Saturday, Apr. 13, 2024

A Season For Appreciation

About six weeks ago we had a snow day at work, and everyone left early to avoid the slippery mess that Virginia roads inevitably become whenever we receive the dreaded “wintry mix.”

When I arrived home, instead of curling up next to the fire and watching the snow fall, I rushed outside and tacked up my horse for a trail ride. He’s barefoot for the winter, and I rode him bareback. It was like being 13 again—I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything, teach him anything or work on my position. I was just having fun with my horse.
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About six weeks ago we had a snow day at work, and everyone left early to avoid the slippery mess that Virginia roads inevitably become whenever we receive the dreaded “wintry mix.”

When I arrived home, instead of curling up next to the fire and watching the snow fall, I rushed outside and tacked up my horse for a trail ride. He’s barefoot for the winter, and I rode him bareback. It was like being 13 again—I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything, teach him anything or work on my position. I was just having fun with my horse.

Now riding through the snow certainly has some training benefits. It’s a fantastic conditioning tool, as anyone who’s had to tromp out to the barn in heavy snow can attest.

Every horse will gain some suspension while picking up his feet as he trots through the snow. His hind legs work harder, his belly tightens and his back lifts to carry him through the heavy going. And aside from the conditioning, horses enjoy it. Even if I didn’t ride my horse, he’d be tearing around in the snow on his own, playing with his buddies.

But I can already hear the snorts of disgust and derision coming from our readers in the northern reaches. Sure, a little snow in Virginia is a pleasant diversion for a horse owner, but try dealing with many feet of snow from December through April.

I know that feeling. I grew up in Maine, and we basically stopped all non-essential horse activities (anything besides feeding, watering and keeping them warm) in the winter.

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I was reminded of why I left Maine last weekend while trying to pick up a horse in Vermont. I arrived in a snowstorm and was soon stopped dead when my four-wheel-drive truck couldn’t continue up the slippery mountainside to our destination. Fortunately, help was close at hand, and a tractor pulled my truck the remaining distance.

The next morning was a bit worse when I tried to leave. Instead of merely getting stuck, my trailer started to pull my truck backwards at ever increasing speed, and my only recourse was to back the horse trailer into a snow bank to stop. Again, the neighbors were there with a tractor to pull me up the hill, and we continued on our way with no injuries beyond my own overwrought nerves.

What lesson did I learn from that experience? Don’t try to drive your horse trailer up and down a mountain in a snowstorm in Vermont.

Winter affects us all in different ways, depending on where we live. Southerners appreciate the return to moderate temperatures, many riders move South, and the rest of us have to gear down, either a little, if you live in Virginia, or a lot, if you live in Vermont.

And for me that’s OK, because it’s also a time for appreciation. Yes, I’m grateful to my horse when he carries me over jumps, but when the weather forces me to take a break, I can appreciate him in a different way. Cantering through the snow is fun, while getting stuck in a snow bank is not, but either way, I remember there’s a lot more to owning horses than competing, winning and training.

Sara Lieser

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