I mentioned it briefly a couple months ago, but now there's really no denying it so we might as well talk about it: Winter is coming, dear students and boarders. Winter poses several issues and inconveniences for us riders, but with the right mindset and preparation we can all get through this time of year and come out the other side ready for show season! Let's discuss some of the oh-so-fun problems we'll soon be up against, shall we?
First, there's the sweaty horse issue. You'll have to start budgeting extra time at the end of your rides for properly walking out your horse, and if they are sweaty, cooling them/drying them out under a fleece blanket before turning them back out in the cold. This is super important–wet horses will get chilled (and sick) out in the elements. Please note that throwing their thick winter blanket on top of a steaming body just creates condensation inside the blanket, and will make the blanket wet, which will then freeze out in the cold and do absolutely nothing to insulate your horse.
Another winter problem? Our own comfort and warmth. There are many optional things you can get by without in the horse world, but a good pair of winter riding gloves is not one of those things. Your fingers and toes are the first casualties of a cold day at the barn, so do them a favor and get a pair of gloves that still allow you to grip the reins but also keep your digits toasty. Wool socks inside your boots, or a pair of insulated winter riding boots if you're fancy like that, will also be essential. This is my typical winter riding-and-lesson-teaching uniform:
- Winter-weight riding breeches (buy them roomy enough to fit long-underwear underneath)
- Smartwool long-sleeve shirt
- Wool sweater
- Wool neckwarmer/scarf
- Wool socks (at least one pair, sometimes two!)
- Barn coat
- Barn boots (again, buy them roomy enough for a couple pairs of warm socks!)
- Warm hat or headband (thin enough to fit under my helmet)
- Winter riding gloves
You might sweat while you ride, so dress in layers you can take off/add on as needed. I personally love layering a Smartwool (or any thin merino wool shirt) under my sweater because it wicks and dries sweat, so I'm less likely to get chilled after my ride.
Third, your horse needs to be worked and you need to keep riding all winter long–especially if you are planning to attend shows come spring/summer. Dressage is wonderful in that, done correctly, it helps create a beautiful physique and a sound and healthy horse. It also creates a content animal. Horses are domesticated animals bred for centuries for work. They do better all around when they have a job to do.
Trust me, I know how hard it is to stay motivated in winter when it is cold and dark and our bodies are telling us to just stay home and watch Netflix. I KNOW! But, to be blunt, you are back-sliding on your goals and not fulfilling your responsibility to your horse and his well-being if you stop riding in the winter.
Normally, I would be out there teaching lessons all winter and helping to keep you all motivated and showing up each week (except for those days when it's really just tooooo cold. That happens, and it's ok to take a break when it does.) But this winter, due to the special delivery that will be showing up in February, you will be on your own for the coldest and toughest months. For this I am sorry, but it is an opportunity for you guys to learn to be self-motivated, determined and to survive without a trainer standing over you.
I had to go through this process too. I grew up riding under an awesome trainer, but there came a time when I had to move away to go to college, get a job and start a life. All of the support I once had–my parents footing most of the horse-bills, my competitive barn-mates who pushed me to be my best, and my awesome trainer–were suddenly gone. I realized that if I truly wanted to achieve my goals with horseback riding, I would have to fight for them myself.
At first, this meant graduating college and getting on my own two feet so that someday I could afford to lease or own a horse. Once that was achieved, I had to go through the painful process of re-learning a lot of basic things that had been forgotten whilst away from the horse world. There was no one pushing me or helping me–it all had to come from my own desire. I had to be willing to mess up, learn, move on, and power through the frustration and apprehension. It's so much harder to do this than to just show up at lessons and let your trainer do the work of motivating you and educating you. Suddenly the responsibility is ALL YOURS...but so is the glory when you finally figure something out and have a break-through.
This is not to say you shouldn't seek help when needed, but there is really something to be said for learning to be mostly self-sufficient. Today I am so lucky to be able to have monthly lessons with an incredible trainer, but when she is not here I don't screw around, I work hard so that I can get the very most out of each lesson from her and continue towards my goals. After all, they are MY goals and dreams.
This is what I hope all of you focus on this winter when I am not there, when it is cold and dark, when you definitely don't feel like going to the barn; that at the end of the day, only you can get yourself where you want to go. Only you know what your dreams are worth.