Fewer daylight hours and often unpleasant weather can make hacking more of a chore than a pleasure at this time of year, but one those lovely bright winter days, both you and your horse will benefit from time out of the arena and the chance to relax on a favourite, but still safe, ride.
It's important to choose a route that you and your horse both know well, as that way you won't suddenly find yourselves having to negotiate a flooded dip, or very boggy footing that you didn't know would be there.
Snow doesn't mean you can't ride out, but makes it even more imperative that you know the terrain you are riding over, as potholes, slopes and small obstacles can be easily hidden and cause your horse to stumble or even fall, perhaps with an associated injury.
Using a generous layer of grease - vaseline works well - inside your horse's hooves will help to prevent snow sticking to his feet like 'stilts'.
If there is a good snow cover, why not think of riding around your own fields, as it offers a quick and fun way to exercise without risking black ice on the road. If the snow is deep, don't be tempted to do too much, as hacking through snow is very hard work for your horse!
Ice is always dangerous, so check the weather forecast and if it's going to freeze and there is a risk of ice forming, that's a clear signal not to ride. High winds aren't fun either and even sensible horses can be seriously unnerved on a windy day, especially if the light conditions are poor. If your horse is worried in the wind, stay at home!
When conditions on the roads are frost free though, hacking can offer the opportunity to not only keep your horse in work when your arena might be too wet, or you are both bored of going round in circles, but you can even keep up some of his schooling. Lateral work in walk, like leg-yielding and shoulder-in are all useful and you can even practise halts!
Always, always use high-visibility gear for both you and your horse – the more easily you can be seen by drivers, the safer you will be.
Hacking out in winter, especially if your horse is clipped, can be cold, so both of you need to wrap up warm, as a cold horse will inevitably be more 'skittish' to ride.
Thermal under layers, thick socks and good gloves are must for you and a snood will make all the difference to keeping your neck warm! For your horse, especially if it is raining and even more so if he’s clipped, an exercise rug that is windproof will be much appreciated; if it's hi-viz, even better!
Knee boots are always a good idea on the road and asking your farrier to fit road nails will help provide grip and reduce the risk of slipping on tarmac. Make sure you time your ride so that you aren't out in poor light at either end of the day and tell someone your planned route so that if you have a problem, help will know where to look.
Fun roll in the snow
When you get back from your ride, if there is lying snow then remember that most horses LOVE a roll in fresh snow, so even if your horse is clipped, turning out briefly will give him the opportunity to enjoy a good 'wriggle' in the snow, helping to 'clean' his coat at the same time! You'll have a really content horse to bring in, ready for you to rug up him up warmly and leave him to enjoy tucking into his hay or haylage.
So whilst winter can be a difficult time in many ways, with a little planning and preparation, you can look forward to some lovely seasonal hacks in the company of your horse and friends and make the most of our beautiful countryside.