The weather over the past month or so has as we all know been terrible. When I was younger and hardier I was happy enough to ride in all kinds of weather. Well if the truth be told I have made my living riding for a long time and maybe I felt more obligated to ride rather than happy to ride. Now I am a bit older and have become more of a fair weather rider. Or at least I am not an extreme weather rider. I used to have a cut off point at -25 degrees. I would use a hair drier to warm up the bit before I put it in the horse’s mouth. I would ride in insulated coveralls, felt pack boots, deerskin mittens, a sheepskin hat and ski goggles. I am sure I was a sight to see.
I think about those days that were so cold that staying warm took all my attention and energy, and admit that I did not enjoy it. When I was a cowboy it was a little different because there was other livestock that depended on me to move them to feed or cattle that needed doctored. I was talking to a young local cowboy last week who works for one of the big ranches in the area and he was telling me that every man on the cowboy crew has had frostbite this winter while straggling for stray cattle or working in the feedlot doctoring calves. Riding in the winter is part of the life of a cowboy that is accepted but not always enjoyed.
Most of us that are involved with horses have the choice to not ride when the weather turns bad. It can be a lot of fun to ride on a sunny day when there is snow outside but when the wind is blowing and the snow is piling up or the temperature is dropping far below zero there is no fun in riding.
In fact at some point it becomes dangerous. The risk of frostbite is real and it can be hard on your horse’s lungs when extremely cold outside. If the horse starts to sweat and he can’t get dried off his sweat will freeze and give him a chill. Footing can be treacherous if you are outside or just frozen stiff if inside so the potential for your horse slipping or twisting a leg in rutted frozen footing increases.
As a rider the amount of clothing needed to stay warm decreases the ability to comfortably move and will decrease reaction time. Even things like mounting or dismounting can get to be very difficult due to the bulk of clothing. Wearing winter boots requires larger stirrups and we should be aware that oversize boots can easily get wedged into a normal size stirrup. Unless you are wearing mittens or ski gloves your hands get too cold to be useful, and if you are wearing mitts or ski gloves your hands aren’t very useful anyway.
We all have our own limits when it comes to riding in extreme weather. My limits have certainly changed over the years and I am not prepared to put myself or my horse at risk just to say I rode him even when the weather was nasty. I have heard from many clients in the past few weeks that have been snowed under or their rings frozen and they feel bad about not having had the chance to do any work with their horses.
I look outside at my own horses in the snow and they don’t look too upset about not being worked. The horses aren’t going to forget what they have been taught and although it is frustrating not to be able to do much with them because of the weather we may all appreciate it that much more when things warm up.
About this time last year I wrote an article about giving your horse time off after a busy summer and fall. This forced holiday is not necessarily a bad thing. The weather will improve eventually and then we can get back to work. Those horses that were in the middle of a training program will pick up where they left off. It may take a lesson or two to remind them what you were working on but the only thing that will be lost is some fitness and that will come back.
I guess that part of the reason I am writing this is so that people don’t feel guilty for not working their horses because of seasonal extreme and prolonged weather. When the weather throws snow at us we should just go skiing.
© 2009 Will Clinging