Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter Riding 101: Horses are for Always

Horses are for always; this is a sentiment that we truly adhere to at Painted Bar Stables. While many people pack up their horses and riding ambitions for the winter, we actually kick it up a notch! 

Winter is actually one of the best times to ride. Many riders who are truly committed to their equestrian dreams find winter to be the perfect opportunity to fully enjoy their mounts.  As crazy as that sounds, there's a whole bunch of reasons that make winter the perfect time to grab your boots and gloves:

1. Winter is Beautiful

Even though we spend most of the winter curled up beside the fireplace, for those of us who brave the outdoors during this season we find one of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes that we can imagine. 

The crisp cool air sharpens everything into perspective in the winter wonderland as snowflakes fall and sun is reflected off of the snow drifts in a cold sparkle. The forests become quiet and enchanting with the snow absorbing and insulating everything. It's truly a winter wonderland out there for those brave enough to explore it.

And though daytime is a bit warmer in the winter there's nothing so enchanting as riding by the winter full moons! The moonlight, bright in the summer is nearly blinding in the winter as it gets reflected off of the snow and filters through the tree branches, unhindered by the canopy of leaves that would usually be there in the summer. It's a special and amazing experience.

2. Cool Temperatures
While most people actively avoid riding in the winter because of the cool temperatures, this is precisely the reason it can be a better time to ride.

Many people do not realize just how athletic riding at the trot or canter can be. Riding at speed can be fun in the summer, but a very sweaty and exhausting experience for both horse and rider. The cooler temperatures are fantastic for conditioning rides because the horses under saddle will be more able to regulate their core temperature and are less likely to get sweaty and tired. For intermediate and advanced riders, this makes winter the perfect time for long athletic trail rides to increase your horse's endurance and aerobic capability without risk of your horse overheating. 

The cool temperatures are actually great for riders as well. In the cooler weather we can dress in layers so that we always have the right amount of clothes. When riding at the trot or canter we can open zippers or strip off layers that we have accessible to put back on when riding at the walk or getting chilled. 

3. Bareback Riding
A horse's natural body temperature is between 100 and 101 degrees. When it's cold outside and we just can't seem to warm up it can be a very cozy and beautiful ride if you just leave the saddle at home. Bareback riding is one of the most beautiful ways of riding a horse, and there's no better time to do it than in the winter.

Furthermore, if you're just not as balanced as you wish you were you can always just slip off into the soft snow. The only problem with that is getting back on without a stirrup for a leg up!

4. More Focused Horses: Less Obstacles
Here's actually my favorite reason to ride in the winter: there is basically nothing on the trail to distract horses from their riders.

No Yummy Green Things
In the summer the beautiful lush green terrain is fantastic to look at, but it's also an amazing distraction to horses because it's delicious. No matter how well trained your horse is or how strong your partnership is the grass will always be a distraction. Even if the horse does not eat on the trails, that same horse will be even more focused and more participatory in the winter without those distractions. 

No Bugs!
There is no bug spray strong enough to truly protect your horse from the plethora of different types of insects that will bother them on trail: gnats, mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, horse flies, ticks, and more! Bugs are a real bother on the trail for both horse and rider. They are distracting, frustrating and even painful; and nothing you do can make them go away when it's so warm out. In the winter, however, this isn't a problem. At all.

5. Snow can be great Footing
When you think of winter you think of slipping and ice, but contrary to popular belief horses are very capable in the snow. A nice layer of snow provides good traction and grip, but also soft shock absorption making it easier on the tendons and ligament structures of the leg.

Deep snow is actually a fantastic tool to use for conditioning. To get through deep snow a horse needs to work extra hard, pulling their hind end under them in order to propel themselves up and over the snow with greater efficiency. They also must have higher action with their front legs to lift their feet up and over the snow. As a result, conditioning in deep (but not unreasonable) snow can help pull your horse together and ask them to use their body with more strength. 

That said, while snow itself can be good footing you do need to keep your eye out for the following conditions: mud, slush and ice. Riding should never be attempted on ice as horses do not have padded feet for traction. If a thin layer freezes on top of deep snow it can be difficult for horses to break through and they could even lacerate their lower legs. Especially as temperatures warm again the slush and ice can be very slippery as they may only be a thin coat of slick on top of frozen ground.

6. Those Who Ride in the Winter Become Exponentially Better Riders
For years I have been teaching individuals to ride and these are the facts: 
Riders who take lessons > Riders who do not take lessonsRiders who ride in winter > Riders who are warm weather riders
It seems obvious that riders who ride consistently without breaks would improve faster than riders that take sabbaticals from their lesson routine. While this is true, it's not just the consistency that makes the winter riders improve more. Winter riders are stronger riders.Here's why: 

Muscle Strength and Endurance

Firstly, it takes a lot of muscle to ride in the winter! When your muscles are cold they need work harder to perform. I like to remind people that however sore they may be in the summer after a two hour ride is how they will feel in the winter after a one hour ride. Conditioning in the winter strengthens riding muscles and increases capability leaving the winter riders in not only good shape but better shape by the summer.

True GritThose who choose to ride in the winter are usually more committed to their riding. Nothing gets in their way: Rain, Sleet, Hail and definitely not Snow! This personality and perspective, despite which season they are riding is strongly influential in the development of riding skills. Horses prefer people who are more passionate and committed and have less excuses.

Feeling Their OatsFor many reasons, horses are "feeling their oats" a bit more in the winter. The cold temperatures, combined with less daily mileage can make horses more willing and agile participants. Working with horses that are less lazy and more alert due to the cold temperatures helps to sharpen and hone skills that a tired, overheated and sluggish horse in peak summer may not be as enthusiastic to help develop. Riders who ride in the winter become more participatory and less complacent and/or frustrated in the riding experience as a result.

More Consistency
Not only are horses not being ridden as much and therefore not as tired, here at Painted Bar Stables they are also not being ridden by true beginners as much in the winter. In the summer we take out thousands of beginner and first time riders on our horses, who are patient and kind. In the winter we transition to a stronger lesson program and reduced number of trail rides. This means that our horses get a rider upgrade in the winter to more consistent riders who they know better, but who are also usually either better riders or becoming better riders.

Winter Riding at Painted Bar Stables

A core group of staff here ended up hitting the trails when nobody else signed up to ride on a beautiful winter day! The weather was warm, 38 degrees in the lowlands and 25 degrees on the mountain. There was minimal to no wind. The entire trail was covered in even, soft snowfall with no tracks or slush. Just perfect!

To see a quick video visit:

To see our route and statistics click here:

Tips for Riding in the Winter

For the Rider:
  • Dress in Layers
    You can never have enough layers. You want to dress in many thin layers. Do not do big, thick layers because the bulk can make it hard to be agile. Many thin layers are warmer than just a couple thick ones.
  • Wear Fibers meant for WinterCotton is only great until it gets wet! Wear fibers that are especially designed to help you stay dry and warm. A little investment goes a long ways.
  • Wear Safe BootsYou obviously want to have warm boots but be sure that they are not so bulky as to get wedged into your stirrups. You wouldn't want them to get stuck!
  • Always Wear GlovesLeather (especially deerskin) gloves are preferable because they provide the grip needed for riding but also the wind-proofing to keep hands warm.
  • Handwarmers and ToewarmersThose little heated inserts for gloves and boots are a lifesaver. Do not underestimate them! Just make sure your boots and gloves are big enough that they won't be too tight with the warmers inside.
  • ScarvesWe want to stay warm but we want to stay safe! If you're wearing a scarf you want to make sure that there is no tail hanging out that could get caught on a branch while you ride. Be sure all loose ends are tucked inside.
  • Hats and Helmet CoversYou'll want to keep your head warm so buy a hat that has a thin but warm profile so it fits under your helmet. Special helmet covers are also made that go over the helmet and have a built in wrap that goes around your ears and neck like a scarf. 
For the Horse
  • Warm the BitA frosty cold bit can be uncomfortable for your horse. Much like a wet hand touching a metal pole in the winter, your horse's lips can actually stick to a cold bit! Warm up your bit in your hands or between your legs before putting it in your horse's mouth.
  • Warm Up Your HorseHorses need to warm up their chilled muscles more in the cold weather. When you first mount their gaits may feel a bit stilted and stiff until they fully loosen up and warm up their muscles.
  • Cool Out Your HorseWhile you might think that it's more important to cool a horse in the summer because it's so hot, it is actually even more imperative to cool them in the winter. Cooling down in the winter can take longer because of thick winter coats. In the winter wet means cold, so even if the horse looks all toasty it will only be a matter of hours before they are cold enough to be sick. After you ride you must be sure that they are walked out so that they are not only put away dry but with a cool core temperature.
  • Blankets?Horses are very capable of handling a lot of cold temperatures and weather conditions that humans are not. However, not all horses are created equally either. If a horse is prone to shivering or does not have a good winter coat they will need a blanket when they are put away. Never put a blanket on a horse that is sweaty as it can trap moisture between the skin and the blanket preventing the horse from drying.
  • SnowballsMany horses can go barefoot in the winter because of the soft snow footing, however if they cannot it is important that horses are outfitted with snowball pads. Horse's hooves are cupped so horses with shoes will pack snow that can become large balls for the horse to walk on making them unsteady and prone to injury.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Horses are for Always: Winter Trail Riding

A core group of staff here today ended up hitting the trails when nobody else signed up to ride on this beautiful winter day! The weather was warm, 38 degrees in the lowlands and 25 degrees on the mountain. There was minimal to no wind. The entire trail was covered in even, soft snowfall with no tracks or slush. Just perfect!

I actually wonder why more riders don't ride here in the winter. I mean riders, not people! Winter is the perfect time to hit the trails if you are an advanced novice, intermediate or experienced trail rider for so many reasons:
1) no bugs
2) no yummy green things
3a) cool temperatures and horses that don't get sweaty or tired
3b) cool temperatures so riders can dress in layers and keep from being sweaty
4) real riders wear gloves anyhow
5) less daily mileage with true beginners for the horses so they are more willing and agile participants
6) snow is soft and excellent footing, reducing strain on tendons and hooves
7) less people riding means more one-on-one attention and smaller groups

To see a quick video visit:

To see our route and statistics click here: