If you live in an area with real winters or just have a horse that grows in a super heavy winter coat you know that riding and conditioning this time of year can be a challenge. It’s hard to get in good rides not just because of the shorter daylight but because you don’t want to bring back a sweaty horse that is going to stay wet for hours, often past dark if you aren’t able to ride early in the day.
Those of you that have indoor barns are sure lucky but since I know many don’t here are a couple of tips from an endurance rider on how to manage keeping or getting your horse conditioned through the winter months.
Horses with heavy winter coats can easily heat up so be sure to keep an eye out for that. They sweat, but the sweat doesn’t dry quickly so that can add to the problem with the horse overheating, losing electrolytes and then possibly becoming chilled. It can be quite tricky to find the right balance to keep your horse comfortable.
I try to plan to not bring a wet horse back to the barn after around 3 p.m., otherwise I know they’ll still be wet for several hours. Sometimes though, you don’t have any choice and it just works out that way. Ideally you want your horse to have a nice fluffy and dry coat so that they can stay warm. My trick is to use a fleece sheet first and then put a winter blanket on over the top of that. Then later I can pull the sheet out from underneath while leaving the blanket on so the horse stays warm. This way the fleece will absorb the sweat and provide an extra layer of insulation while my horse dries. One thing to avoid is turning your horse out still wet with their hair matted down.
The next thing to keep an eye on if your horse is sweating regularly with a winter coat is their armpits and girth area. Even if you brush the sweat off it still can be damaging to the skin and eventually you can end up with scurfing of the skin and a sore horse. I find my endurance horses are often very sensitive and require that I keep these areas as clean as possible which means I need to regularly use a sponge and water and completely remove the sweat. It’s easy enough to bring a small bucket of water and do this. If you aren’t that close to your hot water supply then save a 2 liter soda bottle or similar container and bring it out that way. It doesn’t take a lot, just enough to wet your sponge a few times. Also, be sure to keep your girth clean. It’s easy for a problem to develop and go unnoticed due to the thick hair on your horse so be sure look and feel these areas every time you ride.
Finally, sweating horses need to be kept hydrated. Mine are always fed a nice wet mash of Stable Mix, which is a complete feed, and Redmond Daily Gold and Redmond Rock Crushed (loose mineral salt). I’ve posted about the benefits of Daily Gold before as I’ve had Bo and Chief on it every single day since Bo had his colic surgery due to the benefits of it removing toxins and anti-ulcer benefits. It’s been two and a half years now without a single episode of colic in either horse so I’m not going to jinx anything and stop using it! The boys also really like the Redmond Rock Crushed in their mash and it also has turned out to be one of the ingredients they like the best in their “sweetwater” recipe. I usually offer a smaller mash while we are tacking up and getting ready to ride, and then a little larger one after returning. If it’s very cold out I’ll bring some hot water to the barn for the mash.
There was a research project that I remember reading that showed horses eating wet mashes in the winter still drank the same amount of water. What that boils down to is that by providing wet mashes, you are increasing the amount of water intake in your horse. This can go a long way towards helping your horse stay well hydrated during weather changes and when they are sweating when being ridden.
If any of you would like to try the Redmond Rock Crushed product, listen to the December episode of Endurance Day on Horses in the Morning for a 15% off discount code! The coupon works for the 5 lb pouch, case of 6 pouches, and the 25 lb bucket of Redmond Rock Crushed and is good through January 31, 2017. Thanks Redmond Equine!
Happy winter riding everyone!