Winter Riding

A Conversation Starter:

For those of us with winters how do you adjust your training in the coldest months? Anyone just give their dressage horses off? Do you modify training?

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We will probably have to take some days off, but I’ve learned through the crazy weather this past month that my horse just doesn’t care if it’s blowing 30, so that’s good.

But I do hate cold … so I went on Etsy and bought a riding skirt! It’s wind/waterproof, and has a nice soft liner. I hope I don’t need it, but kind of can’t wait to try it.


I’m in WI in an unheated barn and indoor with a few minute walk across the farm from the barn to the indoor.

When my older horse was in his prime training years, I’d ride into the single digits with a long warm up and keeping the trot and canter sets short with lots of breaks. I’d watch his whiskers and try to keep the work light enough that he didn’t get frosty whiskers from breathing hard. Now that he’s older and stiffer, I find he’s not as comfortable below 20F, so we may do a light hack in temps in the teens but no more working when it’s any colder than that.

I’ve also got a now 4 year old and since he was just started under saddle last year, we followed the same temperature limits. I expect to do the same thing this winter - light work in the teens but any colder and he can have time off.

If we get more than 5 days of extreme cold, I will usually tack up the older horse and pony the young guy for a 30 minute walk a few times a week. There’s a good chance the pasture is icy when it’s that cold and I don’t think they move around much outside when it’s that cold.

I wear athletic clothes/layers, Mountain Horse winter boots, regular breeches with long underwear, riding mittens with heat packs, and a Horseware long riding jacket. Last year I had a gaiter/mask for Covid that I wore in the tack room and found it nice to pull up over my nose riding until I warmed up a bit. It was light enough that it didn’t get frosty and frozen like a fleece gaiter will after breathing through it for a while.


When it drops into the 30’s, we swap our outdoor hack day for an indoor lunging fun day. Otherwise things go on as normal (with a quarter sheet) unless we have a super cold day (under 15 or so), in which case we walk for an hour instead of working.


I have a 6 year old and previous winters I’ve given her 6-8 weeks off between Dec - Feb as a ‘baby break’. However this winter we’ll work throughout as she started to have soreness / lameness from not moving correctly when out of work and we have in such a good spot right now that I don’t want to lose that muscling.

But I see these winter months as ‘maintenance’ rather than ‘pushing up the levels’ focused. We have an indoor but we both get ring sour and bored so we’ll hack when the footing allows, do pole work and low-jump gymnastics, probably do some trailer training (she gets anxious) - I see winter as survival-mode as my motivation level plummets in the cold to have any higher ambitions!

ETA: we work as normal down to 20F real feel - with quarter sheet as needed (sometimes warm up with it, sometimes work in full with it), limit to walking (bundled in quarter sheet and my riding skirt (10 - 20 real feel), and we both huddle under blankets cursing the winter weather gods when it’s below 10 :slight_smile:


Which one did you get? I have been eyeballing these since last winter, but there are more to choose from now.

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There’s already another thread on this that I chimed into, but to answer your question specifically, yes, I give my horses the winter off. They will get December-February off, barring an occasional weekend hack if the weather is nice. Essentially 5-8 weeks depending on weather.

I live where you really can’t work on anything more than a walk outside once winter sets in. Not because of the snow, but because of the ice and rutted ground under the snowpack that you can’t see until your horse falls in it. The ground is either concrete or it’s mud. A lot of places aren’t like that, so it depends on your region.

Dressing for the part will make your time in the cold so much better. Find a good, long winter jacket. It doesn’t need to go to your knees, but it helps if it goes a little past your thighs. Keep a pair of winter boots that you can slip into before your ride. SGG Ranch gloves that are waterproof as well as flexible and easy to get in and out of. Quarter sheets that can be worn by you (if you trust your horse) or riding skirts, as well as a warm pair of winter riding pants. I love my Smartpak fleece lined riding pants.

My #1 Winter Tip for Winter Riders: Swap out your metal stirrup irons for composite/plastic irons for the winter. Trust me, it makes a huge difference vis a vis cold feet.


Before I had an arena I would give Jan/Feb/March off, or maybe Dec/Jan/Feb. Sometimes I would ship out once or twice a week.

Now with an arena and my horse getting ready for a bit higher level, we did a 4 week holiday this month and then back to work. She doesn’t get ridden every day though, usually 4/5 days of work a week. She’s a TB though so stays super fit super easy. More worried about continuing to build muscle mass over this winter!

My eventers will be on the same schedule, but a break in Jan or Feb when weather is the worst.

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This one!

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My fluffy pony thrives in this weather and we rarely take time off. However, my barn does have an indoor and we don’t canter much.

I’m usually dressed and warm enough except for my toes. I found these Hot Sockee toe warmers that I’ll try out under my Noble Outfitter rubber boots while in the barn and old Dafna riding boots while riding.

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Neoprene toe warmers are awesome!

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We used to ride down to 10 degrees in the unheated arena/ outside and 0 in the heated. If it’s too cold its hard on their lungs so we did not ride even in the heated arena if it was below 0. Even with the heated arena and grooming area you had to be really careful about them getting overheated or sweaty as most barns were not heated and turnouts obviously are not at all. Lots of walking out, and a good cooler or three were essential. Even with that it was not uncommon to see someone with a hairdryer making sure all the sweat was gone before putting their horse back!

For humans neoprene boots are the way to go in the winter. Bogs or Muck Company boots and wool socks are warm down to neg F temperatures for doing chores and even riding, In the US there is a great neoprene riding boot available from the Muck Company called either the Colt Rider or the Brit Rider. It has a nice safe sole on it but I always did go up to a wider stirrup irons for safety. If your toes are still cold add sheepskin insoles and an insulated stirrup cover. And those Arctic Horse skirts are a-mazing. They are made in Alaska so you know they are not kidding around with the insulation.

Or you can just move south like me and be like- winter? what’s that?


I try to keep them somewhat in work depending on the specific weather each day. My hard temperature cutoff is 22ºF. Anything below and I’ll just hand-walk with their blanket still on. 22-30ºF I will do a casual lunge or a simple ride, not asking for anything difficult or new, just easy routine stuff to get the back swinging. Anything above is just a normal ride like warmer weather except longer warmups & warm-down/cooldowns. For reference, I’m in MA and with an insulated barn/indoor. My very first dressage trainer went by these temperatures so I’ve just always gone by them. I also am a wimp and hate the cold so there’s that.


When I lived in Pgh and had an indoor, I’d make the cut at 20 degrees for our lungs.

Now, I have an outdoor arena only, I make the cut at freezing or higher with significant wind.

AT these temps, I wear fleece winter breeches and insulated boots, use very good gloves and ear warmers. Wool socks, esp wool ski socks, plus nylons underneath if really cold out. I dress for the weather, using a cami plus turtleneck plus sweater plus jacket. When really cold, I use a silk undershirt and wool turtleneck layers, both of which are specifically for exercise in cold weather. I am NOT cold.

At this location, I tack up out at the arena. My horse was a huge hothead and we made the arena the place where he could relax. I make sure I’m good with the elements.

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Tip for getting your breeches up over thermal underlayer without dragging the thermal up:

First put on thermal underwear, then put on a thin sock, then get breeches on. The sock keep the underlayer from getting dragged up.

Then put on your thicker socks and voila! No weird yanking and bunching of thermals. This tip came from someone on the UDBB years ago - I have appreciated it hundreds of times since.


Southern PA mountains here. Horse lives outdoors with a run-in. In winter he’s in natural coat (I bib clip him in early March if it warms up early). We work in a mostly-level hayfield without lights. In winter, I’m limited by weather/footing, fur of horse (no sweating except maybe light girth dampness), lack of daylight, and of course occasional “wind up the butt” frisky issues. :slight_smile:

To maximize our winter rides, I do a marching walk 15 minute warmup and then focus on lateral work. I find it useful for getting my horse’s brain online, maintaining his ab muscles through the worst of the winter, and being a “muscle” workout without too much aerobics or percussive hammering on frozen ground. If the field is iced up but the roads are OK, we do road work (on the cinder shoulder of a very quiet country road) at the walk and jog for general fitness purposes. (I scout road in car first to make sure it’s melted out because there are some troublesome shady sections.) I only do roadwork at midday for the best visibility, lowest traffic, safest conditions possible.

Our winter arrangement is not perfect, but I figure it’s better than nothing. Also, when the snow melts and the raw March days arrive, I get a lot less “yee-haw” and a lot more “ho-hum, time to make the doughnuts” because we’ve been making the doughnuts all winter long in assorted weather conditions. My rule of thumb is that if he can stand quietly at the round bale and eat, then he can work sensibly and calmly under the same weather conditions. If it is not too windy to eat, then it is not too windy to ride, that style of thing.


We usually keep our horses in training, but are blessed with an isolated indoor arena. The horses are mostly fine, I’m struggling with the cold more than they do… My main tip is to invest in warm feet! I’ve ordered outdoor boots, BEST decision ever. Going around the stables isn’t fun in the cold, but with warm feet, it’s bearable. Ariat offers some extremely warm ones

My horses are out on pastures 24/7 so i don’t have to worry about giving them exercise. When i train is totally up to my coach. I think, if i remember correctly, that 30 is her cut-off. Indoor but i have to haul an hour and a half to get there. Since my lessons are now in the afternoon i’ll have to find out at what time it must reach 30 (ie before she leaves her house, and/or her first lesson? or at each lesson’s timeframe??). I work outside every day all day, have a multitude of layers and some really good insulating apparel and anything over 20 i consider ‘warm’. As for riding at home, well…i have a small indoor barn i can do some training in, and also have sheep and cattle to check on and ride out for that. Only at a walk when the ground is rockhard. Climate change has made things so unpredictable. Last winter was very warm for the most part…muddy ground warm. Except for those negative and single digit stretch that was numbing. And during that time i had to use a horse to drag alfalfa bales out to my ram herd because not one of the vehicles could remain alive.

i’m a big fan of Muck boots (Hosier is my preferred style because i’m short and so are they). I keep forgetting to buy wide stirrups…will do a search now!

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I’m in Virginia, and I ride pretty much all winter in my outdoor arena. If the wind is really howling and the wind chills are in the 20s, I’ll bail on riding. Otherwise, I’ve ridden in weather as cold as 25*. The only real difference between winter and other seasons for me is just that I may only ride each horse 3-4 days a week instead of 4-5 days a week. But I’ve found that letting them down for too long really is a way to lose a lot of muscle and topline, so we just soldier on. And really, getting outside to ride is harder for me. They don’t seem to really care until it’s really cold (in the 20s).