The Pacific Northwest is gray and rainy about eight to nine months out of the year. It’s pretty dreary weather, the type that makes you want to hole up inside a warm house in front of a fire and vegetate. This last winter and spring were particularly brutal. Just this week we had our first day over 75 degrees in 277 days. Ugh. It feels like I could count on one hand the sunny days we’re had since last fall.
Most of us just slog onward and deal with it.
Whenever I consider a life free of horses, I often think of two things: the above mentioned weather and my non-horsey friends.
You might wonder what the weather has to do with not owning horses. First of all, if I was a trail rider, this weather might be conducive to saving money by getting out of a hobby I can do only a few months out of the year (assuming I’m a fair weather trail rider). But my particular equine hobby is done in an arena and the weather doesn’t really play into it so why is the weather one of the reasons I keep paying out cash for the privilege of owning a four-legged money pit?
It’s as simple as this: First, dressage requires the horse and rider to be in shape. You really need to ride 4 to 5 times a week to do the sport and your horse justice. Second, when you’re shelling out all this money, you’re more likely to ride the horse, at least I am. So that brings me in a roundabout way to my point: If I didn’t have a dressage horse, I’d never venture outside nine-plus months of the year. I’d become a couch potato, put on even more weight, and live in a controlled inside environment. Even though it can be miserable and nasty, I’d never experience firsthand the changes in the weather, never learn to appreciate the winter, fall, and spring days.
And here’s where I come to the “non-horsey friends” part. I have lots of non-horsey friends. They stay inside during bad weather unless it’s to run from the parking lot to a store. They often don’t leave their couch. They get caught up in American Idol or The Bachelor or some other TV show that I rarely have the time to watch or even case to watch. They don’t get the perks of communing with nature or getting exercise. I actually feel sorry for them. They don’t know what they’re missing. Many of the women I know who ride regularly are in their 40s and 50s, yet not one of them looks that old. I’d like to think horses have a way of keeping us young with a little help from the elements and the physical exercise.
So every time I consider getting out of horses, I consider the obvious, which is I love horses. They’ve been a part of my life in some form since I was three years old. But above and beyond my love for the animals, I consider how sad it would be to rarely get outside, rarely brave the elements while bundled up and ready to ride. When I think of what I’d lose, I get out my checkbook and write another month’s check for board because the alternative would make me old before my time.
Jami - I am totally with you in this regard. On of the things I love about owning livestock is that even if the weather is a little rough, you still have to bundle up and go outside at least twice a day to feed and perhaps clean the barn or stalls. But these times of day keep me in tune with nature, the weather, the wildlife around me, and just make me feel like I'm a little bit hardier than my friends who are inside putting on their make-up. It's just part of who we are, and even though I might grumble a bit (especially this year) about putting on so many layers of clothes and mud boots, once I'm outside in the fresh air I'm so glad. Yes, I think horses keep you young.
I'm sure you do understand, Linda, since you've tolerated the same bad weather for the past several months.
BTW, I'm hoping to post an update on Gailey. She's getting massage therpy right now, and I'm considering accupunture, too.
This is so true - I get to spend a lot of time outside, I'm physically active many hours a day, and I just love being with the horses and working with them - who could ask for more?
Great post, Jami! I, for one, don't own a TV and I am totally in agreement with you that interacting with my horses every day, in all kinds of weather, keeps me in touch with the natural world. I never even think of getting out of horses--even when I can't ride any more I hope to toddle down the hill twice a day and feed.
Just for the sake of discussion, I have to say that the whole indoor arena in bad weather thing doesn't do much for me. I worked for horse trainers for many years and spent a good deal of time riding under those circumstances. I guess I'm one of your fair weather trail riders, because I don't have much inclination to ride on a miserable day, and I don't like riding "indoors". And yes, we had a rainy winter/spring, too, and I did not ride as much as I usually do. But because, like Linda, I am out with the horses every day, doing the chores, I still felt connected to them, and they have plenty of room to move around. Now that the weather has been lovely for a month and we are back to trail riding several days a week, it all seems to have been just a minor delay. But, of course, I do know that the central coast of California, where I live, is much sunnier overall than the Pacific Northwest. I might get over my predjudice against indoor arenas if I lived somewhere where the weather was more severe(!)
Anyway, great post, and I so agree with you about horses keeping us young.
Yes - exactly! When we moved to the country and began keeping the horses at our place... I found SO much appreciation for the weather, the time changes, the lightness and darkness, the seasons...
I guess for me, living in the city and having a barn with a heated indoor, still kept me shielded from the elements... I was amazed at how I tuned in I became with weather when it was ME caring for them and feeding them and cleaning up after them!
I love it and wouldn't change it!
I just had that discussion with my vet yesterday. Horses are so expensive and it seems there is always something preventing us from riding them, so logically I should give it up. However, when I consider the alternative, I'd rather keep my horses. If I didn't have them, I'd be a couch potato, a lot heavier than I am now, and when I need to get out, the only place to go is the mall. I'd much rather take a detour into the wilderness on horseback every once in a while than blowing money at the mall on junk I don't even have room for anyway. Not that horses don't take up room... Ha ha. I do look at the lifestyles of non-horse people and feel sorry for them. They don't know what they're missing. I could never imagine living in a suburb without any land crammed up against my neighbors. There are a lot of different hobbies, but it does seem that most people choose to spend their free time shopping and watching TV. Me... I like to shovel manure in my free time. Seriously. I like it.
Heated indoors? Huh? Not a common feature in the Pacific Northwet...at least around here. All I want from an indoor, really, is shelter from wind and rain plus lights. A semi-dry footing would be nice as well, but reality of the world around here doesn't always allow it.
Laura, I grew up riding in all weather because otherwise my snuffy horse wouldn't be rideable in the good weather. In my middle age, I prefer the arena, especially when given my day job, I'd never have time to ride after work in winter if I didn't have lights and shelter.
Best of all, of course, are the nice days. But I also enjoy the complexities of schooling, and have a horse who enjoys being given work puzzles (schooling figures) to do. The more elaborate the patterns we work, the more energy she puts into it. I did more trail riding as a kid because I didn't have a good arena horse. Now I have an excellent arena horse to play with schooling figures, and she's not too bad outside, either.
And she gets me outside in winter...after work, anyway. On weekends I'm usually skiing.
Ladies, I think we all get it. This thing that makes us sacrifice a lot to have these animals, not just because we love horses, but because they keep us in tune with nature as we were meant to be. This isn't common in our artificial world anymore.
Mocha, being also from the Pacific Northwest, I've never set foot inside a heated arena. If they have them around here, I've never seen one. The arena I ride in has an open side, so I do see the woods lining the arena. In fact, a deer just about got my friend dumped the other day as it grazed outside the indoor arena.
While I love riding outside, around here with the rain, even the best of outdoor arenas isn't rideable many months out of the year, plus, you need lights in the winter to see after work.
I do know trail riders who go out and ride in any weather. I salute their dedication. That wouldn't be me. ;)
PS: So, here's a topic for another day. Indoor vs. Outdoor arenas and trails vs. arena work.
Send me an email. I have a question for you.
Hey Jami and Joycemocha--I, too, have never in my life ridden in a heated arena. When I worked for horse trainers, the arenas were roofs, sometimes a few walls, sometimes not. We were lucky if there wasn't a boggy spot or two.
And yeah, we could debate arena versus trails forever, I guess. My path has been one where in my twenties and thirties I rode a lot in arenas, practiced several times a week and competed every weekend. Maybe I overdid it, because when I went off of it, I went off it in a big way. I do understand why a person would ride in an indoor after work in the winter--its not that I don't get the point. Its just not something I enjoy. For me, a rainy winter period is a time for both me and the horses to take a break. I turn them out to graze, rather than riding. My horses seem to appreciate the time off, actually, and they are not too fresh when we start riding again. I picked them partly because they are this sort.
I'm not holding myself up as a good example. I'm merely someone who now enjoys trail riding far more than any other sort of riding, and I don't mind taking time off in bad weather. I do ride in arenas, but just to exercise my horses and hang out with my friends--I still like helping to gather and move the cattle. There aren't actually very many indoor arenas in this county--we often have pretty mild winters.
Anyway--not suggesting my path is any better than anyone else's--just the path I'm on. Its fun to discuss it.
I could argue the merits of both. Right now, I'm driven to take my mare as far as I can take her in dressage, regardless of whether or not I show her and as long as she enjoys it and is comfortable.
But someday in the future, I will retire her to my little farm on the edge of commercial timberland, and I'll be just like you, Laura. I love trailriding, and I know that's where I'm going to spend my time on a horse, eventually.
I moved from Tucson AZ to Southwestern Ontario and for the first time I have my horses at home, and in winter weather too!! And even though we only have three acres, I love it! If I get up grumpy, by the time I've fed my horses and given them a good scritch I'm settled and peaceful and ready to start the day.
With regards to being in tune with nature, just the other day I thought I'd get them fed before the storms came and I just barely made it back to the barn before the rain came down so hard I could hardly see out the door. But I just stood there and enjoyed the smell of horses and hay and rain. Thunder crashes and lightening fizzled all around but I struck by the peace of the moment.
Like Laura I hope that if the day ever comes were I can't ride anymore I hope that I can still keep a retired horse or two with me, to remind me of all the good things outside my front door.
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