Not Too Cold Yet

By Terry Golson

Not only has the temperature dived into the teens, but the wind has been fierce, so the wind chill outside has been in the single digits Fahrenheit. The horses don’t have shelters in their large paddocks, and the ground getting to them is treacherous, so for the last couple of days the boarding barn where I keep Tonka has made the decision to keep the horses in.


Earlier in the week I arrived on a rare break from clouds and low temperatures. After warming up for a half-hour indoors, Tonka and I ventured out. One has to pay attention to the consistency of the snow. If it’s too wet, it packs into the horse’s hoofs and forms stilts – super dangerous. But this snow balled up and then popped out. It was safe to continue on.


It was sunny enough to have a shadow!


The woods were pretty.


But after this outing, the temperature plunged, the wind picked up, and the sun stayed behind the clouds. Yesterday was so bitter cold that the trainer at the barn cancelled her lessons.

At least Tonka gets to look out into the aisle. Eating apples (here he’s smacking his lips) might make him temporarily happy, but it doesn’t take care of his circulation and digestion, both of which are systems designed for an animal that walks 10 or more miles a day. It’s essential for a horse’s mental and physical well-being that they move.


I could hand-walk him around the indoor arena, but we both go crazy-bored, and I maybe manage a mile. Better than nothing, but not enough. So I ride when I can.

When is it too cold to ride?

I’ve read a number of articles on this topic. A consensus seems to be that exertion below 20°F can negatively affect their lungs. I know that we all see photos of feral horses on the Great Plains doing okay in those temperatures, but maybe if you asked the horses they’d say they’d prefer not to move, and to stand with their tails to the wind and their heads down when it gets bitter cold. My horse is stalled and blanketed in a barn that is at least 10° warmer than outside (all those horse bodies warm it up), so there’s quite the contrast when we go into the unheated indoor arena. Also, the arena’s air can be dusty, so breathing that in, when the temperature is frigid, is something to be thoughtful about.

My own rule of thumb is that I’ll get on when the temperature in the indoor arena is above 20°F. It was hovering there last night, so I rode. I’m careful not to work Tonka into a sweat – I don’t want him to go back to his stall damp. We do a lot of walk, and some loose trot and a little canter. We get in a couple of miles. The swelling in his legs from standing in his stall for hours on end goes down. He gets that satisfied look of an animal after exercise. I get my time in the saddle (without which I become a grump.) It’s all good. Even though my thighs, even with my winter breeches on, are red and numb with cold.

You know it’s cold when, even after forty minutes in the ring, I haven’t unzipped even one of the three layers that I’m wearing!


After the ride, Tonka gets a thorough curry before putting his blanket back on. He loves this! I’ve been using my homemade anti-static spray, and we haven’t had a shocking incident yet this winter. Go here for my blogpost about my witch hazel concoction. It also cleans stains and helps dry sweat.

It’s very cold again today. I might be hand-walking. Whatever the temperature, I’ll get to the barn to get both of us moving. Are you in the frigid north? What is your cutoff for it being too cold to ride?

This blogpost is an excuse to use a photo of Scooter! Scooter’s cutoff for going outside is more in the tropical range. This is how he copes with the weather. He is delighted that a son is home from college on winter break. Scooter is helping him to catch up on sleep after finals. Would you be in bed with Scooter, or out at the horse barn with me?

12 thoughts on “Not Too Cold Yet

  • Gin

    I don’t exactly live in the frigid north, but I used ride 2 days a week with some friends in addition to other riding. Our temp cut off was if it was forecast to get to 40 degrees some time during the day. We would ride regardless that it usually started out in the low to mid 30’s. Anything below the low 30’s is out for me. Of course all my riding is outside. Actually I would be with Scooter even indoors if it was below 30 degrees!
    Hats off to you for going out to ride when it’s around 20 or so.
    Loved seeing Scooter wrapped up in his blankets again.

  • Shaste

    We’re in WA, at the same lattitude as northern Maine but the pacific ocean keeps us relatively warm. Its nearing 50 degrees today. But we’ve had 5 inches of rain in the last 24 hours! Most of the ponies went out anyway (thank goodness for waterproof turnouts!) so will be ready for a rest when they come in tonight. But we have a couple little old ladies who stayed in. They’re retired from riding but will get a little free longe around the arena just to loosen their joints.

    When I lived back east many of the horses wore snowball pads or caulks so they could work in the snow. I don’t think we ever worked in the single digits though! I have seen Amish horses out in that kind of weather but I bet they’d choose to stay home if they could 🙂

    • Terry Golson Post author

      That is a lot of rain, even by northwest coast standards. I’ve used all sorts of snow pads, and Tonka does have small borium calks so he has traction on ice. But, even with that, I’ve had those snow stilts form. Last year I had to use a hammer to knock them off. Poor Tonka was standing like someone who’d never worn high heels before.

  • Stephanie DeWilkins

    Hi Terry>>>I love dogs, but out in the horse barn for me!
    When I was in college in the frigid Minnesota north, I worked in the college stables in the early morning>>>my shift was 4 AM to 8 AM! It helped put me through two years of school! I loved every cold minute of it.

  • Jane Jackson

    I have heard the same about the 20 degree mark. Where I live, that means no riding from sometime in November to sometime in March though so I used to ride when it was colder when I had an indoor to use. But I’d keep it to a walk if it was 10 or below. There’s lots you can do at the walk!
    Love the photo of Scooter and my terriers agree. But they also go bonkers if they stay inside too long so it’s a balancing act 🙂 If it’s above zero, I convince them to go to the barn with me where it’s 40 in the tack room and rarely under 30 in the barn.
    Yesterday the wind chill dipped down to 19 below zero but my horses go out anyway. They thought those temperatures were a good excuse to play. No galloping, but rearing face biting and blanket grabbing games.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I thought about you when I wrote the post, so thanks for the comment! Ah, those blanket grabbing games… I knew a horse who would make a small hole and pull the stuffing out of the blanket (his and everyone else’s.) Blankets would look okay, but the paddock would be filled with fluff.

  • Rebecca Stedman

    I vote for Scooter. Who resist those eyes, and a cozy blanket. He looks so content and knows he is in his happy place❣️. You are a Gladiator Terry!

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