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trailering in winter

From: Betsy

Dear Jessica,

I just finished reading this week's letters and thought of a matter that has been concerning me. Up until this year I have done very little riding in the winter. With the days so short there just was not enough daylight after work to get the feeding done, let alone ride, and weekends may or may not have suitable weather for riding. However, this year I am retired and am determined to try to get in some riding whenever the weather permits so that I won't have to "start over" so to speak in the spring.

I usually trailer to a weekly lesson, which is about 15-20 minutes from my farm. My trailer is not a horse trailer but a stock trailer. It has solid sides about 2/3 of the way up and slats from there to the top. I'm sure this permits a lot of cold air in the trailer when I am pulling it. To get to my lesson barn, I pull through town and county roads so I am never going very fast. My horse is pasture kept with a run-in shelter. She rarely ever uses the shelter, even when it is raining and snowing. When I have hauled her so far this winter, I have used a winter blanket and shipping bandages on her. She does not wear a blanket in the pasture, and she is not body clipped in any way. Would the wind chill inside the trailer on a cold day (20 - 30 degrees) be too hard on my horse?

Also, there is a winter series of schooling shows which are located a little over an hour from my farm. This would require interstate driving, more speed and more wind I would think. I went to the November show (It wasn't too cold then.), skipped the December one, and was wondering if it would be a good idea to try to make the shows scheduled for the rest of the winter.

I really like my trailer. Because the slats allow so much light in, I have never had any problem loading anything in it. However, I am not really comfortable about using it in the winter.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Thanks for Horse-sense.


Hi Betsy! I like stock trailers too, and I can't see that there would be any problem in trailering to your lesson in winter, especially as you are driving slowly. And on those days when the weather is truly horrible with icy winds and snow, you're unlikely to be driving in it at all, right?

The shows present another problem -- an hour of interstate driving will definitely increase the wind chill factor inside your trailer. It's a very good idea to put a good warm wind- and water-proof rug on your mare for those trips! If the front of your trailer is solid, as it is on most stock trailers, then your speed won't matter as much, because the cold air won't be blowing directly into your horse's face. If you let her decide how to ride in the stock trailer, she will probably angle herself out of the wind in any case, and she may prefer to travel facing backward.

Some people add sheets of plywood to their stock trailers in winter, as weather-guards. And I know that there are also ways of adding plexiglass to the outside of a stock trailer to keep the light in but the wind and rain out.

A more relevant question, I think, is What About Your Horse's Coat? I would think that in the situation you've described, your biggest problem would be the fact that she isn't clipped. This is fine for winter, but not very good for shows in winter. You may have to wait until spring to start attending shows again. Unclipped horses do very well in winter, as long as they follow their own dictates about exercise. Left to themselves, they won't get sweaty. If you ride an unclipped horse in the winter, it's incumbent on you to keep that horse from getting sweaty -- unless you plan to spend an hour riding and the next four or five or more hours getting that horse dry again! Unless your shows are very unusual, you're likely to end up with a sweaty horse -- and it's a difficult, lengthy, sometimes all-day process to cool down and dry out a sweaty horse with a long winter coat.

I'm not advocating that you clip your mare and keep her rugged and indoors -- it's much less healthy for her than living outdoors with her own wooly coat. But if you're going to ride regularly and hard, enough to make her sweaty after a workout, and if you're going to take her to shows through the winter, you'll need to think about this. I understand your desire to ride through the winter! But you and your mare might both be better off if you can think of the winter riding as maintenance for both of you -- keeping her in the habit of being ridden, and keeping some of her "riding-muscles" toned, and keeping yourself in the habit of riding, and keeping YOUR riding-muscles toned! The two of you could stay riding-fit through the winter by WALKING under saddle for half an hour each day -- you wouldn't have to deal with the issues of sweat, cooling out, and clipping, your mare wouldn't have to cope with being rugged and confined, and you would stay fit enough that both of you would be toned and ready for more work in the spring.

Good luck, and congratulations on your retirement!


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