When it comes to equines and snow, I have zero experience. But rain? I have wet-weather riding down to a science, and it’s a good thing. Most California barns don’t have indoor or covered arenas – we just don’t get enough inclement weather to warrant them. So when it pours for days or weeks on end, as it tends to do each winter, we have to get creative about keeping the horses fit and happy.
To Ride or Not to Ride?
Some days you just can’t catch a break. If it’s been a few days since the sun has revealed itself, there comes a point at which I simply grin and bear it. There’s really nothing wrong about riding in the rain (or after it), as long as you cover a few bases to make sure both you and your horse stay safe.
If you have well-drained footing that’s not too slick after a few days of rain, go at it. I always like to take a walk out to the center of the arena to get a feel for how the ground reacts beneath my boots. Is is slippery? Deep? Unstable? Then hang up your helmet and spend some time grooming or walking; it’s not worth it even if the footing is a tad slick.
Damp and squeaky dirt that remains grippy and isn’t too deep or watery is generally okay to ride on. Use your judgement, and always reevaluate once you’re mounted. If your horse feels like he’s having trouble with the footing or is cautious, take a few laps but don’t trot or canter.
There’s also the matter of how hard it’s raining. A heavy downpour is better spent under a barn roof, but a light to moderate rain never slows me down, as long as I have the time to wait for my horse to safely dry afterwards. Riding in a steady rain is actually pretty fun, and my horse never seems to mind as long as he gets a long grooming session afterwards in a warm barn aisle.
If the arena’s too soggy for a hack, I always hit the trails. Again, use your judgement in this situation; if you know the trails get washed out and slippery, stay home. At my barn, we have wide paths with great footing that stays grippy even in heavy rains, so it’s an excellent opportunity to keep horses fit and relatively uncrazy when the arenas aren’t safe. Hills are a fantastic way to stave off winter freshness and keep horses mentally and physically fit.
With that said, don’t plan any hours-long rides if the weather’s not great. Stay close to the barn, and dress warmly. Stay aware of the weather and your surroundings, and be prepared to head home if things go south. I always bring a hoof pick along on rainy days in case we encounter any packed mud, and whether you’re on trail or in an arena, opt for boots rather than polos, which don’t react nicely to getting wet.
Rain means mud, and mud means that post-ride, you need to make a decision. I see no problem in a quick hose-down of the lower legs to get the surface dirt off, but if the temperatures are too low, I’d rather allow the mud to dry and cake off or be brushed off later. Of course, if it’s really that chilly, I’d be careful about riding in the first place; where I live, it never really gets cold enough to put off riding altogether.
Once you return from your (hopefully glorious and refreshing) ride, strip off your tack and use a sweat scraper to remove any excess water from the neck, back and hindquarters. I like to throw a cooler on my horse and keep an eye on his temperature. If you can, walking around the barn aisle speeds drying and helps regulate body temperature. (Sidenote: I generally like to keep rainy rides short and sweet – just enough time to get the freshness out and stretch my horse’s legs without getting him too worked up and sweaty).
After a bit, I remove the cooler and let him air dry. This is a great opportunity to trim up the mane and whiskers, brush the tail and generally fawn over your buddy; or clean the tack room. Whatever piques your interest. I like to wait until my horse is totally dry before putting on his stable blanket and putting him back.
Though it can be a bit more work, riding in the rain is pretty much always fun, and helps keep horses from getting out of shape or (too) full of energy through the long winter months.