Preparing for Polar Vortex 2!

It’s inevitable; winter is approaching and it’s going to be cold… very cold, especially for the east. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts lower than average temperatures for central and eastern United States.

I’m dreading these upcoming winter months; negative temperatures, snow, ice, indoors, no events, and extremely frisky, bored ponies (and riders!).

Instead on focusing on the negative (no pun intended!), we should be preparing for the upcoming months. What can we do to be less miserable? I was able to interview a few different riders about their preparation for winter, fashion, and winter exercise. Hopefully some of these responses will help you in this coming winter!

 1.  What do you do to prepare your barn, your horses, and you for the winter?

Dom Schramm: I guess the most important preparation we make is MOVE SOUTH.. Although alcohol plays an integral part in my winter plan.

Phyllis Dawson:  The first cold nights of the year, we start getting in the routine of draining the hoses, closing up the windows and doors, putting on the blankets and making sure all the horses are tucked in and cozy.  I hate the cold weather, but really the horses don’t mind it, and prefer it to the heat.

And on those really awful cold, snowy nights, there is a special warm feeling when you have battled the snow and cold to do the barn work, and the horses are standing snug in their clean stalls eating their hay, cozy in layered blankets, and oblivious to the awful weather outside. They are dependent on our care, but totally not worried about it, because they trust us to take care of them.

Doug Payne: We’re very lucky being in North Carolina; our winter prep isn’t near what it used to be! We spend an afternoon making sure we have enough appropriately sized blankets of varying weights for each of the horses at our place. We try to have them cleaned and repaired in the late spring, so just confirming that nothing was missed. Aside from that, make sure our clipper blades are sharp and clippers tuned up.

Jane Sleeper: For the winter, the biggest prep I do is fill the barn with hay and straw, enough to go through the end of May so it’s mighty tons!!  And I check out my sheets, blankets, & hoods for all of the steeds.  We’ve already been clipping & blanketing so winter is closing in.

 2.  What is your favorite apparel?  For you?  For your horses?

Dom Schramm: Clothes are tricky. Jimmie always manages to look somewhat cute even with 14 layers and I look more like a homeless man.  I really don’t have many appropriate winter clothes, but I just keep piling them on to keep my organs functioning.

Phyllis Dawson:  Toastie Toes! Those little adhesive-backed toe warmers that you stick to your socks inside your boots, and they keep your toes warm for about 6 hours. I buy them by the case, and just automatically put on a pair each morning when I go to the barn.  On bitter days I might use a second pair in the afternoon. You can put them in your gloves too!

For the horses, I love a good well-fitted turnout rug. I must admit I am partial to the Rambos.

Doug Payne: I’m always cold, so I generally layer as follows: Under Armor, Patagonia light fleece, EMS perm-aloft jacket and down vest if needed. When winter hits for real I rely on a heated vest made for motorcycling. It’s ideal in that you can crank the heat when teaching or between horses and turn it down when riding. Our horses are incredibly lucky, we rely on the entire line of Horseware products. We tend to abuse our equipment, and their blankets, coolers, etc. seem to last significantly longer than anything else we’ve used.

Jane Sleeper: My favorite article of clothing for the winter is a good, brightly colored neck warmer- keeps my shoulders warm & can pull it up to cover my face when the wind is knocking me over!

 3.  What is your favorite way to maintain a horse’s fitness if you don’t have the chance to go somewhere without snow?

Dom Schramm: Historically we do a LOT of hacking and jog sets bringing the horses back in when we are in Aiken (as there aren’t any hills!) We ride no matter what the weather is, six days a week.  If it is icy we still try to at least hack the horses if it safe.  I think its important to try and keep a routine even if the weather is pretty miserable – its good for you and the horses!

Phyllis Dawson: I am lucky to have a nice indoor arena, and you might be surprised how fit you can get a horse in one!  In Virginia the winters vary a lot; some years we can gallop and school outside most of the winter, and other years we are stuck in the indoor for months. But schooling on the flat with plenty of extended canters, you can get a horse quite fit inside, to where they are ready to compete upper level with just a couple of outside gallops once early spring comes.

I got horses fit for Rolex for 20 years without going south in the winter, and that was in the days of long format, so it certainly can be done!

Doug Payne: I think it’s very important to give them some downtime after a long season. So they usually have 4-6 weeks off following the fall season. They slowly start back to work in the beginning of December. They spend a few weeks just walking and slowly get back to full flat work. We start jump in early January. If and when the snow hits, take advantage and get out hacking. It’s great exercise and perfect for their mind, nothing like getting out of the indoor or salted 20 meter circle.

Jane Sleeper: We do many, many trot sets up the Chester County Hills- no indoor for us! Can ride almost everyday except for thick ice! We go to Aiken, South Carolina and it does get cold and rainy – there was a big ice storm last year – but we love to go cross country schooling at Full Gallop Farm in February!

Photo from Jane Sleeper

Photo from Jane Sleeper

Thank you to Dom, Phyllis, Doug, and Jane for giving us many great ideas! I know I’m definitely going to be grabbing a bunch of blankets, grabbing some Toastie Toes, and battling the cold weather to go for many hacks this year. Who’s with me?

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