It’s 0°F this morning. Which is not as cold as it is in the Midwest (I feel for you guys!)
On the plus side, there’s not much wind and the sun is shining in a blue sky. The horses are fine. When the weather is at it’s worst, they’re in. The barn is clean, the air smells fresh, and they can chat with their friends. But standing in a stall, even a big, well-bedded one, is not something a horse should do for days on end.
So, even when the temps are in the single digits and there’s snow on the ground, they get turned out. They’ve got water and hay in their paddocks. Eating keeps them warm. They’re wearing their coats. Horse people are known to obsess about our equine’s blankets. Tonka’s is far warmer and better constructed than mine! The horses have their friends to visit with while they stand with tails to the wind, soaking up the sun. Here Tonka is (literally) chilling with his best friend, Deej.
The barn where I board has an indoor, but I don’t get on Tonka when it’s this cold outside. I’m too bundled up to ride in a way that is responsive to Tonka, and it’s not fair to ask him to carry a lump. But, horses are designed to move miles a day. Slow and steady movement is what keeps blood circulating in their legs, and keeps their digestive system from blocking up. So, we walk.
I’ve got a daily goal of riding or hand-walking at least 2.5 miles, and working up to 3 by the end of February. This isn’t arbitrary. At two miles, I can feel and see the difference in how my horse moves. Even his face softens and relaxes as he gets to that point where his muscles are warmed up and stretched by the easy movement. All horses need a gradual warm-up, but because Tonka has that sacroiliac issue, he especially requires walking. On good weather days, we go out on the trails. Denny Emerson writes about how effective walking is to creating an equine athlete in his new Know Better to Do Better: Mistakes I Made with Horses (So You Don't Have To).
Walking more than two miles around and around an indoor IS boring. I put down poles to change it up and to get Tonka to flex his joints more. (Mine, too!)
It helps to have a horse trained to stay while I move these around. (I’ve written about how I taught him that here.)
To stay motivated and to make sure that I stay on goal, I use a tracking app. It tells me how far we go, and how fast.
I use the Map My Walk app put out by Under Armour. I use the live tracking feature when trail riding, and there are times I’ve relied on it to backtrack home when I’ve gotten lost.
As soon as the temperature hovers around 20° F, I’ll be back in the saddle. For now, we’ll be walking.
What are you doing in this deep freeze?
Hi Terri, This weather is so difficult to keep the horses moving and occupied. My horse and I have also been doing hand walking around the property, out into the fields with hills to keep active. The ground is too frozen and uneven to ride. After our walk we do carrot stretches with an added benefit of a wooden box. My husband build me a flat wooden box, about 2 feet x 2 feet, maybe 10 inches high that is strong enough to hold my gelding, Danny. Danny loves to stand with his front feet on his box and we’ve been using this all winter to add the extra stretches. Carrot stretches both sides and stretching forward are all eagerly performed on while he is up on his box. He is clicker trained and will perform his bows and individual hind legs lifts when standing tall, working on his core. Our next goal is to get his hind feet up, front feet off to see how that stretch works. Working with his box is favorite activity these cold days.
You’re doing smart work with Danny. A platform similar to that is excellent for teaching horses to step out of a horse trailer.