Benjamin Aillaud offers some tips on how to make your horse as comfortable as possible in winter to help her do her best. Whether grooming or working your horse, there are plenty of small things you can do to keep her warm and improve her well-being.
In winter, besides being clipped, horses are covered with a rug most of the time to keep them warm. When grooming your horse, start by cleaning the areas that are uncovered. You can also put on protections once the limbs are clean and the hoofs have been picked. Next, remove all girths and webbing. You can fold the front part of the rug back over the horse's back to brush the shoulders, chest, and neck. Then pull it back a bit more to quickly brush the back and stomach. Lay the rug back over the horse without fastening it, and repeat for the rump. Pull back the rear part of the rug, brush the rump, and put the rug back in place. If it's very cold, you can also put an exercise sheet under the rug during grooming in order to keep your horse from getting a chill when you pull back the rug. At least the exercise sheet will be warm, and your horse won't have their loins uncovered at any time.
You are now ready to ride the horse. To warm up your horse's back a bit, it's best to lead the horse at a walk for a few minutes before getting into the saddle. Then ride the horse at a walk for a good 15 minutes, working the horse in the last few minutes (round position, straight, lateral work). If you find it hard to keep the horse calm at the beginning of a session (cold tends to excite horses a bit), you can lunge your horse to help it let off some of its energy. Even if it's not the ideal in terms of warming up the horse, it's better for your safety.
Next, gently start working the horse at a trot. Let your horse unwind. It's important to keep in mind that the colder it is, the longer the muscles take to warm up. If time permits, you can remove the exercise sheet when you've finished letting the horse unwind. You can dismount the horse to do this, or ask someone on foot to do so, if your mount is a bit touchy.
At the end of your session, put the exercise sheet back on the horse and walk for a long time (about 15 minutes) in order to make sure your horse is relaxed and her breathing is calm when you bring her back to the stable. Wait until the horse is dry before putting the rug back on. If necessary, put a drying sheet on for a few minutes to help her dry faster. Note that some horses tend to sweat a second time when the work has been intense and a rug is put back on too soon. So you really have to wait until the horse's temperature goes back down before putting the big rug back on.