Too Cold to Ride
By Will Clinging
When I was younger and hardier I was happy enough to ride in all kinds of weather. If truth be told, I have made my living riding and maybe I felt more obligated to ride rather than being happy to ride. Now that I am a bit older I’ve become a fair weather rider - or at least I’m not an extreme weather rider.
I used to have a cut off point at minus 25 degrees Celsius. I would use a hair drier to warm up the bit before I put it in the horse’s mouth. I would ride in insulated coveralls, felt pack boots, deerskin mittens, a sheepskin hat, and ski goggles. I was a sight to see!
I did not enjoy those cold days when staying warm took all my attention and energy. When I was a cowboy it was different because livestock depended on me. Recently I talked to a young cowboy who works for one of the big ranches in the area and he told me that every man on the cowboy crew has had frostbite this winter while straggling for stray cattle or working in the feedlot doctoring calves. Riding in the winter is part of the life of a cowboy, and while it is accepted, it is not always enjoyed.
However, most of us have the choice to not ride when the weather turns bad. It can be a lot of fun to ride on a sunny day when there is snow outside, but when the wind is blowing, the snow is piling up, or the temperature drops far below zero there is no fun in riding.
In fact, at some point it becomes dangerous. The risk of frostbite is real and it can be hard on your horse’s lungs when extremely cold outside. If the horse starts to sweat and he can’t get dry, his sweat will freeze and give him a chill. Footing can be treacherous so the potential for your horse to slip or twist a leg increases.
Most horses will not mind a forced vacation if the weather is too cold to ride. Photo: ©Canstockphoto/Kyslynskyy
For the rider, the amount of clothing needed to stay warm decreases the ability to comfortably move and will decrease reaction time. Even things like mounting or dismounting can be very difficult in bulky clothing. Wearing winter boots requires larger stirrups and it’s important to be aware that oversize boots can easily get wedged into a normal size stirrup. Unless you are wearing mittens or ski gloves your hands get too cold to be useful, and if you do wear mitts or ski gloves your hands aren’t very useful anyway.
Each of us has a limit when it comes to riding in extreme weather. My limits have certainly changed over the years and I am not prepared to put myself or my horse at risk just to say I rode when the weather was nasty.
I hear from many clients that they feel bad about not doing any work with their horses when they are snowed under or have frozen rings. I look outside at my own horses in the snow and they don’t look too upset about not being worked. Horses won’t forget what they have been taught and, although it is frustrating not to be able to do much with them because of the weather, we may all appreciate working with them that much more when things warm up.
A forced holiday is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I have written about giving a horse time off after a busy summer and fall. The weather will improve eventually and then we can get back to work. Those horses that were in the middle of a training program will pick up where they left off. It may take a lesson or two to remind them of what you were working on but the only thing that will be lost is some fitness and that will come back.
Part of the reason I’m writing this is so that people don’t feel guilty for not working their horses because of seasonal, extreme, and prolonged weather. When the weather throws snow at us, we should just go skiing.
Main photo: It can be exhiliarating to ride outdoors on a sunny winter’s day, but riders should be aware of the hazards of winter riding, and should not feel guilty about giving their horses time off when the weather is extreme.