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Archive for January, 2011

The Riding Company offers riding holidays all year round and winter breaks are proving ever more popular as British riders get the opportunity to experience snow in a more positive light! In the UK riding becomes confined to indoor or all weather arenas, but in Austria at altitude there are opportunities to ride out in spectacular settings. Here are our top tips for winter from Penny Roberts, Head of Austrian Holidays at The Riding Company, and how our Mountain Guide at the Schlosswirt Hotel in Carinthia, Toni Sauper, keeps his herd of horses fit, happy and healthy during the winter season:

Haflingers enjoy a canter in the powder snow

 

The best breeds to cope: Without a doubt, in Austria, it is the native breed, the Haflinger. Compact, sturdy and sure footed, they are the ideal mountain horse. They remain unclipped throughout the season. The Kroller Hotel in Tirol has Criollo horses of South American origin, renowned for their endurance and ability to cope at altitude in all conditions.

Feeding: The Haflingers are fed circa 3 litres of hard feed a day in winter but this varies according to work. There is always plenty of hay and haylage available, cut from the high pasture during the Alpine summer months, it is often rich in alpine herbs. Haflingers hold their condition extremely well.

Rugging up: The Haflingers with their full coats do not get rugged up except for sweat rugs directly after work when they have a cooling period in their stable.

Stabling: Most Austrian stalls are inside a traditional style barn, with sliding doors to enable easy access. (Try pushing a traditional stable door open with a couple of feet of overnight snow against it!) Older properties often have the barn attached to the house with a link door, humans benefit from the heat of the animals and vice versa!

Live in or out?: Toni turns out the Schlosswirt herd from 09.00-17.00 every day, in all weathers. They are stabled overnight in winter but can’t wait for their roll in the snow each morning. Hay is made available to graze on.

Shoeing for snow and ice: Special shoes are a must in winter, not just for hacking but also for pulling the sleigh. Haflingers were originally draught horses bred to haul timber in the Alps and now make great driving ponies. For winter the shoes are inlaid with a rubber ring that protrudes slightly within the innerside of the metal shoe providing grip. In addition, snow studs are used to give extra hold on icy surfaces. It is possible to prevent snow forming balls on the sole of the foot by applying Vaseline or a similar grease.

Grooming: All horses appreciate a good groom and the Haflingers are no exception. Once dry after work they receive a work over using rubber curry combs and dandy brushes to remove dry sweat and tone muscle, a body brush is ineffective on the winter coats and we don’t want to remove too much grease, they need it for warmth.

Manes and tails: Left long and natural like most of the British Native Breeds. The Haflinger only comes in one colour, chestnut, and the mane and tail are always flaxen and of a coarse texture.

Riding on winter evenings: The Haflingers are happy to hack after dark and Moonlight rides with Toni are a feature at the Schlosswirt Hotel. When there is a good moon it is never really dark as the snow reflects the moonlight to stunning effect. Sleigh rides after dark are also popular, passengers are provided with plenty of blankets and a warming schnapps en route!

What to wear for snow rides: The horses generate a fair amount of heat but the answer is as much as comfortably possible. Some of the holidays are Western style and it’s possible to ride in ski type padded trousers, but you may prefer jodhpurs and thermal underwear for English tack. Always take a waterproof, warm jacket and good gloves plus boots with good tread. Extras that can make life more comfortable area thermal balaclava that fits under your hard hat and thermal ski socks. If you don’t have a balaclava, a headband or scarf should cover your ears.

Drying things: All of the Alpine riding venues also double as ski resorts in winter and the hotels are well kitted out with boot rooms and drying areas for kit and equipment.

Are the trails always passable in winter? With the horses wearing their customised winter shoes and with Austria’s long experience in managing winter conditions, riding is available throughout the season. By using local, experienced guides who tailor the rides to conditions it is possible to find safe and exciting routes throughout winter. Routes would only be closed if there was a danger of avalanche or extreme icy conditions on a particularly steep route.

Criollo horses are tough and well suited to winter conditions

Look after yourself: Riding in cold conditions at altitude burns up much more energy than your average hack so make sure you prepare with a hearty breakfast. Many of our hotels include ‘afternoon tea’ as part of the package for riders upon returning from the daytime rides with a choice of sweet or savoury snacks to boost energy levels. Eat well, Alpine food is often high in carbohydrates for a reason!

Pack your sun cream!: Yes, it’s winter but a good strong sun cream with UV block is recommended for those hours in the saddle. It also moisturises your skin against the effects of the cold and wind. Lip salve also highly recommended.

Grooming for humans: The Hotel Post Tolderhof in Süd Tirol, Italy has worked on developing a fitness programme with the University of Deggendorf especially for riders and the treatments are targeted at aiding recuperation and regeneration after an active day in the saddle. Examples of treatments include alpine herb and hay baths, horse brush exfoliation scrubs as well as the trademark ‘Rider’s Massage’ to ease and soothe those muscles used in horse riding. Great in summer, but bliss in winter when you have been out in more extreme conditions.

Select the right destination: Are you experienced or novice? Do you want to canter through the snow or trek at a more leisurely pace. Would you like to combine lessons in an indoor arena on warm bloods with hacks on Haflingers? All are possible but you need to ensure that you select a destination that has the right horses and facilities to cater for your needs.

How long can I ride in winter? During the winter months a maximum of two hours at a time in the saddle is normal as your extremities will feel it no matter how protected you are, there are longer trails but always with a break. The days of course are shorter anyway so the longer trail rides are saved for summer when the mountain tops are accessible.

Best tack for snow? You can ride safely in English or Western depending on which resort you choose but many of our clients have commented on the Western saddle being of great benefit when in deep snow or on the steeper trails!

Try ski jöring!: Have a go at this winter sport whereby you ski behind a horse, like waterski-ing on the snow! This is actually not a new sport at all, but had its origins in Sweden 2500 BC as a simple means of winter transport by peasants. It was also presented as a demonstration sport in the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz. You should be at least 16 years old, a good parallel ski-er, but no riding experience is necessary. You should not deviate more than 1.5m to the side of the horse. The Riding Company offer this at the Post Tolderhof in Italy where you can combine it with dressage, jumping and hacking!

Take a camera! The views from horseback in the snow are amazing and you will want to remember the experience! Riding through deep snow feels as though your horse is swimming beneath you. Watch out for the snow-spray from the rider in front when you are cantering …………there’s always plenty to talk about over a glühwein in the evening.

Sure footed in winter and summer

 

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