This time of the year is known as the time to rest and stay indoors -- but get here a few winter exercise tips and keep your horse fit even in this calmer season and you will not have to start all over again in spring.
The horse will experience during the cold and snowy season a lot of new things and get used to them. This is especially for a driving horse important: it needs to "go through" all four seasons to become a really safe carriage horse.
Winter driving conditions are not really pleasant: cold, snow and ice make it important to be warmed up properly and stay warm. Muscles and tendons of horse and human should be warmed up before starting to drive with a vehicle or sleigh to prevent injuries.
A especially important tip to successfully exercising in winter is to let the horse walk/trot for 10 - 15 minutes on a lunge and make yourself also a few exercises to warm up the whole body.
It is also beneficial to keep tack, harness and horse blankets in winter in a slightly heated room: it will be more comfortable for the horse to wear a more flexible, warm gear, which fits from the first minute on smoothly and doesn't rub on the skin. Also, after use, tack and gear will dry up again and leather parts will not freeze and tear.
During exercise in winter conditions, try to maintain a steady, not too fast pace: always adjust speed to the conditions!If you see icy patches, let the horse walk only. Remember stopping the vehicle/sleigh will need a longer breaking distance.
Try to keep your exercise frequency as you are used to it, but keep in mind that sometimes weather conditions are too bad to exercise outdoors.
If you are lucky enough to have the possibility to drive in an indoor arena, you can regularly keep on driving and exercising.
It is also essential after the main part of the session to let the horse cool down and dry up. Horses and ponies usually grow a dense winter coat. This is a very good thing they are gifted with by Mother Nature. It protects them from wind, weather and cold. But, if you drive regularly, you might need to shave the horse partly, on spots and areas, where they sweat the most.
Winter horse care also means you want to adjust energy intake to manage the increased need of energy your horse has got when it's cold.You can do this by increasing the amount of the daily grain- or concentrate mix of the diet. Try to do this gradually, otherwise the danger of developing colic or founder is increasing a lot. People often want to raise barn temperature to prevent water pipes from freezing and/or because they themselves feel more comfortable in a warm barn.
This is quite risky, because a warm barn without decent, functioning air-flow gets humid and this again is enhancing respiratory diseases in horses. In a warm, humid barn ammonia and nitrogen levels in the air increase and bacterial growth is being enhanced. These factors will irritate a horse's respiratory organs and mucous membranes and lead to illnesses. And once chronic, the horse's overall performance will suffer.
The main winter exercise tip for the whole cold season is to drive regularly, whenever weather conditions allow it and never be in a hurry.
Plan well ahead, let others know about your route and how long you will normally need, take always somebody with you and don't forget your mobile phone, your warm tea, a pocket knife and a spade.
Enjoy especially a white, snowy winter. Exercise tips will help to keep you and the horse fit until next spring and you need not to start from the beginning again.