Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ~Dylan Thomas

Scholars will tell you that this Dylan Thomas poem is about old age and death. It’s a little known fact, probably made up, that this poem was actually not written by Dylan Thomas at all, but rather his riding instructor who penned it at the fall time change.

The poem is actually about (line 1) not going home to a warm dinner after work, followed by wine and a good book, but instead, (line 2) flame on–you are no spring chicken and horse lives are short–ride anyway, and (line 3) scream and holler, then drive the truck over to the arena and angle the headlights down the long side. Turn up the radio while you’re at it.

We all love the fall for riding. The air is cool and clean. After a clammy summer of sweat, it’s nice to feel like wearing an Indian Summer sweatshirt, just enough to dim the chill. I think horses like the temps even better than we do. It seems every year at this time, riding is starting to pay off and we improve in direct proportion to the number of minutes less daylight per day.

There is some golden afternoon when you look into your horse’s eye and take a moment to reflect back over the year and harvest the gains you have made over the summer. It’s too easy to forget the successes because they are always immediately followed with the next challenge.

It feels like just when progress is happening, we get put into winter detention.

In this last week since the time change (hisssss….) I have had no fewer than five people tell me that they can’t ride in the winter because they don’t have an indoor arena. I am not sure what is more depressing–having an hour of daylight arbitrarily taken away in the evening or the attitude that your riding is doomed because of real estate.

About this time, I start to notice that I forgot my work gloves and my hands are cold. It’s still in the 40’s, but where are my gloves? Everyone in the barn is looking shaggy and yet I haven’t put on even one extra hair. I am unprepared.

It’s time to schedule the Grandfather Horse’s annual ‘emergency’ sheath cleaning. Meaning the old ones move less in the cold and things in that area can get dangerously coagulated. It’s a good time of the year for sheath winterizing. Enough said?

Obviously, it’s time to put the tank heaters in. Dawdling on this chore has no actual effect at all on forestalling blizzards. It still feels infinitely better to break a thin layer of ice instead of giving in and admitting to the psychological issue of tank heater denial. By now I remember to put gloves on, but there are so many holes in the fingers, that it does no good anyway. Add glove denial to the list.

The bedtime walk-thru now includes wearing a head lamp over my Elmer Fudd hat, but over the complaints of my toes, I won’t give up my crocks for winter muck boots just yet.

Attention! This is your annual reminder that the worst part of the cold is that our minds are stuck back in September. It’s like this each winter–we have to work to gain our tolerance again. 48 degrees only feels impossible because we have lost our cold weather chops. Get over it. There are people who change priorities with the seasons–but we don’t put horses away for the season like a set of golf clubs. I’m right about that, aren’t I?

Get some new winter gloves and while you’re at it, get some socks. Scientists, or people who just think they know everything, make a flawless argument that our quality of life is directly tied to the age of our socks. (Cue the annual debate about fleece or wool, silk liners or not,) but put some good socks on and tuck your long johns into tops of them.

If we took the time we spend complaining about not having an indoor, and used it even just doing ground play in the pasture, we would have a better relationship with our horse by the time the days start to get longer.

And if you’re like me–one of the whiners about the dark, remember that days start to get longer again before Christmas. For real horse people, that’s the day to celebrate. Winter solstice–the shortest day of the year–is only 44 days away. That’s 1,056 hours, give or take. Spring is practically in the air.

It’s like this every year at this time. We get a form of temporary amnesia brought on from the first north wind that hits us squarely in the face. There are a million reasons to tuck in for the winter, bake cookies and not go to the barn. Most of them even have a ring of common sense about them. Beware: when common sense begins to appeal to horse people, it’s the beginning of the end.

On the other side of the equation there is just one reason that you might want to buck up and go to the barn: Your horse + the unknown date of your last ride. Rage against that.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Marlene Thoms on November 11, 2014 at 10:08am

It wasn't terribly cold, but there was a change in the climate. He's been doing well (after many miles) as far as turn around to go home in previous weeks, and improved a lot on handling windy day, this was only a wee bit breezy. He is "sensitive" and sometimes naughty. I do demand a lot (for him) in that he has to walk nicely even if he's feeling naughty, or else he goes from 0 to 60 in about five seconds i.e. gets jiggy and stupid. he just hasn't been doing that for several weeks. I have been using the "half tap" as promoted by Hybrid horsemanship to shut down his naughtiness. It's like a Swiss army knife for Naughtiness, lol.

Comment by Anna Blake on November 10, 2014 at 11:55pm

Marlene, I don't know your horse, I am guessing. In my experience, if it is above 30, they don't get cold if they aren't clipped. Riding below 25 degrees is hard on their lungs if you work them. I doubt a rug would help, he might be responding to barometric changes, lots of horses do... or he might be a bit barn sour, in which case, keep up the good work. Just a few thoughts, good luck.

Comment by Marlene Thoms on November 10, 2014 at 8:31pm

Our weather is just changing now from fall to feeling like winter is on the way. So my Arab decided today would be a good excuse to get a little spunky and naughty on the way home. It must be the cooler air, but does anyone have a suggestion? Would he be more sedate if I used an exercise blanket or ridding sheet to keep his butt warmer? It took me all summer to get him fairly mellow  about rides, even when there is a breeze etc. I was hoping to keep him going in winter and maybe avoid the spring regression. Is this just wishful thinking. (Owners of quiet perfectly behaved horses need not respond).

Comment by Anna Blake on November 8, 2014 at 5:37am
Sounds like a good compromise. Thanks for commenting.
Comment by Jackie Cochran on November 7, 2014 at 6:05pm

Odd but true story.

All my riding life until last year I cheerfully rode my horses during the winter.  I did not clip their coats.  My first horse was from Northern Va. and grew a wonderful winter coat each year.  We had a lot of fun on those winter rides.  Cold weather can give a horse GREAT forward impulse.

But the last few years I noticed that the horses did not like being ridden in the cold weather any more.  I finally realized that with my MS I was having to ride a lot slower than I used to and that I was stopping and resting more than I used to, and the horses were getting COLD.  I got some blankets that cover the croup behind the saddle (competition sheet/exercise rug/riding blanket).  Now the horses just grumble gently instead of giving me dirty looks and cursing me out when I HAVE to stop every once in a while.  Plus in the really cold weather I can put the front part of the exercise rug over my thighs and the horse helps keep me warm.

Gloves, socks, heavier pants, add an exercise rug and enjoy winter riding more.  Your horse may thank you too, at least Mia, Mick and Cider have stopped calling me all types of nasty names when I ride them in the cold!  And I am so much warmer.  I've never boarded at a stable with an indoor.  If it is over 25 F at dawn I will ride outside unless the ring is a sheet of ice. 

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