It’s been wintery here lately, so it seems fitting to make a post about when to cancel riding lessons due to cold! It’s a topic that comes up every winter in the online forums, so I was excited to find a lot of responses and personal experiences from which to source the content of this post, for both typical and adaptive riding lessons. Whether you are an instructor on your own making decisions on a client by client basis, or whether you are a program creating a cold weather cancellation policy, I hope you find this info helpful!
When To Cancel Riding Lessons Due To Cold
Ultimately, there is no “one size fits all” approach to deciding when to cancel lessons. It involves a variety of factors, since everyone’s climate, barn, horses, clients and circumstances are different. So I’m listing a bunch of considerations to think about to help your decision and policy formation; I’m sure it’s not comprehensive, but does cover a lot! Here they are:
- wind chill factor – take this into account when riding outdoors
- footing – can freeze when temps are below freezing, so walk the arena, ride in it, and look for frozen ice patches under the snow to determine whether the footing is safe or not. Plowing the arena, using calcium chloride, sand or mag flakes may help.
- inside temp – base decisions on the temp in the barn/arena, not on the outside temp or wind chill factor
- heaters and insulation – if your barn has these this will let your ride in lower temps
- remind clients that your arena’s temp is different than the temp they see on their weather app, so you will be in communication with them about when you cancel
- aisle temp – if your aisle is cold, warm, or heated this will affect how well the horses can dry off after lessons, and how comfortable your volunteers will be, and therefore whether you can have lessons and what type
Some programs base their cancellation policy on a clear cutoff temperature. Other programs or individual instructors take additional factors into consideration, but notice a trend between temperatures and cancellations and what certain riders can handle. This is what the majority of people on the Facebook forums said regarding at what temperature they tend to cancel:
- Outdoor arena: 25°-45°F or below (this also depends on location, humidity, etc.)
- Indoor arena, client with no disabilities: 10°-15°F or below (northern regions like Canada, Minnesota, etc. were often at 10°F or less as the cutoff)
- Indoor arena, client with disabilities: 20°F or below, sometimes 25°-30°F depending on the rider
- Heated indoor arena and barn: 5° and under
Some instructors take the forecasted high into consideration, especially if they know from experience what that means the temperatures will be like. For example, when it’s forecasted not to get above a certain temperature they know it will not be warm enough to ride all day so they cancel all lessons. But if it’s forecasted to be a high of a different temperature, they know they will have to wait and see and make a decision on a client by client, time of the day, basis.
Where you live greatly affects how the temperature feels. For example, 45° in Florida feels very different than 45° in Michigan. Or, cold weather by the ocean where the air is wet feels very different than inland where the air is dry or where it’s humid. Or, if your barn is in the sunshine and warms up quickly versus if it’s in a valley in the shade all day and stays cold. Therefore, it’s hard to compare your cancellation policy to one in a another location – you do what’s best for you, your clients and your horses!
The weather can factor in to deciding whether or not to cancel (no pun intended!) – if it’s raining, snowing, blizzarding, sunshining, etc. For example, you have an outdoor arena and the temperature is around freezing for the week, but ne day you get freezing rain so you have to cancel lessons, but another day you get dry snow overnight so in the morning you plow the arena to get off the snow and break up the ground and make sure there’s no ice and still hold lessons.
The weather will also affect the road conditions! If it is dangerous for the client to get to the barn, you should decide together to cancel. I know many programs follow the local public school’s guidelines, because if they cancel it means the roads are not safe enough to travel on.
Take into consideration your clients. Some programs will cancel based on individual circumstances, not just the temperature.
- Age – younger riders may be less able to handle the cold, and you don’t want to teach a cranky student. Work with the parent to decide.
- Health – riders with disabilities or poor health may not be able to handle the cold well. For example, someone with asthma may not be able to breathe in the cold very well, or someone with high tone may stay tight due to the cold. There may be precautions or contraindications for certain disabilities regarding the cold.
- Dress – whether the rider can dress appropriately for the cold or not. Some young riders may not be able to ride effectively in bulky winter clothes. Some riders with sensory issues may not be able to wear winter clothing or gloves.
The point is, at some point the cold cancels out the benefit of the lesson, and you need to decide at what point that is. Definitely work with the client/parent/caregiver to decide – I’ve had riders whose lessons were noticeably different because of the cold still come for lessons because the parents still saw benefits from it at home.
Consider how well your volunteers handle cold weather and how long they can comfortably be in the barn or aisle at certain cold temps. Their age, health, and how they are affected by the cold may determine how safe it is for you to hold lessons.
Some considerations about horses and the cold:
- Turnout – if your horses could not be turned out due to cold weather, or if they were turned out but the ground was too hard to move around much, they may pose a safety issue due to excess energy. One option is to let the horses run in the indoor arena before lessons, a few at a time, to get their energy out.
- Warmup time – horse need a little extra warm up time on cold days, so if they were not able to get this they may be more difficult to handle or their gaits stiffer, which will impact the lesson
- Temperature – temperature may or may not affect horses. Most instructors said their horses do fine in any low temp, it’s the riders they cancel for. However, other instructors quoted research which says that under 25-23°F horses can damage their airways with heavy work (I don’t have a source for that though) so consider not doing a ton of canter or trot work under those temps.
For more info about handling horses in cold weather, see my blog post here: Keeping Horses Comfortable In Winter Lessons!
Your programming can affect your cancellation policy.
- Year round sessions – you might be more lenient about you/riders cancelling in the cold weather
- Quarterly sessions – if a client signs up for winter/spring quarter, they know it’s going to be cold, so you might be less lenient about cancellations and very clear about your cancellation policy
How to Handle Cancellations
Here are some ideas for how to handle the actual cancellation:
- Communicate early – the more communication the better, so you don’t have a million clients contacting you. If you know you’ll cancel the whole day, tell everyone in the morning. If you’re not sure yet, send a quick message in the morning to tell clients that you know the weather is iffy and you are watching it, and tell them a time by which you’ll let them know your decision.
- Touch base individually – communicate with each client separately. If cancellation is possible, ask if they have a preference for when to make the call – they might have alternative plans and 4 hours versus 1 hour makes a huge difference.
- Double check – multiple instructors said they asked their clients to give them a call before they left for the barn to make a final decision.
Adaptations for Cold Weather Riding Lessons
Bonus content! Here are some good ideas I found for getting through cold weather riding lessons, in no particular order:
- Timing – don’t time lessons for the coldest part of the day. One barn I was at ended their evening lessons in the winter quarter earlier than in the summer quarter.
- Provide Comfort – provide hot or cold drinks, a warm room, hand warmers, toe warmers, extra knit gloves, salt the parking lot, and extra little things like that to keep your riders and volunteers warm
- Stay Warm – for ideas on keeping yourself the instructor warm during lessons, see this forum discussion
- Do Ground Lessons – many programs said if it’s too cold to ride, they offer ground lessons. This could be in a warm classroom, or in a warm stall, or a combination of both. For ground lesson ideas see these posts:
- The Ultimate List of Equine Groundwork Lesson Activities
- Equine Spa Currying Session
- “Ground School Curriculum” by EAAT Curriculums review post
- GallopNYC’s resource for Rainy Day Activities & Groundwork Lesson Plans post
- What to Teach – Horsemanship and Groundwork Skills
- Groundwork Activities for Grooming, Tacking and Leading
- Horse Camp Ideas
- Crafts for Rainy Day or Horse Camp
- Specific groundwork program – some programs close for the winter months and offer a groundwork only program, even with an online learning component. One program had a primarily online program where the riders learned lessons at home and then had a hands on review once a month.
- Fake Horse Lessons – use a practice horse to practice riding on! See by post here with ideas: The Practice Horse. Many programs have an Equicizer that they love.
- Heaters – some barns have radiant heaters in the indoor arena and barn, so your riders can stay warm or stop for breaks under the heaters. Just remember that if the barn and stalls and tack room are not also heated, you still need to consider the comfort of those in the aisle like volunteers, and how you will cool the horse down after the lesson.
- Bareback riding – sitting directly on the horse is warmer than having a saddle in between, even using a bareback pad is warmer!
- Ride in the snow – if it’s safe and you have a place outdoors to do this, obviously. Besides being a magical experience, your rider might be less scared of falling off since there’s snow to land in. In fact, some instructors have their students practice falling off into the snow!
How does your program decide when to cancel lessons? What do you do to keep your riders and volunteer warm?
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!