Is it safe to ride in the bitter cold and snow?

I recently have been asked by several students two winter related questions. One – When is it too cold to ride? And two – Is it safe to ride in the snow? So I thought, might be a good blog post!

Please note my huge disclaimer here… this post is just advice based on what I’ve learned over the years from the various farm managers, barn owners and veterinarians I’ve worked with as well as personal experiences from running my own barn. These notes are also based on the weather here in central Maryland and I’m sure many of our northern and western friends think our winters are mild!

Question one – When is it too cold to ride?
Of course… there is no set in stone answer to this question and a lot has to do with the “feels like” temperature, wind conditions, amount of sunlight and if you have an indoor to ride in or not.

The advice I recently got from our vet is to use 20 degrees F as the cut off point. The reasoning he explained is that at that temperature and below, the horse is less likely to process oxygen efficiently. Say what? This is where all those pre-med classes I took in college come in handy and I find these things fascinating but many of you might just skip through all this.

Mammals need oxygen to function. The short version is that the horse breaths in oxygen and then this oxygen is absorbed by the blood stream, pumped through the body by the heart and then used by everything in the body to function. So, when its super cold, the horse physically can’t breath as well and thus they are not taking in as much oxygen to then pump around the body. Yes, I know there is a lot more to it than that but lets go with this simple version for now.

So how do we see this happening in the horse? The horse will be “out of breath” much more quickly than normal. In extreme cases, they could show signs of stiffness and even tie up as the muscles don’t get enough oxygen to function properly. They may also start to sweat much more quickly, even in the cold weather.

Now clearly, horses live outside in weather even colder than here in Maryland. But… if you watch them in the fields or study wild horses, in these low temps, you will see them huddled together more and finding shelter from the elements. They don’t tend to run around and if they do, it tends to be for short, quick periods.

Thus… when it comes to riding, if you do want to ride when the temps are below 20, ride indoors and keep things to a walk. In addition, you really just need to know your horse. Know what their at rest TPRs are and their typical work load TPRs and know when to recognize that they are working hard and need a rest.

But really, the best advice I can give is when the temps reach the teens is to just let them be! They are much happier and much warmer standing together eating hay.

Question two – Is it safe to ride in the snow?
Now this one is way more complicated as a lot plays into the answer. You really need to consider the following before heading out to play in the snow with your horse: How deep the snow is. What type of snow. What the footing under the snow is like. What your horse’s current workload, soundness and fitness is. What your horse’s skill level/experience is. What type of hardware they have on their hooves. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something more.

How deep the snow is plays a huge part in how easy it is for the horse to move around. Remember the blizzard a few years ago? Horses in the fields were struggling just to get to water and shelter and farm owners were plowing paths for them to get around in. Now the snow that is outside my window as I type is only about 5’’ and the horses are out in their pastures walking around just fine.

What type of snow really comes down to the difference between fluffy “powder” and wet “sticky” snow. The fluffy stuff is easy to move around in, the sticky stuff… not so much. The first big snow of the year we had here in central Maryland was nice fluffy power. It was deep here at the farm but soft. For the first two days after it stopped snowing, we were able to do flat work in our ring with no problems. Once however the snow started to melt and then compress and then melt and compress… that’s when we moved back to walking the paved driveway. The sticky compressed snow, well, it simply can break legs. I know lots of farm owners that if they have the option, won’t even turn horses out in that type of snow let alone try and ride them.

The footing under the snow is crazy important. As I said, we all rode in my ring after the first snow. My ring is a turf ring that drains very well. I knew that the footing under the snow had good traction and was ice-free. The more experienced horses we even cantered in the snow… on flat ground… in a ring… with good footing under it. We did not head out onto the trails because here at my farm, to get to any of the trails you have to go down hill or cross a small bridge over a stream that had been overflowing and iced over. Even without the snow, we’ve stayed clear of that trail entrance due to the ice. Imagine if you didn’t know what the footing was like under the snow and tried to canter across a patch of ice!

The horse’s current workload, soundness, fitness and experience are the most important things to me to take into consideration. Any horse of mine with a recent injury is not going out in it. Just not worth risking further damage. The more experienced horses (aka the seasoned foxhunter and upper level event horse) were super balanced and happy to walk/trot/canter in our snow-covered ring. The baby OTTB…. she only walked with a little trot to help her learn to build her balance. The oldie but goodie (we all know I’m talking about Jack here!)… he only walked the cleared driveway. Why? Because at 21 years old, he doesn’t need to be working hard in the snow no matter how much fun we humans might think it is. It didn’t matter which horse though, these snow workouts were short and no longer than 15 minutes. Even the super fit event horse was blowing after a few minutes of trotting.

Now we’ve all see the photos of foxhunters cantering through snow-covered fields and even snow polo matches, and those crazy skiers using the horses to pull them, where clearly the horses are galloping around. So why don’t those horses fall over or slip? Because those horses have special shoes designed to help them keep traction in snowy conditions. The foxhunter at my barn has stud holes drilled and I have a set of borium tipped studs that get put on for hunting days. But those studs will only help with traction, they aren’t going to prevent the balls of snow that build up under the shoe. Most of my die-hard foxhunting friends have snow pads added to their horses’ shoes for the winter. These pads are designed so that snow cannot build up under the shoe. You’ll have to ask your farrier to explain. The barefoot horses do seem to have better traction in the snow but even they can slip in slushy conditions.

So there you have it. Sorry if it sounds like I’m preaching! Just figured this was a good place to answer those questions. Have fun everyone and stay safe while doing it!

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Spicer Cub update

Spicer Cub scored an 81.2% at his last NEH competition! Ok, that was in August and I’m just getting around to post about it. So proud though! He’s now qualified for the NEH finale next month at Loch Moy. I’m putting us both in a serious boot camp program from now till then. lol. Lots of hacks up hilly trails, canter work over poles… basically everything I can do to keep him feeling strong, solid and rideable. He’s come a long way and just keeps getting better and better.

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Well… I dropped Sprocket off at his new home in Indiana this past Sunday and it is truly bittersweet. He has matured into such a great horse and I am super happy that he has a kid to show the ropes of eventing too. Watching him with my student Addison this spring and summer just showed me how much he loves being a teacher. As much as I buy and sell horses for other people, Sprocket is the first horse of my own that I have sold so yes, I’ll admit it, there were tears when saying goodbye. But I’ve gotten updates with photos already and his new family is awesome. I’m excited to hear how their first events this fall together go and look forward to more photos and updates.

What this does mean is that I have more time for Charlie and that is exciting too. When you are paid to train and ride other people’s horses, your own horses tend to be last on the days’ ride list so Charlie finally gets to move up a spot. She’s been super well behaved, even with long stretches of no riding, that I still say she is the calmest, most level headed baby OTTB I’ve ever worked with. My end of summer goal is to leg her up so she’s ready for cub hunting this fall.

In other news… my fabulous working student has graduated college and moved out of the area so I am officially looking for a replacement. I have a few pony clubbers that will be helping after school a day or two a week but I need someone committed to at least 8 hours a week (mornings are better). Duties include grooming and tacking, cooling down, setting rails, hacking horses and cleaning tack. Some assistance at shows is also helpful when bringing multiple horses. Working student can lease and compete my school master Jack for free (must pay own entry fees). Plus they gain a lot of experience riding a variety of horses on the farm. Call or email if interested.


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This page is still active… really

So…. it seems I have been neglecting this blog for a while, though I’ve been actively updating the horse sales page! The short version of life over the past 8 months is….

The winter was fairly mild but wet. Headed down to Aiken for about a month with friends and client horses and had a blast as usual. Beckham continues to rock it as a bird dog though he got really sick earlier this year so there were a few scary moments. He is finally off all meds and doing well. Horses are all fantastic. Addison is learning so much from Sprocket, Jack and Tate both went back into the dressage ring with Stephanie, Spicer made his USEA debut and Charlie is still as easy and laid back as ever. Waredaca Pony Club is HUGE with a big wait list and our new lease program seems to be going well. Family is family and love them for it.

I think that is it. Cheers and enjoy the sun until the next round of rain!

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Beckham the bird dog!

Beckham officially went from #futurebirddog to #birddog last weekend when he stepped in last minute as a pick up dog for Rich’s driven shoot in Mt. Airy. The original plan was that I would bring him out during the last drive of the day to get him used to the guns and then let him pick up when the shooting stopped. Well… the dog handlers were running late and so Beckham made his debut during the second drive instead. And he was AWESOME!

He jumped a little at the sound of the shots the first two or three times, but then a pheasant fell from the sky near us, I walked him on lead over to pick it up and presto! Beckham learned that a gun shot meant birds to retrieve!

It was so cool to see a years worth of training and all his natural instinct just kick in. And he was relentless. Didn’t matter how think the thorns were. If a bird fell in them, he jumped right in and came out with the bird. Long retrieves too weren’t an issue. He was on them. And fast. And he listened to my whistle, followed my hand signals…. though honestly, he was more like on auto pilot while still checking in with me to make sure he was doing the right thing. I’ve never seen an animal so happy to do its job. Really cool. The reason I was drawn to this sport in the first place.

After two more drives, where he sat at my side waiting patently to be given the release signal, and a long walk back to the truck, Beckham didn’t want to get in. He knew there were more birds out there! But, leave them wanting more right?! Plus there was a walk up shoot later that day so best to leave the live birds where they were.

Can’t wait to get him back out again this month. Till then… here are a few pics.

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Fair Hill International 2017

So…. FHI this year was not a great one in terms of me being able to take photos. Between working on the November Equiery, attending MHIB meetings, teaching pony club and helping to host an epic tailgate… there was very very limited photo taking. Here are a few highlights from the week.

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Fond farewell Anne

Anne MoeThis morning the Maryland equestrian community lost an important family member in the death of Anne Moe; foxhunter, breeder of Connemara ponies, show judge… the list goes on (not to mention fabulous knitter!).

I was first introduced to Ann via email when she joined The Equiery as our copy editor. She quickly became more of a mentor to me than simply a copy editor. Each article she proofed was not only sent back with corrections as needed but with comments on what she thought of the subject matter, if she felt the article was compelling enough, grabbed the readers’ attention… And when it seemed like months went by with me still mixing up when to use and when not to use a period at the end of O&A captions, she never got harsh. She taught with words of encouragement. Taught. Not just corrected. So when finally, it seemed that I had caught on, her praise was genuine in every way.

When I met Anne in person, on our way to the first Lady Legends Black Eyed Susan Day, I’m not sure I expected someone so full of positive energy to come in such a petite package! And man the stories she shared! Anne LIVED. To the fullest of the word. Through good days and not so great days, she shared them all. Certainly a Lady Legend herself, though much to humble to every admit it.

I am sure there are others out there that will flood the web with their own stories and memories and there are so many of my own that I simply can not share at this time. But in the end, if Anne was sitting at her computer proofing this post, she’d send me a note saying, “quit all the fussing and kick on!” … along with a few corrections on miss placed punctuation and run on sentences.

Cheers Anne. You will be missed.

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Preakness week and bassets

Yeah. I’m a bit behind in posting these. Here are links to Preakness week photos and the foot hound ring of the Maryland Puppy Show.

Sunrise Tours


Black-eyed Susan

MD Puppy Show

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Horse showing dos and don’ts

Although this article is geared towards Western shows, its message is universal.

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Well then…

I actually spent about 20 min this evening writing an update on all the horses and riders in training with me but just deleted it as I realized, every day in this sport there are ups and downs. Ups that make us happy, proud, excited about the future. Downs that make us doubt ourselves, doubt our horses, cry a little, or even a lot, and question why we do this sport in the first place.

Why? Because even when it seems as the downs outweigh the ups, the ups are often so high, it makes all the sweat, hard work, bruises and tears worth it. I hope all those reading this remember that on those down days. Hang in there. There will be an up day soon.

And in the meantime, choose to learn from the down days and hold onto the feeling of the up days. Positive thinking really does go a long way.

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