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Winter Riding on your Curly Horse

Some of you are visiting this page because you have never been much of a winter rider. The idea of getting out and riding your Curly Horse on those frigid winter days seems like the last thing you want to do. Or maybe you just need some tips on how to make it an enjoyable experience or need to be motivated to give it a try. If so, this article is for you.

Others of us find winter riding offers us some of the best riding all season. A Curly Horse Breeder in Minnesota says it well when he writes:

 "I would guess winter time is the best time for riding, if you get bucked off you got lots of snow to land in!!   I like winter riding because there is no bugs to bother an you usually don't have to worry about the horse getting overheated, but most of all riding through the woods or across an open field is like reading the daily newspaper, if you just take time to look you will see where a fox or wolf caught a mouse or rabbit the night before or perhaps a Great Gray owl swooped down and caught a small animal of some sort for his dinner. You can see the wing imprints in the snow. I have seen where pheasants have been caught or Grouse, one time my brother and I followed Otter trails for four miles, until they hit the Mississippi river, they make a track you can't miss as they run and slide on the belly. You can ride along an stop and look and listen and feel and see God's wonderful glory and never get bitten by a bug, only in the winter."
Harold Fairchild of Curls N Horns Ranch in Minnesota

Curly Horses are built for the cold climates and seem to enjoy a nice quiet stroll on the trail on a cold winter day. So preparing our Curlies isn't as important as preparing ourselves in dressing right to take advantage of those brisk days and still remain comfortable while on the trail or arena. Start by investing in some really good Extreme Cold Winter Wear. This is key to an enjoyable winter riding experience.

"For me, winter riding offers a unique time to introduce Reese to new things. Pulling a friend on a sled (derived from the idea of Skijoring except we do it at a MUCH slower pace!) or dragging the trail, these experiences not only offer alot of FUN but also keep Reese in condition for the upcoming riding season. I find winter time a great time to experiment because you have the deep snow that tires the horses out quickly and also the soft bedding for a safer fall. Another thing I do is I challenge myself during the winter to ride bareback more often. This is a great way to stay warm but also develop that independant seat. I find I am much braver in the winter because of all the extra clothing, soft bedding below me and the comfort of knowing I have deep snow off the trail that I can steer my horse into, if I lose control." Denise Conroy

View Video of Reese and I sled-joring!

If you live in a part of the country that gets a fair share of snow, it's important to plan ahead and pick your trail in early winter and dedicate yourself to riding at least 3 times a week to keep that trail open as the snow accumulates. Here in Upper Michigan, we have a trail near our barn that is about an hour long. We have loops off that, that we ride as well but as the winter snow builds, we stick with the main trail and ride it often to keep it open and accessable. After a big storm, we will take all 3 of our geldings out to re-break in the trail and change up the lead horse. Depending on the type of storm, if ice is involved, just 12 inches can make that trail hard going and it helps to offer that lead horse a break from time to time.

Video clip below on what NOT to do! This clip is hilarious!!!

"Since it rained all night, I figured we had lost enough snow in the woods for me to get out on the deep snow trails.  WRONG!  Oh well, it was good for a major giggling fit for my daughter Nicole and I, as she was my volunteer picture-taker for this ATTEMPTED ride.  AhD was non-plussed about the whole thing and was AWESOME to jump the snowbank to get us onto the....trail?" Susan Lejonhud & her curly gelding Ahd of Maine.

Click Photo to play video.

Most of our riding is done at a walk in the winter time, but from time to time if conditions are right we enjoy a lively canter through the deep soft snow. If you have never experienced this, I suggest you make that one of your goals this riding season. Riding bareback in the wintertime can offer a great opportunity to develop your independant seat and also stay warm. Use caution of course and only do what you feel ready to do, but setting goals is part of advancing our riding skills and training our horse for many different styles of riding.

Winter riding also offers those rare moments when the moon is full and the sky is clear....the reflection of the moon off the snow make for the perfect opportunity to do some night riding. I can recall back in 2005 my daughter woke me up at 4:00 a.m. and said, "Mom, look at the moon! Do you want to go riding??" I was sure I was dreaming! After rubbing my eyes and realizing she was serious, I thought what the heck, why not! So we hopped on the horses bareback and headed down the trail. It was postively gorgeous! The night was still, so quiet...all you heard was the squeeking of the crisp snow under the horse's hooves. The ride was short lived when we had to jump a ditch and I slid off Reese. Lesson to self, either learn to ride bareback better or take the saddle next time! I was unable to find a place to remount, unfortunately. Since that day, I have become a much better bareback riding and can jump ditches rather successfully. ;-) I hesitate now to ride alone after dark due to the wolves in our area. So I haven't had the chance to do that again, but I will always think of that experience with a smile on my face.

For many of you, riding in the arena or round pen is your only option in the winter time due to limited trail options or icy conditions. But there is one Curly Owner in Connecticut that did not let that stop her! Michelle Ives is part of the Ride-A-Curly (RAC) International Riding Contest and she decided to get out and ride, no matter how simple it seemed. This post was taken from our Ride-A-Curly blog (RAC)in February 2008.

"On Monday, we had a gorgeous sunny winter day, so I pushed off the grocery shopping and decided to take Lakota out or a little while.  We went down to the roundpen (I have no trails off the property) and I remembered how much I LOVE my Bob Marshall saddle, it was like settling into a comfy sofa.  Lakota remembered right where we left off, and we had a very nice little slow ride, since the snow was getting quite slushy and slick, and weathered a little spook when the snow slid off the hay tent roof.    Lakota now has a pretty decent set of brakes installed, and stops on a breath out and seat cues, with a "whoa" as backup and perhaps just a lift of the reins if she's really spooked (ha!).  She is beginning to corner like a little racecar.  I think this year we are going to spend most of our time working on her confidence out in the big scary old world. I'm by myself, so can't get any photos of myself mounted" Michelle & Lakota @ Chestnut Hill Curlies

Tips to a Happy Curly Horse on the Winter Trail

A few things to keep in mind when riding your Curly in the winter are:

1. Start out early in the season to build your Curly Horse's stamina for the rigors of riding in deep snow. If you can't do that, start out slow and ride just 10-15 min. and build from there. I would not suggest blazing a new trail once you have 2-3 feet on the ground, unless you have a string of horses that can assist you in doing this. Riding in the deep snow can be an amazing work out for your horse, but if they are not in shape for it, build slowly or decide to start early next year.

2. Curly Horses have a unique coat in that it imitates that of a blanket cooler. The hair will natural whisk away any moisture from the skin if sweating occurs during your winter rides. I suggest a really good towel rub down upon your return and place your Curly in a stall or blocked area where there is no wind. Give them a nice portion of quality hay and allow them to cool themselves down on their own. There is no need to blanket them or pamper them anymore than that. This discovery came one year when I was training my Curly Horse, DT's Rainmaker. We had a heavy work out one day in the arena and he was sweaty. My trainer had suggest to me to get him a cooler but I hadn't had the I toweled him off really well, gave him some hay and went to gather up my tack. The trainer passed by Rainmaker's stall and said, "OH my gosh, I don't believe it.....these Curly Horses even come with their own built-in coolers!!!" -- I came right over and there was condensation all over his body as the moisture wicked away from his skin to be evaporated in the air. She walked away amazed. I then called Joe Mead and of course he was not at all surprised. He gave me the suggestions I typed above.

3. It is also a good idea to always carry with you a hoof pick in case the snow gets packed into your horse's hooves. Usually this happens when temps are mild and the snow is sticky. Some have suggested spraying pam on the bottom of the hoof, but haven't heard if that works too well or not. If you have a suggestion, email me.

4. If you use a bit in the winter time, please be sure to stick it inside your coat as you tack up to keep it warm before asking your Curly Horse to accept it. To offer a freezing cold bit to your horse is bordering on cruel in my opinion. Winter time is a good time to get your horse used to side pulls or simple halter riding.

5. Remember that although you may not be riding as long as you do in the summer, your horse may be working extra hard depending on your snow conditions, so treat your equine friend kindly and offer a bit more hay to keep his weight and condition.

Additional Tips & Suggestions from Curly Owners

"I love your winter article! Winter is the absolutely perfect time to practice bareback riding -infact it is the only time I dare do it - because of the 'soft' landing. I rode in a saddle the other day and noticed immediately how I needed to be louder with my cues to Ruby because she couldn't feel me as well, the connection was broken. I love feeling her warmth and movement under me. There is something so peaceful about winter riding, like the world is all on hold for awhile. It gets pretty cold around here in the winter but we dress for it and enjoy the time out in the fresh air. The hot chocolate and visiting in front of the warm fire afterwards closes off a perfect day. When the winter is over I almost mourn it because it means the end of my bareback season". - Susan in Canada
"I loved your winter riding article!  We have been riding every weekend all winter.  The snow is getting deeper here and the larger horses are breaking trail in turns.  My little Babydoll gets her workout, we usually don't break trail in this deeper snow, we leave it to the bigger guys, like the American Cream Draft one of our boarders got last fall.  Tip:  Winter riding gear is a must, especially winter riding boots (like Ariat).  Also Cashel has "Cozy Toes", stirrip covers with heat.  Since there are at least 3-5 or more us riding every sunday afternoon, it is a good time to set up the coffee pot, hot chocolate and treats in the barn.  I keep the bridles/bits in the house, on the same hooks for our coats, so they are ready to go anytime.  Some of our boarders keep them in their vehicles during this time of year. Here is my best tip:  Winter riding continues to keep you and your horse in shape without any painful transition into riding again when spring arrives. Anyway, thanks for the wonderful article, it really hit upon the best ideas about winter riding which we all love.  Don't forget the great campfires in the woods!" - Joan Henning in Michigan
Riding in the winter is one of my favorite time to ride, cool temps mean you can bundle up warm, lovely curls cover my horses, and NO BUGS...especially NO BEES !!!  We are limited in our winter riding here, we don't generally have a lovely covering of snow, instead we have ice slick mud, but in our indoor arena, and on limited trails we have plenty of space to ride...and ride I DO! As a breeder, I also have much more time for riding in the winter, when I am not dealing with mares/stallions/foals and all the handling and training involved there. There is just something so primal about a warm horse breathing steam, a good grooming and a ride that warms both of us up! - Linda VavRosky, Creekside Curlies


So Remember......Whether You Are:

Jogging in the Arena...
Cantering in the Corral...
or Exploring the Winter Shoreline...
.....Be sure to enjoy those Curly Horses and make your season a memorable one!
I guarantee you, your Curly Horse will enjoy it as much as you do!!

If anyone has additional tips or photos they wish to share, I would love to post them and add to this article. Just email me.


Thank you to the following Curly Horse Owners for providing information and photos for this article:

Yanagi Stables
Curly Standard Place
Creekside Curlies
Curls N Horns Ranch
Laurie Lee
Joan Henning
Susan from Alberta
Michelle Ives


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