Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

Jan/Feb 2007


Great Gaits


by: Barbara Weatherwax



Common Sense + Winter = Great Riding


Cold winter weather can put a snag into riding plans. But remember, the out-of-doors, and all that comes with it, is a natural environment for your horse. Don’t put off riding just because of the weather. With attention to safety measures and a healthy dose of common sense and proper attire, different weather will simply expand your options for new trail experiences.


Snow can be a lovely landscape for a horse-back-ride. Save exploring for the fair weather days. In the snow, even familiar trails take on a whole new appearance. Common-place items like mailboxes, parked cars, boulders and tree stumps can be mysterious and even scary to a horse when they are covered with mounds of white.  If your horse is new to winter weather, be patient until it learns to accept these changes.


Take time and stick to trails you’re acquainted with. Remember, fresh snow can camouflage holes, drop-offs and poor footing. Don’t risk asking your horse to walk on pavement or other slick surfaces that might be frozen. Black ice can be treacherous.


A hoofpick is a necessity on snowy rides. Snow can pack into the hoof and actually create balls of ice and snow that make it difficult and even dangerous for a horse to travel. Check your horse’s feet regularly and use the hoofpick to clean the hooves whenever necessary. Before the ride you might prepare for snowy possibilities by applying Vaseline, WD40, or vegetable oil to the frogs of your horse’s feet. It can help to guard against snow build up. If you often ride in the snow, you might even want to have rubber pads mounted under your horse’s shoes, or consider leaving your horse barefoot.  Of course this should be done only after discussing it with your farrier, because he will best know the strength of your horse’s hooves. Folks who choose to pull the shoes for the winter often run into the problem of damaged feet. Once a horse’s feet get chipped and disfigured, it can take a number of shoeings before they are back to normal.


Make sure you are dressed warmly. Be careful that your winter boots are not too big to be pulled safely from your stirrups. Don’t wear a long and loose scarf that could get tangled in the brush or tree branches. Wear gloves with a good grip and preferably ones that won’t become soaked with moisture.


Wear a slicker to cover the saddle in wet weather. You may want to add tapaderos or stirrup hoods to stirrups, and a sheepskin cover for your saddle can be real cozy. Don’t put an icy cold bit into your horse’s mouth; hold it under your arm for a while. 


Your horse, with its heavy winter coat, will tend to sweat more on a snowy ride. If you ride frequently in this cold weather, you may want to consider clipping its belly and legs, so the sweat can be wicked off the horse easier. Planning ahead is the only way we can enjoy the winter season. Part of the planning is having good serviceable blankets on hand for each of your horses. I don’t blanket my horses as a general rule. I prefer to let the horse’s natural thermostat control its body comfort during the cold. There are, of course valid reasons for keeping a horse blanketed but there are also legitimate reasons for not blanketing. If the horse is a show or competition horse that is kept in a barn, with all the accompanying upkeep, blanketing will keep the horse’s coat slick and show-time ready. If the horse is primarily a pleasure horse, it may be best to forget the blanket. Left unblanketed, the horse’s body thermostat can control hair growth and other physical survival mechanisms. Once the blanketing process interferes with this natural ability, the horse owner assumes the ongoing responsibility of providing artificial thermostat control.


This being said, I keep two blankets available for each of my horses.  One is a cotton sheet I use for the trailer ride home after a ride. This protects the horse when its coat is damp from exercise. The cotton blanket holds the horse’s own body heat in allowing it to dry naturally. Do remove the sheet once the horse has dried. It you leave it on, it holds the hair down against the horse’s skin and doesn’t allow for “fluffing” which creates insulation necessary for the horse to maintain body warmth. (a cotton blanket is also maintenance-friendly and can be washed in your washing machine, and repaired on a home sewing machine.)


The second blanket is warm, lined and water-resistant. I want to have this available for those times when the horse gets wet to the skin, and is winter-time cold. Sometimes, after a vigorous ride, I put the heavy blanket over the cotton one for the ride home and overnight. Then in the morning, depending on the weather, I take the heavy one off at breakfast, and remove the cotton one when the sun shines. This should not interfere with the natural thermostat kicking in, because it’s done gradually.


So get out there and create memories for yourself and enjoy the process!



Please contact me on my email:  with your specific questions or thoughts about the Mountain Horses. And Happy Gaiting!