Many of my followers live in countries with less to no snow and/or ice, and have difficulties imagining a life where your house if half-way buried in snow, and where you have to ride your horses on ice. We have 6 hours of daylight (which you’ll miss out on, because you’re at work/school), and live a life in darkness for 5 months. Let me give you an idea of how we survive!
The first clue to survive, is having good tyres on your car, so you can get around without dying on the road. Most cars in Norway drive with exccelent winter tyres, and many of these are studded, so you have a great advantage on slippery roads. I just got my own car, and even though it’s a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer (not a brand new car, to say the least, hehe!), I have a badass set of studded tyres. That car has not slipped once so far this winter!
Second clue of survival, is wool.
Yes, I know there are ‘vegan’ and more animal friendly materials to keep you warm, but wool is unbeatable. It is extremely breathable, it helps your body adjust temperature (you’ll rarely get sweaty wearing wool!), and if you do get wet, wool just keeps on warming you up. You can be soaked, and still be warm, even if the outside temperatures makes water freeze.
Also, wool doesn’t shed microplastic into the ocean like fleece do. If you’re concerned with animal welfare, shop wool from a farm with excellent animal care, and knit your own sweaters.
Our horses usually don’t mind the winter, and if you leave them “as they are”, they will get a thick winter coat to keep them warm, and if they live barefoot, they’ll probably do just fine. Ice might be a challenge for barefoot horses, but they are born with instincs, and usually handle it well. You do not ride a barefoot horse on ice though; he needs to be left on his own, and take the time he needs to safely cross minding his own balance. A horse kept barefoot will usually be equipped with studded boots during a ride.
Horses who are not left “as they are”, will be shoed with studs and special snow soles, to ensure they have excellent grip on all surfaces you might ride across. The studs keep them from slipping; you can in fact ride a dressage session on slippery ice without a single issue. The snow soles keeps snow packs from building up underneath their hooves, and your horse won’t walk around on stilts.
Many horses are clipped too during the winter. Many refer to it as “shaving”, but in technical terms this is not correct; they are not shaved skin close, but they get their fur clipped. They do in fact have quite a lot of fur left. Clipping a horse requires good knowledge about rugs and how to blanket a horse, in addition to a large wardrobe of rugs for various needs and situations.
Clipping a horse ensures he does not overheat during training, and can be a good thing for horses who lives in a stable. Stables often get quite hot during the night, and a thick winter coat may result in a dehydrated horse, risking collic. It can also lead to eczema and other skin conditions, seeing as they will be drenched in their own sweat for close to 12 hours. If the horse is not stabled, he will usually not get a clip. Yes, we do have horses living outside 24/7, even in the harsh Norwegian winter. 90% of horses do this perfectly fine without the aid of rugs! Elderly and sick horses might need some help staying warm, but a healthy horse should have no problems staying outside.
Riding and training outside is also not a problem. Ice is actually concidered a pretty soft surface (it’s quite springy!), and riding on/through snow is a wonderful feeling! As long as it is a powdery snow, and not snow with an ice crust on top, the horse will not bother a whole lot. We do however take the footing and resistance of the surface into thorough consideration; you don’t go showjumping on snow as the first thing after a snowfall. But being childish and galloping around on the arena knee-deep in snow, is not a problem. Showjumping can be saved for later when the arena has been plowed flat. Yes, we jump on snow and ice.
Many think it’s irresponsible to ride on ice and/or snow, but think about this; what should we rather do? The number of accidents is close to zero and with all the precautions we take, an accident is rarely a big one.
Many places in Norway is covered in frost and snowy fluff for close to 6 months of the year. Should the horses stay inside, or only train inside, for 6 months at the time? I think not!
Improvice. Adapt. Overcome!
Also, the darkness is someting we adapt to. We have eyes that work and headlights in case it’s awfully dark and no moon outside. You’d be surprised about how bright it can become outside, when the moon is out and reflecting on all the snow and ice!