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MULE CROSSING: Winter Fun with Your Equine

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By Meredith Hodges

After Spring, Summer and Fall come and go, the cold days of Winter can easily become an excuse to slow down and do less, but Winter can be just as fun and full of activities with your equine as any other season. Along with the basics—food, water and shelter—your equine needs activities to keep him fit and happy. Like any of us, he doesn’t want to be active only part of the year and then left alone during the Winter months, bored and lonely (not to mention the stress he will feel when he has to be reconditioned every Spring). Instead, it’s healthier for him, both physically and mentally, to be active and maintained year-round. This does not mean you need to ride him three or four days a week throughout the Winter. There are lots of other fun, diverse activities you can enjoy together that will adequately maintain his body condition while keeping him interested and happy.

Of course, in order to enjoy Winter games and sports, you must first be sure to dress appropriately for the weather in your area. If you live in a cool or cold climate, dress in layered clothing you can easily remove if you need to. Wear a hat to conserve your body heat and footwear that keeps your feet warm and dry. What your equine wears in cold weather is equally important. For instance, if your equine’s winter coat tends to be on the thinner side, he may need a blanket for the long Winter nights to keep his body from expending too much energy just trying to stay warm. The blanket will also serve to mat down his coat so there is less chance of it becoming entangled in his tack or harness. If you have a stall for your equine, just for Winter months, you may want to trace-clip him in the areas that do the most sweating so that when he is worked, he will cool down quickly and easily. Promoting good circulation keeps your equine warm, helps his body to stay flexible and supple, and cuts way down on his muscle and bone stiffness. Be sure to begin any and all workouts and recreational activities with consistent and appropriate warm-up exercises.

Since most inclement weather produces slippery ground surfaces, if your equine is to be used extensively, it is important that he have appropriate shoes on his feet during the slippery seasons. On strictly muddy or slippery surfaces, tapping and drilling studs into his shoes can help immensely in giving him added traction. If cared for properly, you can remove these studs when you don’t need them. If you get snow in your area, you may want to go with borium shoes and rim pads. The borium shoes supply good traction, while the rim pads prevent snow from balling up in your equine’s feet. I also suggest using splint boots on all four of his legs. This will protect against injury and give him added support and protection of his fetlock joints.

If you have a very young equine, make sure to consistently continue your routine of handling him throughout the entire winter. I do not suggest lunging a very young equine unless you have the advantage of an indoor arena, as he could slip and injure himself. But you can still take him for walks on the lead line, ground drive him through various Winter scenes and
spend plenty of time grooming him. All of this will accustom him to Winter’s unique terrain and obstacles, maintain his essential and continued imprinting and bonding with you, build his self-confidence and maintain his good manners.

The better trained your equine is, the more possibilities there are for Winter sports and games. If the idea of taking lessons at a riding stable that has an indoor arena appeals to you, Winter tends to be a less hectic, more peaceful time of year in which to learn and practice without the added stress and anxiety of showing and other warm weather activities. But even if you want to forego the lessons, there are numerous stables that will rent the use of their indoor arenas for a nominal fee and there are places to trail ride through beautiful Winter scenes. People and equines alike seem to derive great pleasure from these Winter get-togethers when they are carefully and responsibly planned.

Another great way to have fun with your equine is participating in Winter games and holiday parades. Christmas is always a joyous time to bring your equine out of the barn. Consider decorating your equine, dressing up yourself and then riding or driving in your local Christmas parade. This can be loads of fun! Caroling aboard your equine throughout your neighborhood is also a wonderful way for you, your equine and your neighbors to get into the holiday spirit. Oftentimes when my equines and I have gone out caroling after a Christmas parade, the neighborhood children have come out to sing and dance behind our caroling caravan! This kind of pure joy is contagious and always reminds me of the true meaning of the Christmas season.

There are lots of different Winter games that you can play with your equine and if you have a friend who wants to participate too, there are even more possibilities. With proper shoes on your equine and good, flat ground, and if the weather permits, there are so many gymkhana games that you can play. Or how would you like a brisk cross-country gallop on your equine with a few fences to jump? Or you and a friend can take an exciting ride on a tire or sled, taking turns with one person riding the equine while the other rides the sled or tire. If you have more friends with equines, you can even have Winter races. You are limited only by your own imagination! Remember that any game or sport requires that you consider safety first for both you and your equine: What are your abilities? What are your limitations? What is your level of physical conditioning and that of your equine? Whatever activities the two of you do to keep busy, happy and healthy during the Winter months, the name of the game should always be—FUN!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

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