Eventer’s Winter Wonderland


Visionaire has submitted another post that I think is most appropriate considering the weather of the past few days that has struck much of Eventing Nation.  Thanks Visionaire, and thank you for visiting Eventing Nation. 

Snowflakes in the air, and ice on the water troughs. ‘Tis the time of year when many eventers break out the old omnibus (err, go to www.useventing.com) and sit by the cozy, crackling fire to plan out next year’s promising season. The horse trailer is packed with everything but the kitchen sink, and the crew is shipped down south for a competitive winter stint. The snowbirds land mostly in Carolina or Ocala, for their 4 month home-away-from-home. Many events in the area are within a short drive, and the concentrated population makes finding educational assistance a breeze. It’s a perfect getaway to eventing paradise, to get a jump on your goals and prepare your horse for the year to come.  
But, alas, there are many more of us who don’t make that trip. Lack of funding, work commitments, or family responsibilities keep us home for the winter. We are the bears hibernating beneath feet of snow, or the poor squirrels frantically scrapping to survive the barren landscape. Some riders just give up for the winter, give the horse the time off, and see y’all again when the ground thaws. Not me; I am a squirrel. 
My job does not allow me the freedom to relocate for 3 or 4 months at a time, so I make do as well as I can: I drive. I drive to Georgia or Carolina for a weekend event, missing as few days as possible. I ride every day, 6 days a week, no matter what Old Man Winter throws at me. I do not have an indoor. I deal with snow and ice, though thankfully it melts rather quickly. It takes dedication and determination, and flexibility to adapt your schedule to deal with impending weather. 
And all the while, I deal with frozen water buckets, near-frostbite on my toes, frequent use of a quarter-sheet, and struggling to move under all the layers of clothing. I’m a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and living through another winter, maintaining upper-level fitness, definitely makes you tough. I know that I am at a disadvantage my southern-based competitors, but I’m willing to work twice as hard (or as much as necessary) to make it work. After all, the alternative is to get fat and hibernate…and bears don’t wear Rolexes. :) 
Here are a few of my favorite “Squirrel” survival tips: 
1) Don’t be a wimp. RIDE every day that you plan to ride; even if it’s so cold you can only hack. You only have so many “excused absences” in your training schedule, and you need to save those for legitimate reasons (lameness, health procedures, or EXTREMELY AWFUL weather) 
2) Maintain a flexible schedule and learn to love the Weather Channel. My basic schedule includes a weekly jump school, and a weekly gallop. But I will adjust the days of these activities based upon the best weather available, to ensure good footing. It is a balancing act between climate conditions and necessary training. 
3) Stay warm: everybody knows to dress in layers. I’ve found, though, that keeping my neck warm (a scarf or gaiter) and my ears warm (you will NEVER find my ears uncovered below 55 degrees) makes me a happier person. And when I’m happy, it’s easier to work well. Wear wrap-around style sunglasses– they reduce glare from snow, shield your eyes from falling snow, and keep your face warmer (no eye-watering during gallops!). 
4) Manage your horse wisely. It’s harder to put weight on a working horse in winter, so be sure to increase feed at the first sign of loss of condition. Body-clip when needed, and blanket appropriately. My horse, living outside, will wear two layered heavyweights and a neck cover. I also try to keep her barefoot as long as possible, to avoid dealing with snowballs in shod feet. (It’s better for her feet, anyway, to stay bare). 
5) Plan your goals well in advance, and be very realistic about what you can achieve. “Rushing” into an event, or trying to compress your training schedule is pretty much impossible with the challenges of winter. Cross-country schooling in northern locales is limited at best, so enter your first event at a lower level to account for this. Be ready to adapt your plan if things come up– move down, or skip an event altogether if your horse is not 100% ready. Of course, this should go for ANY event, ANY time of year…but proper preparation is extremely important. 
It is hard to make it through the daily grind of winter. But remember, each day that passes is one more closer to spring…and unless you’re in Canada (sorry Canadians) it could always be worse!
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