This year, nearly all of the country is being hit with some sort of snowfall. Riding in the snow is one of winter’s joys and is a nice change for your horse. However, there are several things to consider. First, how will your horse react to snow? It’s a different surface for him. It looks different, it feels different – this can be spooky to some horses. If it’s merely a dusting of snow, this might not be an issue. But once it gets up around his knees, it becomes a whole new experience. Introduce him to it the say you'd do for any new experience.
Depending on where you live – or how long the snow has been around – there are two kinds of snow: soft and fluffy or packed and icy. Just as skiers and snowboarders love the soft, fluffy snow, this “powder” is ideal for riding due to its even smoothness on trails. However, it can take more effort for your horse to push his legs through it. It’s just as important to give your horse a thorough warmup before riding in snow. This can help prevent sore muscles later. Know where you are riding as powdery snow can also cover hazards such as large rocks or tree stumps. The good news? It provides for a softer landing if you and your horse “disconnect.”
Packed snow is what you get when you are following a trail made by someone else – another horse, a skier, a snowmobile. It takes less energy for your horse to walk through it, but packed snow can also turn icy so be aware of the possibility of your horse slipping. Due to the sun and shade provided by trees or other structures, a trail can have stretches of powder AND patches of ice that can come up unexpectedly.
This wetter, icier snow is a prime cause of “ice balls” in your horse’s hoofs. When your horse walks on snow, the heat of his hoof can warm up the snow while it touching the metal horseshoe can make it freeze again, causing a buildup. After a while, this turns into an uneven mass that can cause your horse discomfort when walking and even real damage to tendons and joints. There are several ways to help prevent this problem. They include letting your horse go barefoot, using hoof boots or adding anti-snowball pads.
Finally, make sure both you and your horse are dressed for the weather. If you have snow, the temperature is probably already near or below freezing. And riding outside means no blocks from the wind, making it even colder. Consider a quarter sheet for your horse’s hindquarters to keep those big muscles warm. And dress in layers yourself.
It looks like a long winter ahead so make the most of it with a fun, safe ride in the snow.