There’s no nice way to say it: winter 2022 has been a bitch. And it’s only the first week of February. Subzero temps, windchills to freeze your soul, and snow, mountains of the stuff.

Harsh winters can be motivation killers for even the most rabid winter riding enthusiasts. But don’t despair! There are ways to make the most of the winter months even if you can’t always spend time in the saddle.

1. Play Arena Games

There are loads of ideas out there to try if you don’t want to ride, or its too cold to ride (see #4 for tips). Shereen Jerrett of Winnipeg keeps her winter blues at bay by playing ball with her two Morgan horses. “Rowan kicks it and bounces it,” she says. “Fiddich likes to herd it.” The ball is a giant primary colour globe that is soft enough for the horses to pick up in their teeth.

Ontario rider Diane Phillipson lays down some trotting poles and jogs over them, her horse following loose behind her. “Gets us both exercise,” she says.

2. Horse Spa Day

Show your horse some true love beyond a quick trip to cuddle and feed carrots. Get out the massage mitt and equine aromatherapy and get to work. Phillipson’s Hanoverian mare La Vieda is a big fan of massage and “heavy-duty grooming, especially the mane and tail,” she says.

Another horsewoman told me, “I’m clipping my horse with a cocktail in hand.” Don’t you owe it to your horse, pony, mule, or donkey to pamper them during these long cold months? This sort of out-of-saddle bonding time will help you in the ring, promise.

3. Clean your Tack

Seriously, really give it the deep clean you never have time for in the summer. And if you lack a heated tack room, haul it home where you can sit in comfort and get all the dirt and grime off the leather. Take the bridle apart and enjoy trying to figure out how to put it back together. Deep conditioning treatments such as Passier Lederbalsam  or Christian Lowe Leather Balm can work wonders to soften when left on leather overnight.

4. Be an Armchair Equestrian

If you really can’t tolerate even the thought of an icebox indoor arena there are some classic books to get you in the mood, or at least help you daydream about having fun with your horse again. Take, for instance, Cherry Hill’s classic 101 Arena Exercises for Horse & Rider and follow up book, 101 Ground-Training Exercises for Every Horse & Handler.   The contents of both of Hill’s how-to books are self-explanatory and easy to follow.

If you prefer to watch videos, Ingrid Klimke’s Success through Cavaletti-Training is available on DVD. And there are dozens of YouTube videos to keep you entertained.

5. Get Crafty

Jerrett’s true winter superpower is her ability to have fun with fashion. She designs and makes fanciful bonnets for her horses, including a crown, devil, and unicorn horns. But she doesn’t just stop at the horse’s style, she also made herself a sparkly velvet helmet cover. “I have rainbow stirrups too. And my saddle has blue leather on it,” she says.

“Fiddich was in his unicorn horn, and his browband has crystal moons and stars on it. [With] the rainbow stirrups and my helmet cover I look like a figure skater.” The outfit was a hit with a group of children in a beginner’s riding class. “They were awestruck.” But not all her co-riders are fans. “One of the DQs said she was overwhelmed by (she waved at my outfit) ‘all that’ and I said there was little benefit to looking like a funeral cortège in winter!”

Note that when she does venture out into the frozen Manitoba landscape, Jerrett keeps herself cozy in a riding skirt and heated gloves. “I actually rode for 20 minutes the other day thinking it was minus 18. It was really minus 27!”  (For more keep-cozy ideas, read ‘Top Six Ways to Stay Snug in the Saddle‘.)

Honorable Mention: Stay home, drink wine, watch Netflix and don’t get a chill. No need to feel (too) guilty about it!