A snow day in Minnesota is about as rare as a yeti sighting. The population is largely comprised of descendants of Scandinavian and other Northern European settlers, for whom subzero temperatures and thigh-deep snowdrifts are just parts of another day in paradise. Think it’s too chilly to get out of bed? Suck it up. I’m lucky enough to work and board my horse at a barn with a heated indoor arena and an office with a powerful heater (also known as the communal foot-warmer), yet I still sometimes have to convince myself to maintain good riding habits when the temperature drops so low that my car doesn’t want to start.
Having recently begun teaching riding lessons at my barn, I have learned to better appreciate hand and foot warmers, not to mention demonstrating riding patterns by jogging them on foot just to stay warm. Thankfully, our barn implements a “zero and under” cancellation policy for lessons; if the temperatures are zero degrees or below, the horses get to enjoy a day off, and the students and instructors get to avoid frostbite. It’s also better for the barn; without doors opening and closing with the activity of daily barn life, heat is conserved.
While canceling lessons means I get to go home early to a warm bath, hot cocoa, and an evening of writing and drawing in my pajamas, it also means that my students go another week without practicing and learning new riding skills. As a young student, this drove me crazy. I could barely handle going several days without being around horses, let alone two or more weeks. For some of these horse-crazy children, having no contact with these animals outside of the hour or two they spend at the barn every week, this is torture. I think of that, and feel a pang of guilt when winter gets too bitter to safely ride.
I also realize that not every beginning student will be a lifelong equestrian; I already have a sense of which children will become “lifers” and which ones are there to have fun and learn something new until their curiosity is sated and they move on to another hobby. For these kids, horses are fascinating and fun, but their interest is much more tenuous and can be shattered by a bad experience, whether it’s due to frustration, a fall from a horse, or an uncomfortable environment.
I can help my students move past their plateaus and roadblocks and help them rebuild their confidence after an unexpected but inevitable “disagreement” with their mount, but I cannot control the weather. I think of that, and feel grateful for the barn’s cancellation policy, because that allows these new riders to enjoy their time at the barn and get the most out of their lessons.
As for me, I’m enjoying a relaxed evening of writing, cheesy movies, and hot cocoa in the comfort of my own pajamas. I might be a lifer, but I also am grateful for the occasional snow day and the chance to thumb my nose at my fellow Minnesotans’ stoic Nordic sensibilities. We all deserve a day off, whether it’s hardworking students, hardworking barn staff, or our infinitely hardworking and patient lesson horses.
Go R&R. Go Eventing.