A vigorous ride on a brisk winter day may seem like the perfect way to stay warm, but for the sake of your horse's lungs, don't go too fast.
Studies have shown that exertion in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit may stress a horse's airway tissues. Specifically, researchers found evidence of lung inflammation in healthy, fit horses who were galloped in temperatures of 39 degrees F. They also found that horses housed in the same temperatures but not exercised did not show any inflammatory changes.
Similar cold-air-related inflammation has also been discovered in human athletes, probably stemming from the dryness of the air in addition to the temperature.
During the winter months, save your most strenuous workouts for milder days. And when temperatures drop below freezing, work on specific skills, like backing or opening gates, rather than building endurance through faster or sustained work.
Of course, if your horse has heaves or other underlying respiratory issues, exercise in cold weather may be even more irritating to his lungs. Instead of riding during a cold snap, use your time to bond with your horse through long grooming sessions and hand-walking.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #425.