Riders around the greater Salt Lake area and outlying vicinities are enjoying that time of year when most everything is encased in ankle deep (knee deep?) mud. Our weather alters, by the hour, from upper 50’s sunshine back down into the chilly 30’s with sleet and howling wind.
Along with the wonders of our unpredictable end-of-winter weather, we get horses that are agitated by the storms and anticipating the nearly-here springtime with boundless friskiness. Some people find these conditions less than ideal for riding.
If you have only outdoor spaces in which to ride, the likelihood of slipping in mud or sliding across a patch of left-over ice is high. Indoors, your horses are distracted by the sounds of things blowing about outside, frequently jumping or spooking as they react to loud, unnerving noises from things they can’t see.
So, if you want to ride, what can you do to make your experience as pleasant as possible? First, if you have space to safely lunge the horse, do so. Don’t just have them run around like a crazy thing as you water-ski on the end of the rope. Rather, ask for direction changes, alterations in gait, stops, back up. Get the edge off, but get the horse relaxed, attentive and listening to you, too.
Consider incorporating extra magnesium or raspberry leaves into your horse’s diet unless there’s any medical reason not to do so. Consult with your vet or nutritionist before adding new supplements but, if approved, these can help mellow out a frisky critter.
If you’d like to retain the level of intelligence you currently possess, put on a helmet. If your horse does slip on mud or ice and happens to go down on top of you, a helmet could, possibly, prevent a traumatic brain injury.
A riding vest can help add an additional layer of protection, particularly if you’re riding outdoors where an unexpected fall could land you on top of a harmful object. Even indoors, they can help lessen the extent of injuries if you’re bucked off or if a kicking horse hoof connects with your torso.
Dress accordingly; damp, wet conditions and altering temperatures are far more tolerable when your apparel helps you manage the conditions. Waterproof boots, moisture-wicking socks, water-repellent breeches and insulating but highly breathable undergarments will aid in your body’s ability to stay dry and warm, but not too warm. Layer, layer, layer! And, as barefoot guru and respected local horse woman Meisja Wagner recommends, peel off a layer the instant you feel like you’re warming up.
Weigh the risks; if your horse seems unduly difficult on a given day or if the ground just does not appear to be safe for riding, consider not riding. The world won’t end (most likely; no guarantees) if you skip a day in the saddle. You can still groom, hand walk, massage, and otherwise spend time with your horse. Listen to your instincts to a reasonable degree if it really seems an inopportune time to tack up and ride.
If your facility is caked in mud and you do have someone reliable to feed, clean up and look after your horses for a few days, you may want to take a break and head south. Go down to Saint George , Moab, or head across the border into Arizona. If you want to ride, make arrangements to visit a ranch, stable, or the Global Endurance Training Center and get out on horseback in the sunshine. This brief trek could be just want you need to rejuvenate after a long winter. And no doubt your horses won’t mind taking a little break either!
Dealing with the end of winter can be unpleasant, but following a few simple tips to make the routine a little more simple (or even a little less routine) can help carry us happily into spring.
Ride safe, and ride happy!