I know no one wants to hear the “W” word yet, but let’s face it: it’s that time of year again. The trees turn bright and begin to drop their leaves. The temperature cools, and everyone sighs in relief as the flies finally drop dead (if only they had done so this summer, when you battled them off with an expensive arsenal of sprays, traps, and fly sheets). If your horse is anything like mine, he has already sprouted a shaggy winter coat and looks like a yak. The fluctuating temperatures make it necessary to keep both summer tights and insulated breeches on hand, just in case. Fall is here, and winter is coming.
Hailing from Minnesota, I view autumn with conflicting feelings of relief and dread. Minnesotan winters usually are harsh and lengthy, complete with subzero temperatures and enough snow to bury an unlucky pony.
Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons for staying motivated to ride even when I’d rather turn into a bear (stuff my face, find a warm place to snooze, and hibernate until spring):
1: Layers are Your Friend.
My winter riding gear usually consists of an average of six layers of clothing, including thermal long underwear, Thinsulate and down-filled outerwear, and enough flannel to clothe Paul Bunyan. Not only does this allow me to subtract layers as I heat up during a ride, but many thin layers of clothing are more effective at insulating the body than fewer, bulkier layers.
2: Blanket Responsibly
If your horse is thin-coated, elderly, or clipped like a well-groomed dandy, blanketing may help him stay comfortable when the temperature falls. Plus, it’s such a treat to remove a nice, warm blanket to reveal a nice, warm, CLEAN horse before a ride! Check out SmarkPak’s “Blanketing 101” for measurement guides and other helpful tips for bundling up your furry loved ones.
3: Warm Up (and Cool Down!)
This applies to many things. To keep your horse from hating you forever, warm his bit before you place it in his mouth – do YOU want a metal bar freezing to your tongue? Make sure you and your horse are properly warmed up before you begin tackling your exercises for the day. Take extra care to cool down after your ride, especially if you and your horse have worked up a sweat. And of course, after everyone has been cooled down, dried, and bundled up, treat yourself to a delicious hot beverage to warm up again!
4: Keep It Simple
When it’s a struggle just to convince yourself to brave the cold to ride, sometimes it’s best to take it easy. Groom your horse and tell him how pretty he is underneath his woolly mammoth shag. Hop on bareback and enjoy your living seat warmer. If you’re a brave soul, go for a winter wonderland trail ride. Not every barn visit has to be preparation for your inevitable future entry at Rolex, right?
5: Make it Fun
Take a picture of you and your horse frolicking in the snow. Gather some friends and play games on horseback. Enjoy a thorough tack cleaning and blanket repair session with coffee or wine and some good music. Grab some quality time with horses and friends, because you know what they say about all work and no play.
How do you keep warm and motivated in the cold? I will be compiling your winter riding tips and illustrating them for an upcoming post! Feel free to comment here, on Facebook, or send your suggestions and stories to l[email protected].
Go Cold Weather Riding. Go Eventing.