An Eventer’s Guide to Winter Survival

Hummingbird Stables Riding Club “Ugly Orange Party Trail Ride.” Photo by Amy Nelson.

Winter is a state of mind. The state I’m in is Illinois, and cold and snow are rampant this time of year. Our eventing season is short — it only runs from May until October in Area IV. Winter brings blowing snow, frigid temperatures, and ice, as in many regions of the world. Can’t go to a warmer region for the season? Just how do you survive? Hating winter doesn’t make it snow any less, nor does it make the temperature any warmer. The way to survive winter, if you can’t change your state, is to change your state of mind.

Step 1: Preparedness. We were lucky in Illinois that this year we had what I call a “dress rehearsal” for winter. Temperatures dipped down into the teens for a couple of days, but then rose back up, so I could see the flaws in my winter preparedness. I found the leaky lightweight hoses, last year’s tank heaters that no longer worked, and extension cords needing replaced, before we got into the thick of things. Do yourself a favor: spend the money. Get the lightweight hoses so you can pack them up in a tub after every use and store them in a heated tack room or in the house. Get the tank heaters, the insulated winter clothing, and the boots that will keep your feet warm and dry. You can’t put a price on winter sanity. As the ultimate Penny Pincher, if it means I have to skip one show to keep myself sane for the four or five months of winter, it is well worth it.

Amy Nelson & TWH Hummingbird’s Mystic Mojito.

Step 2. Stop complaining. Everywhere you look on social media people are whining and complaining about how dark it is, how cold it is, and how snowy it is. Don’t fall into that trap! It will start to bring you down. You will focus on the negative and it will be a long long winter. Whining won’t make it stop, but it will make you miserable. If you have to, block those types of posts. Stay off social media. Or better yet, follow hashtags like #winterwonderland or our own — #ENinWinter. Help us flood social media with FUN winter activities with your horse!

Step 3. Make plans. In our region and there are a host of winter hunter/jumper shows, inside and heated. These are a great way to have something to look forward to and keep yourself and your horse busy!  You’ll have fun in the offseason, whether it’s jumpers with your upper level mount or taking a green horse to a fun show to see the sights. We recently took a couple of young OTTBs to a fun show where they had everything from English and western to gaited and even speed classes. It was a great way for these horses to be exposed to lots of commotion before their eventing careers start.

Our Hummingbird Stables Riding Club has winter trail rides at a local State Park — we just had our “Ugly Orange Party” trail ride (everyone got decked out in hunter’s orange and neon yellow for a winter trail ride!). Go fox hunting with friends. Third flight is generally walk/trot, behind the hounds, like a fast paced trail ride on terrain. Join the “Polar Bear Club” — at my barn this is if you ride bareback when it’s under 20 degrees! The bonus you steal the horses body heat while you ride. Coming up, our Riding Club has a WEG Watching Party — like a Superbowl party– only we recorded the eventing portion of the World Equestrian Games and have a get-together by the fireplace with wine and snacks in the coldest month of the year.

Amy Nelson & young OTTB Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf at an indoor fun show. Photo by James McPherson.

Step 4. Find the Positive. I started this mental exercise a few years ago because running a farm in frigid Illinois took some getting used to. My goal each day of winter is to find one thing I enjoyed about the season. Enjoy the beauty of a cardinal sitting on a snowy branch, the sun sparkling on the morning frost, or the magic of spotting a Sundog. Maybe lay by the fireplace and read your favorite horse book. What put this in perspective for me is following National Geographic on Instagram. They post a lot of photos of different groups of people from around the world and their daily struggles. Looking at a child walking miles for a drink of water makes me feel absolutely ridiculous for complaining about a 4:45 p.m. sunset, or the fact that my toes got cold when I rode my horse in the indoor arena! Enjoy the season. There are absolutely no bugs. Laugh at the pile of barn kitties snuggled up in a patch of sunshine. Use a lesson horse to pull your stepson down a hill on a sled (THIS idea was so fantastic, for the record).

Ruckus the beagle enjoys a fireside nap.
Photo by Amy Nelson

Don’t just survive winter. ENJOY the season. Now put on those warm socks, bundle up, and have a great ride!

Reader poll: What’s your favorite thing to do in the winter with your horse? Post a photo of you enjoying the cold season!