Cold Weather Riding
The forecast in the next week or so in north Texas is COLD! Highs will be in the 40s and lows in the 20s, plus it feels colder because the air is humid. Mind you the temps in my hometown in Montana are MUCH colder with highs in the single digits and lows well below zero, but consistently freezing weather in north Texas is pretty cold. At times like this I try to remind myself how miserable it is to ride when it is in the 90s and humid in the summer so I can motivate myself to take advantage of not roasting. It can be difficult.
I wish I had photos from winter rides during my childhood. I can remember helping friends move cattle and 20 minutes into the ride I couldn’t feel my feet. By the time we were done moving the cattle or whatever task we were seeking to accomplish I likely couldn’t feel most of my face, my hands and below my knees! I didn’t ride regularly in the winter as a kid. Usually the winter was when I participated in some school sport like basketball or volleyball. My horses always got the winters off to get fat and hairy and have some down time.
We never had a horse colic in the wintertime, either. My parents had a very successful program for winter horse management. The horses had plenty of shelter and hay to keep warm and dry plus our stall runs and pastures had access to Ritchie horse waterers which NEVER froze. Horses don’t like to drink freezing cold water and if they don’t drink enough water they can get impactions in their gut which cause colic. It is vital that they have access to clean, not-freezing drinking water at all times.
Now that I live in Texas, winter is my favorite time to ride. It generally doesn’t get much below 40 for most of the season, so with enough clothing it is comfortable to be outside.
When it really is “cold” I use some extra horse clothing to keep them warm while I ride. The quarter sheet covers their hind end, which is where some of their largest muscles are located. Quarter sheets are usually made from some type of fleece or wool fabric so when they do get hot it wicks away the moisture. I keep my horses under lights all year (this tricks their body into not knowing when the seasons change so they don’t grow thick winter coats) so they don’t get super woolly. Because of their lack of winter coat they need blankets when many fuzzy horses don’t. It seems cruel to take off their warm blanket to go ride and not cover them up at all, so I use a quarter sheet.
When we really get to working I will remove the quarter sheet so as to not overheat the horse, which can be worse than getting cold. It is much easier to get a horse warm than it is to cool them out in the winter time. At the horse show we went to a couple weeks ago many riders used a quarter sheet right up until they went into the show ring and put it on as soon as they came out. The older the horse is and the harder it is working, the more important it is to keep those muscles warm and prevent cramping and discomfort.
My tack room is heated so my horses also don’t have to deal with freezing cold bits in their mouths. When I go to fox hunts I often put my bridle in the floor board of the pickup under the heater so when we get to the hunt they get a nice warm bit in their mouth.
As far as keeping myself warm, I’m a big fan of layers. Especially in Texas where it often feels really cold when I first go outside, but as I start moving around I get warmer and warmer. Layers allow the removal of extra clothing so I don’t get too hot. And my favorite way to keep my ears warm under my helmet is with “hunter hair”. Hunter hair is accomplished by putting your (long) hair in a ponytail with hair covering your ears and a hairnet over your whole head to keep your hair in place. You flip the ponytail up and put the helmet over your hair. This makes your hair an ear warmer! Brilliant!
If I still lived in Montana I’m pretty sure my horses would still get winters off and I would spend the season gaining the festive fifteen from eating too much and not getting enough exercise. I’m looking forward to lots more winter and spring rides before hot Texas summer returns.