You know that winter is coming when you start the morning riding in a t-shirt, and finish the afternoon in five layers of clothing in the pouring rain. Some horses are a bit fresher when the weather turns cooler, especially if they are clipped, but the best way to overcome this is to just keep working them. Don’t respond by cutting their feed levels, particularly if they are in work, as they need the nutrition to help fight off the winter ailments and to maintain condition.
However, if you have something overweight then now is the time to let the winter take a bit of condition off. This doesn’t mean starving the horse or throwing it out in the icy rain without a rug, but use a bit of common sense and don’t over-feed and over-rug just because you are feeling cold yourself. Remember that the horse has evolved to keep itself warm (its digestive system is quite different to ours and generates a lot more heat – see the rugging article) and it has also evolved to lose weight over winter and put it on during the spring flush of grass growth.
Overweight horses risk getting metabolic problems (such as ‘equine diabetes’), as well as increased strain on the legs and heart, so preventing those kilos stacking up is very important. Ideally, body condition score your horse (there are charts on the web you can use) and keep it in the middle (i.e. 3 if using a 1-5 scale, and 5 if using a 1-9 scale). You should be able to easily feel the horse’s ribs but not see them. A recent study has found that just walking a lot will help a horse or pony to lose weight i.e. they don’t masses of hard work, just a sensible diet and regular exercise.
News from the yard – a MASSIVE congratulations to Serena, who successfully completed her BHS Stage 2 in all sections and has started working as a part-time groom. Also to Sue and Ziggy who have been getting over 60% in Intro and have started doing Prelim tests. The yard horses haven’t been doing much lately, and Lexi found her first outing for months very exciting (!!!!), but has settled down again now. Diva has started hacking out with her TOTAL gentleman of a neighbour Ziggy, who I am sure frowns at her enthusiasm, but she is proving to be very brave and sensible over all. Thanks to Sue for putting up with some boring rides to start with.
Winter is a great time to work on things like transitions and lateral work, and having no arena is not an excuse. A very good dressage trainer I knew said that he often taught horses’ leg-yield and shoulder-in while hacking along the road verges, as the horses’ seemed to understand it better than when taught round an arena.
So, happy winter riding, and don’t use the weather as an excuse!