How to Condition Your Horse in the Winter

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Horse Training

Swimming your horse in an Aqua-Tread, trotting him for miles in a horse exerciser, or walking him on an incline treadmill are amazing and optimal plans, however, none of these options are at every street corner for our convenience!! Here are four of my tried and true tricks and some advice for winter conditioning.

winter conditioning for horses, horse training in winter

Use these for some good winter conditioning.

1. Snow banks. Before you go blasting through a snow bank, know what is underneath the snow, and then plow through on your horse. It is an excellent cardio workout for our horses to go at a good long trot through any depth of snow and the deeper the harder the workout. Be aware and careful to not over work or strain muscles by going too far in too deep of snow. Keep checking your horse for signs of over exertion (lots of sweat or rapid respirations).  Just let them get to a very light sweat and make sure they recover their respirations quickly before going on! Long, slow, distance is better than over exertion especially in winter conditions.

winter conditioning your horse, horse training, winter riding

All this sage brush can come in handy for conditioning your horse in the winter.


2. Sagebrush. The best footing for trotting your horse and the least amount of ice are found in and around sage brush as you winter condition. Since horses have to pick their feet up and even sometimes jump to get over and through the bushes, it is super cardio and agility conditioning.

3. Salted Round Pen. Conditioning and ground work can be done in our round pen, barring no ice. We salt it thoroughly before any freeze occurs and then a few times throughout the winter. I can work on many things while conditioning: transitions, lightness, collection, slowing feet, speeding up feet, moving hips and shoulders…on and on.

winter riding, winter conditioning for your horse, horse training

Get the tools you need to make a safe place for winter riding.

Make safe footing, and get some winter conditioning done for your horse.

Make safe footing, and get some winter conditioning done for your horse.

4. Bundle yourself up! Today, I was riding and if I did selfies, I would have looked, well, VERY bundled up. Wool stocking cap over a wool headband, silk scarf, long johns, smart wool socks, Bog boots, jeans, over-alls, down coat and warm gloves. Not much for fashion, but I was warm. Layers work great and be sure protect any exposed skin in real cold temperatures. I have worn a ski mask and ski goggles in wind and snow…it actually feels like I am in my own bubble out there going through the pastures.  I wear the slim bog boots made to ride in and I wear wool socks, usually the Smart Wool Brand. Under-Armor long johns are my favorite as a base layer. I ride in my old broken-in Carhartt coveralls or my soft Roper overalls as the outside layer. Chaps are wonderful too!

My friend Samantha Flannery, Mission SD, knows many winter miles out through her ranch. I asked her how she conditions in the winter to prepare her futurity colts to go South in the spring. Her word are, “Buy Under Armor, Muck Boots, baklava, etc. Saddle up your horse and go ride!” And Sam further explains, “I check out the long range forecast and hope I can find 3-5 days to ride that are weather friendly. If the weather isn’t cooperating, I bundle up more!! Since it is hard to find places to lope circles, I go in straight lines and maybe go to an indoor arena once a week. As I was riding, yesterday, behind a windbreak, I thought to myself, if I want to run with my competition this spring, no excuses, I have to get out and ride, I won’t die!!!” And then Sam’s comical side pops up, “Unless your pony bucks you off and you end up in a frozen cow pie or your horse slips on ice and lands on you, then you MIGHT die.”

Straight lines are usually safe for conditioning your horse in the winter.

Straight lines are usually safe for conditioning your horse in the winter.

Winter conditioning your horses takes some adjustments, tenacity and just good old “get’er done” attitude. Find some deep snow, sagebrush bushes and throw some ice melt in your round pen, then just go ride!

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Horse Training

About Lynn Kohr

I am a barrel and pole horse trainer, giving springtime barrel racing and pole bending clinics and workshops, competing in barrel racing and pole bending futurities while marketing our horses for sale. I am a Mom of 3: Sage, Cedar, and Stratton. And wife of...

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