How do you prep horse for unusual footing (deep snow, sandy beach, etc.)
Several months ago, many of you graciously gave me advice on how to work on my mare's bolting when riding out alone in a large open pasture at our barn. Unfortunately, we haven't made a ton of progress outside the arena, but I found myself looking longingly at the field today, covered in about 1.5 feet of unbroken snow, and thinking surely she couldn't take off on me with snow that deep...I quickly rid myself of that thought, as I didn't think it would be the best idea to combine questionable footing with an already-known bad scenario for us.
But that got me thinking...how do you get a horse prepared to ride out in 1-2 feet of deep snow? Or a wet, sandy beach? I know the horses get over this kind of footing just fine on their own, but is there anything special that goes into helping them balance themselves and a rider in these conditions, especially the first time you do it? Just curious (you know, for my future bombproof, trail loving horse :wink:)!
We have snow exactly that deep here in N MI, and yes, you're correct to assume they can accommodate it very well - the biggest concern, (especially with the bolting issue), would be any icy patches, etc.... If the terrain isn't all powder, I would hesitate. A winter ride would be fun, but an injury wouldn't be worth it at all. I don't ride in winter any more, and do so many other things with my horses instead and have a ball! But that's just me. I'm not a horse owner who needs to be in the saddle every day, and I enjoy doing groundwork for fun and keeping them sharp, as well as the simple pleasure of just hanging out and enjoying their company :)
I dont know, as the person above said, if it isnt ALL powder snow I wouldn't. My mom's horse slipped on ice behind our barn, broke his leg and we had to put him down. I think that with the beach, since horses obviously arent out on the beach when they are turned out, I'd say theres just a first for everything. The footing on the beach isnt too different from a ring, just wet but not slippery wet ;)
Actually wet sand isn't the problem, it's the dry deep sand. Wet sand is fairly hard with plenty of traction.
Anyway, what I do is just keep them in a slow walk until they get used to handling a particular type of difficult footing. Ice and slick mud is what we have around here that is most difficult.
Amen, Darrin! About the mud. Nasty!
Deep sand is a lot tougher on legs than hard wet sand. It's tough for people to walk in dry sand and we have these big spread out feet. Think how a horse must feel. Just don't run in the stuff!
Hardpack wet sand is easy- that's the stuff you can drive cars over without a problem. Great footing for a nice ride.
The deep loose stuff or the hidden mudpools in some tidal areas can be a problem though. If the horse has never been in it, the best bet is to give them their head and let them figure it out. They may lurch/lunge/jump/bolt through it the first time or two, but after they've seen it a couple of times you can start taking up the reins again and telling them to keep their head about them as well as their feet under them. Having an experienced horse who knows the footing is no big deal and who can set a good example is priceless though. Leastwise that's what works for us when we first went out and go out with inexperienced horses now. Once my guy got the feel of mud and deep sand, I pretty much expect him to go though and over everything else without and problem, and he does.
Whatever you decide/do, please be careful anytime you are unsure about the footing. Horses are tremendously agile, but they can/do slip. I've only had it happen to me once, but having a horse slip and fall on your leg is not a pleasant experience. Luckily, only a minor scrape for our mare, no broken bones for me, but my foot/ankle was so swollen I couldn't get my boot on for 6 weeks.
Thanks everyone- just to be clear, I am NOT planning on riding in the deep snow at this time. While I dearly love my mare, I know her limits when it comes to being pushed outside the arena- and I also know mine.
My question was really more out of curiosity, as I see beautiful photos of people riding in belly deep snow and wonder what it takes to get a horse ready for that, mentally and physically. Your responses have all been really helpful in satisfying that curiosity. I do hope that I one day have a horse that enjoys this kind of riding- so I'm filing all these tips away for that day!
I have never had the pleasure of riding in snow - but riding on beaches is something we do all the time. Either on the Gulf of Mexico or riding up at Sam Rayburn Lake at Ebenezer Park.
The wet sand by the water is hard packed generally. You can gallop on that! The deep sand we generally walk through.
Interestingly enough, my buddy ran her first endurance ride in November. Darolyn Butler is a renowned endurance rider and told Lee Ann to either walk through the deep sand or gallop - do not trot. There was quiet a bit of deep sand on the trail they were on. Lee Ann galloped through the deep sand.
Riding in deep snow is not so much the problem. The problem is what is under the snow? If you know the area and are confident that there are no hidden obsticles, then the ride across a field of fluffy white snow is no big deal.
My challenges usually come from blow down logs, rabbit holes, loose rocks that roll when stepped on, traction on mountain sides covered in snow etc.
The other concern is crusted snow. If the crust is thick, it can be fairly abrasive, especially on the horses shins as they break a trail through the snow. We also run intot he problem of riding on South and West facing hillsides where the snow is not so deep and then finding a North or East face that doubles the depth of the snow. The various creeks and streams that I love to practice crossing in the warmer months, become sheets of ice.
We ride all winter, I just choose more carefully where we will ride. Often choosing South facing hillside where the snow is not as deep and we have more sun to warm us. I choose areas that are more sagebrush or open country and avoid the heavy timber that can hide tangles of branches and where the sun doesn't reach to melt the snow.
This west facing hillside is almost melted off from the storm the day before
I'm a whole lot more willing to ride across an area that I knew was a hay field in the summer than to cross an are that I know is talus and broken rocks,
And often times I can follow the trails the deer and other wild life make.
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