s feet before your ride to ensure there are no ‘snowballs’ lodged in the hoof.

5) Focus on Flexibility and Suppleness:

Emphasize exercises that promote flexibility and suppleness. Incorporate lateral work, serpentines, and circles to encourage your horse to engage its hindquarters and work through its back.

*The Equiband Pro System is particularly valuable for promoting dynamic stability, which is the horse’s ability to maintain balance and coordination whilst in motion. This is a key skill to develop in any performance horse and is crucial for a soft, supple ride.*  

6) Monitor Hydration:

Even in cold weather, it’s crucial to monitor your horse’s hydration. Ensure they have access to fresh water, as dehydration can affect performance and overall health. 

Electrolytes can be helpful in the winter for encouraging your horse to drink. You can always do a quick skin pinch test to monitor hydration. 

Simply pinch a small piece of skin into a tent. If the skin returns to normal within 1-2 seconds, your horse is well hydrated. If the skin stands up in the ‘tent’ formation for longer, then your horse is not drinking enough water. 

7) Groom Regularly:

Regular grooming is essential in the winter to remove sweat and prevent the horse from getting chilled. Pay attention to their hooves, as snow, ice, and mud can accumulate, causing discomfort or thrush.

After winter rides, especially if your horse becomes sweaty, plan to give your horse extra time to cool down whilst wearing a cooler. Coolers are moisture-wicking, and help to absorb the sweat during the evaporation process.

Re-blanketing a sweaty horse right away without using a cooler first can cause your horse to become overly chilled and wet, which should be avoided when the temperatures are already low.    

8) Exercise Indoors:

If outdoor conditions are too harsh, consider incorporating indoor exercises such as groundwork, lunging, or even treadmill work to maintain fitness. 

If weather or daylight hours becomes limiting, remember, even a 20-minute lunging session is a great way to keep your horse moving during the winter months. 

*Best practices: The Equiband Pro System is the perfect training companion for groundwork and lunging.* 

9) Ensure a Proper Cool Down:

After each session, allow your horse to cool down gradually. A slow walk and stretching exercises can help to prevent muscle stiffness.

Think about how it is for you to workout during the winter! If you go for a jog in the cold, you probably need more time to catch your breath, and require different stretches to prevent cramping. Same goes for your horse!

Some example exercises to incorporate at the end of your ride include: backing up (a simple, yet effective exercise to engage the hindquarters), leg yielding, side passing, a ‘long and low’ walk, and carrot, or baited, stretches (10-15 second hold) once untacked.

10) Consult a Professional:

If you’re unsure about the best winter training program for your horse, consider consulting with a professional trainer, equine physiotherapist, or veterinarian. They can provide personalized advice based on your horse’s individual needs. 

Some physiotherapists can even give you an exercise plan so that you always know what to do when you go see your horse in the winter! Having a plan before you arrive can help make the most of your time. 

Riding and training horses in the winter months is not for the faint of heart! You are our heroes, and remember, you and your horse are both doing great. 

Stay warm, stay calm, and Equiband on!