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Alaska Horse Scene

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  • Alaska Horse Scene

    I searched through some older posts and didn't see anything about this, so I figured I'd ask. My apologies if this has been brought up recently.

    Do any of you live in Alaska with your horses? I've had an opportunity come up to relocate to Fairbanks, and am seriously considering it. I've lived my whole life in cold, mountainous areas with long winters, but Alaska takes it to another level. I'd love to bring my horses with me, but I'm unsure as to how they'd take to it. From preliminary google searches, it doesn't seem like there are a lot of boarding options in the area, especially hunter/jumper barns.

    Any input would be greatly appreciated!

  • #2
    I don’t live there, but I judged a show in Palmer, north of Anchorage, about 10 years ago. The countryside was really beautiful, and everyone was very friendly.

    I think I was there over Memorial Day weekend, so the end of May or beginning of June. The high temperature each day was probably in the low to mid 60s. The bizarre part was the amount of daylight. I don’t know if it ever really got dark in the middle of the night, since I went to sleep. But it was broad daylight until at least 11 o’clock at night, and broad daylight again very, very early in the morning. Which was great for the purposes of sightseeing after the horse show finished for the day, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be there in the winter when the amount of daylight is reversed.

    I did notice that at every post office, there was a separate mailbox for Netflix envelopes, back when they still sent out the DVDs. So I would guess that was how people passed the time for much of the winter.

    As far as the horse show scene, there were some nice horses. The four day show I judged had hunter classes for half the day, and then jumper classes for the other half of the day. A lot of the horses did both. They would show in hunter tack in the morning and then come back later in jumper tack. The announcer, who lived there, told me that the horse show season is relatively short due to the weather, and to get anything else done the rest of the year, an indoor is an absolute necessity. That is certainly true in many places, of course. The announcer also said that there were some people from the area who usually spend the winter showing in California.

    On my flight home, I was sitting next to someone who had lived in Alaska for a few years, but was originally from New York. I asked that person how long it took to get used to the extremely long days in the summer and the extremely long nights in the winter. He said he never did get used to it.

    it was a very fun trip, and I would go back to judge there again in a heartbeat.


    • #3
      I sold a horse there last spring. They bring horses north almost every year and say that April or May is best time as they can adjust easily. This mare was a complete wimp in our winters but transitioned very well. They don’t ride in the winter st all and horses are turned out with free choice hay and she was fat come spring. They start spring with ground work and move into more after a couple of weeks.

      Their show season is short but hard. They show almost every weekend for a few months often traveling long distances for what we would consider a tiny show.

      They are doing aqha and 4 h shows along with some hunter shows. They often bring in judges and clinicians. They will judge the show and the next day give a clinic. They hooked up with my trainer as she helped when the girl who is now a trainer care and spent a summer competing. She is now back up there and helps organize everything and brought my trainer up to do both. Then they contacted them when looking for a horse and she had already coached the rider who bought my horse so knew the fit

      there are some that keep their show horses down here to compete with a trainer then have their other horses at home. The training process is soooo much slower for them due to the limited time they have. But they do a good job still. I know my mare is very well cared for up here and I occasionally get to see the people they board and train with at shows down here


      • #4
        I’ve spent a lot of time in Fairbanks, in fact, I was there in June, but my horse was in Anchorage years ago. As you know, Fairbanks can get extremely cold in the winter with many days colder than -40 and -50, but there has been much warmer weather the last few years. There is seldom wind, which makes it better. The daylight extremes are noticeably more than Southcentral (Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley) because it’s farther north. The horse scene is smaller than in Southcentral and others will have better info on that since I only know of trail riders and people who use their horses for moose and caribou packing.

        Summers are glorious with much warmer weather than the coastal cities but there have been really horrendous fires which can ruin an event because of heavy smoke, and these fires burn for months so you are at the mercy of prevailing winds.

        Hay is grown locally in Delta but feeds like alfalfa are shipped up and are super expensive. Delta probably has a healthy group of western riders and rodeo people.

        I would not want to keep a horse in Fairbanks unless I had a top-notch facility with an arena and large turnout, and I would plan on not riding during the coldest months. I feel bad for horses confined to a stall or small paddock when it is colder than -30 for weeks. Blanketing is fine, but it must be miserable for a horse to stand in a small space practically immobilized for days in those temperatures. Also, I can’t imagine dealing with water, although plenty of hardy Midwesterners and Canadians manage in their extreme weather conditions, and if you board, it’s not your problem.

        I would spend a winter there, become familiar with the boarding barns and then decide about horse keeping.
        "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


        • #5
          According to friends, it's expensive to keep horses in AK, just like many places in the Lower 48. Board seems to range from $600-750/month. There are big barns in Anchorage and in the Matanuska Valley. They do grow their own hay, but most everything has to be shipped in (literally on ships). Googling, I saw a few barns in Fairbanks, most with heated indoor arenas like we have here in northern tier states with hard winters. I agree, there aren't many H/J programs in Fairbanks, they are mostly in/around Anchorage.

          They ride year round. Shows are pretty limited, but spring/summer/fall is May-October depending on the year. Summers are buggy!! But the sun shines 24/7 in Fairbanks! (Nearly!). Winter... yeah....the sun barely rises: 10 am to 2:45 pm ish. That's a tough adjustment for many. Contrary to myth (husband is from AK), it's not all bears and mooses and igloos and snow! We (WA) do get shoppers from AK coming in to buy horses for all disciplines.

          Would you haul your own to Fairbanks?

          Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


          • #6
            I owned a horse in the Anchorage area about 20 years ago. I don't have much insight on the current H/J scene, but maybe reach out to the Alaska Hunter/Jumper Association; they could probably put you in touch with bigger barns in the Fairbanks area so you could gather more info.

            There are definitely challenges to horse keeping up there as others mentioned. Most horses adapt surprisingly well to the cold. Mostly I remember things like ratcheting down intensity in the winter to focus on details. My barn had smaller turnouts, so there was no leaving them to sit around for days if we wanted them all to stay sound. We were riding or at a minimum hand walking no matter what; I can only remember a handful of days when the barn told people to stay home due to weather conditions, and then the barn was getting horses out in the indoor as much as they could until the weather improved.

            The barns that have been up there for a while have their management strategies down to an art form. And if the indoor arenas you research seem small compared to what you are used to... people are surprisingly adept at maximizing what they can do in them, because that's all they have in the winter and they have to make do with it. In shoulder seasons, we would do a lot of small but technical courses until we could get out in the bigger outdoor arenas from late spring to early fall.

            Keep in mind everything is more expensive up there, not just the horses. Even staples like gas and milk are insanely expensive, and the winter vegetable selection at grocery stores will make you cry (not in a good way). It's better in summer when there are Alaska grown products available.

            It would definitely be an adjustment in many ways to what you are used to, but it might surprise you.

            All of that is Anchorage--in all the years I lived up there, I never had any desire to go to Fairbanks. I assume it is similar but more extreme.
            She Gets Lost


            • #7
              I moved out of AK three years back and worked, competed, and rode in the H/J and Dressage scene in Anchorage.

              Horsekeeping in Alaska is not for the faint of heart and even less so in Fairbanks. Everything is ridiculously expensive - from hay to board to propane, etc. and the weather is a challenge for certain. The Hunter/Jumper scene is very small, but very passionate in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley with three "larger" barns and smattering of smaller barns. The show scene is generally around 30 people. Dressage is about half that.

              Unfortunately once you leave that South Central are of Anchorage/Palmer/Wasilla you'll find there is pretty much nothing. There's a decent dressage barn in Fairbanks, a good deal of QH folks, and some that jump but nothing like anything in the lower 48 or the more populated zones of AK. I don't believe there are any true H/J barns in Fairbanks and the closest you'll get is the local Pony Club.

              Horses do just fine in Alaska though. I know plenty of folks in Fairbanks that don't blanket horses even when it's sixty below and they are doing swell. It can be done and you do learn how hardy our critters truly are. Winter riding is very, very hard without an indoor though so be warned if you don't board you'll be learning how to hack with a headlamp in Coveralls and Bunny Boots pretty quickly (ask me how I know...)

              Overall the Alaskan horse scene is tight-knit, hard working, and small. It's an experience for certain.