There are many things that can affect riding in the winter — weather, light, the dreaded snow, to name but a few. However, horse-owners will want to get out as much as they can, if not only to remind themselves of the fun that justifies sticking through a gruelling winter.

Is it safe to ride?

Riding in the snow tends to split opinion in Britain, but riders from countries with harsher winters think nothing of it, otherwise they would be confined to their homes for four months of the year.

Indoor schools, all-weather gallops and horse-walkers are godsends, though even these can freeze up once the temperature dips too low for too long. So how can we ensure we don’t shut up shop completely?

Julie Magnus, who owns Tina Cook’s former advanced eventer O’Leary, manages to keep her horses fit and competing during the winter months.

“My yard has an indoor school and off-road hacking,” says Julie, who is based on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border. “I used my own recipe of a kilo of lard and a litre of vegetable oil melted together and allowed to set to plaster into hooves to stop balling-up snow. It worked a treat and was very cheap.”

While it is more treacherous mounted, being on the ground can be fairly hairy. A frozen, well-swept yard can be an icerink, so if the forecast is frosty, leave some shavings and debris for grip. Buy salt or grit now – it turns into gold dust in a cold snap.

Julie has another tip: “Ash from the fire, mixed with grit and sand, makes a great barrier to stop ice on concrete,” she says.

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Remember…

  • You don’t have to clean every last patch of your horse every time you ride — it’s only essential that he’s mud free where his tack will sit
  • To get your horse clipped appropriately for his workload. It will make grooming easier and reduce the likelihood of a sweat wet, hairy horse after riding
  • To invest in a turnout rug that goes up his neck, not only will it keep him warm, but it’ll help keep him clean too
  • When turning him out, plait his tail into a hunting knot to prevent a muddy mess
  • Experiment with coat shine products to help prevent the mud from sticking to your horse’s coat, mane and tail

And don’t forget to:

  • Use an exercise blanket to keep your horse warm and avoid unnecessary injuries caused by tight, cold muscles
  • Spend longer warming-up and cooling down
  • Warm up the horse’s bit before putting it in their mouth
  • Take a hoofpick with you if it’s snowy and also some Vaseline or other grease
  • Discuss road studs with your farrier
  • Work out what your horse is capable of and don’t push him beyond his fitness level
  • If you don’t have a clever cooler rug, thatching is a good way to dry off sweaty horses in the cold — use dry straw under a stable rug
  • Offer tepid, not ice-cold water to your horse after exercise