The daylight hours are few, and dark and dreary. We may feel like weíve forgotten what sunshine looks like. Itís cold all the time, and many of us are dealing with damp weather and struggling through snow or mud. Or both. Yuck. Winter has arrived and if youíre a horse owner, you may feel like everything you do to look after your horse takes twice as long, and the time you have to enjoy your horse has been cut in half - if it happens at all. There is not much we can do about the weather. But we can do a few things to cut down on the struggle and make things more comfortable for both you and your horses.
The Right Clothes
Youíve probably bought a complete wardrobe for your horse that includes a light rain sheet, medium weight turnout rug, stable blanket, and extra warm turnout rug at least. But, how much thought have you given to your own clothes? If youíre like most horse people I know, you might be making due with much worn, stained coats, baggy snow pants, boots that have had the tops repaired with red Tuck tape (because it is more water and cold proof than silver duct tape) and mismatched mittens.
Doing chores and doing the things that horse owners regularly do, like crawling through fence rails, carrying buckets and bales and cleaning stables is easier if you arenít hiking up your sagging snow pants, freezing your fingers in worn mittens and feeling bound up in a jacket that wasnít really made to work in. You definitely want to replace that stretched out winter hat that constantly slips and obscures your vision.
I know itís hard to afford a full new winter work outfit, but you might start replacing each piece, starting from the bottom up - quick drying Ďlong Johnsí with tops, thermal socks not embedded with chaff and comfortable boots are a good place to start. Bogs seem to be a favorite with folks I know even though they are pricey. Iím not sure what is available to people in other places, but thereís a store called Mark's Work Wearhouse here that carries good quality, warm workwear that is great for wearing to do chores when itís cold and wet. And they carry slightly less expensive versions of a lot of name brands, like those Bogs boots.
Take Care of Yourself
Eating and drinking right in the winter can help combat some lethargy we feel due to the cold temperatures and dark days. Getting dehydrated can actually make you feel the cold and has the same risks as it does in the summer. As youíre moving horses around and cleaning stalls, you might not notice that youíre still perspiring because you donít feel as hot. But, sipping water or a warm beverage while you work may help you stay comfortable and energetic.
Make sure you eat some healthy food and we all know what a challenge that can be around the holidays. Take an energy bar, nuts and dried fruit (doesnít easily freeze) or other snack to the barn with you.
Everything takes longer in the winter time, especially if youíre racing against the clock because the sun sets at 4:30pm. Grain can take longer to scoop if itís got molasses mixed into it. A real cold snap can mean pipes, buckets and troughs may take longer to unthaw. Trudging through snow slows down carrying out bales and buckets. Even silly things like undoing latches with mittens on can slow you down. Give yourself extra time. Ideally, you should try to do as much as you can during the daylight hours. Wear a headlamp so your hands are free to work and be patient. That way you avoid those frustrating little moments like trying to free a frozen door latch in the dark.
A Plan and a Back-Up Plan
Everything, no matter the time of year, goes easier if you have a plan to follow. Routines help us be efficient. But, sometimes things go awry. So a back-up plan can help us stay calmer and make sure our horses are looked after no matter what goes wrong. Winter driving can sometimes be slow, or we are stranded. Winter colds and flus can make doing chores almost impossible. Make sure you have a back-up plan in place so that if you canít look after your horses, theyíll still be fine.
While it makes sense to plan for winter, it is good for your mind to plan for that wonderful time after winter when we can enjoy our horses with more ease. Spend a cold, windy afternoon planning the events youíd like to attend, and what you would like to work on when you are schooling your horse.
And before you head out to get work done, plan to treat yourself right when you get in. Knowing there is a cup of tea waiting or a chocolate milk waiting to be heated when you get in makes life a little more pleasant. If youíre in a better mood, youíll feel better and so will your horse.
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