Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter: It's Not My Thing, Really

I'm having trouble with this whole wintertime thing, guys.

Natalie's First Chapter Book!
Here's the thing: I'm from Florida. Technically I was born in Maryland, and I lived there long enough to do things like learn to tie my own Punky Brewster hi-tops and read chapter books (the first being Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary, chosen for the horse on the cover) and write my name in an uneven cursive. 

But by the time I had read everything else Beverly Cleary had ever written, and Punky Brewster had gone off to juvie or whatever happened to her, and... well my cursive was still fairly uneven I guess.... I had been shipped off to Florida, and I was adjusting to the markedly different weather.

And I adjusted... very well. In fact, you could argue that I've never been so well-adjusted to anything in my environment as I have been to the weather in Florida. I once stood outside of a Magic Kingdom merchandise location in the full July sun wearing a long-sleeved black blouse, black slacks, and my hair loose around my shoulders. A sweating couple, faces flush with sunburn, asked me somewhat incredulously if I wasn't hot. I glanced up at the midday sun, shrugged, and said, "It's warm, I guess."

And a few jaunts back to the Northeast -- once when I was a teenager, once when I was an adult -- were short-lived and involved a lot of grousing about the weather, and the short days, and the weather, and the weather.

But I moved to New York City in 2010 and the weather... you guys, it's just awful.

Take today, for example. Today, it rained. Except when it was sleeting, and for a few deceptively promising moments when it was almost-snowing, it rained. It was thirty-five degrees. You guys. What is this even.

Working with horses when it's cold out is possibly my least favorite thing to do. In Florida, I had a loose guideline for cold weather: if it's below 55 degrees, leave the horse alone. I would be too miserable to function properly, and the horse would be too happy to deal with in my defective state. Forget it. 

In 2010, galloping racehorses at Aqueduct, I had already resigned myself to losing the feeling in my toes before I got to the first quarter pole. And that was in November. I couldn't put on enough layers to stay warm: bulk up with more than two sweaters, and I was too constrained to safely ride the horse. My ears I considered already lost to the icy winds off Jamaica Bay after just one mount. It was a bad scene, and I couldn't stick with it. I stayed home the rest of the winter and wrote the rest of The Head and Not The Heart instead.

Last winter I barely went outside. Forget it. I wrote two new books (both of which await rewrites) and hovered over my radiator.

But this year, I realized, I had to suck it up. I had to deal with winter head-on, face-first. I couldn't waste half a year -- and that's the unfortunate part about New York City, it's winter for half a year -- hiding under my down comforter. I had to do grown-up things, like keep my job, and accept reality, blah blah blah... some people actually do live in cold climates, and survive.

Like, on purpose.

There was some spending to be done. A whole new wardrobe had to be acquired. Warm riding boots reacquainted me with my toes and made posting trot less of a dangerous stab in the dark. Riding mittens from SSG are an acquired taste if you, like me, enjoy riding one-handed, but they're worth the trouble. And beneath the layers and layers, Heattech everything. Heattech leggings. Heattech socks. Heattech shirt. When in doubt, throw technology at it. 

And I give myself pep talks. Like, hey Natalie, when you were in high school you actually survived blizzards and worked twelve hour days at farms without any heat and then went riding. That's always cheering. Proof that I've lived through way, way worse.

And the result? I can ride in the cold, so far, without actually bursting into tears. I can make myself get out of bed in the morning. My body is still whispering Hey... Natalie... now would be a great time to curl up under your comforter and write all day and never leave the apartment... but I'm resisting. So far. 

But I still question my sanity when I look at the weather forecast! So if anyone has any suggestions on staying warm, in or out of the saddle, this Florida girl is all ears... if she can regain the feeling in them, of course.


Anonymous said...

Ear warmers - the headband type - make a huge difference to me. My Mountain Horse coat is a big plus - not too long to ride in and not too bulky, and you don't overheat. And silk long underwear for the really cold days, under insulated riding tights (Irideon or Kerrits).

Unknown said...

Ha. What a timely post. I just ordered winter riding gear for my daughter after her first lesson this morning in 36 degree weather. Cold hands, legs, and face. Made it through her lesson, but I knew she wasn't happy. Hopefully the winter riding gloves, winter breeches, and ear warmers will help. Also need to make sure to double up her socks.

AareneX said...

I know this song, let me join you on the chorus! Here in the Swampland, winter lasts (no joke) between 7 and 9 months. Technically one of those months on each end could be called "Fall" or "Spring" but who are we kidding? In the Swamp, "Fall" or "Spring" merely means that the rain is heavier, and temps are in the high 40's instead of the 30's.

Secrets of Staying Warm: polarfleece, wool, and silk layered clothing, and lots of it. In clammy wet weather, wear NOTHING that is cotton, especially next to your skin. At least once each day, raise your body temperature to the level of TOO WARM by taking a hot bath or shower, by using a sauna, or by exercising. My treadmill is a godsend.

Take vitamin d supplements in the morning, and vitamin b supplements at night. Try to avoid alcohol.

Go outside at least once a day, for an hour or more if possible, even if the weather sucks.

And don't forget that it's okay to spend that indoor time writing. If it weren't for winter, I'd spend my whole life a-horseback, and get nothing written, ever!

jenj said...

HAHAHAHA! I totally feel your pain! I went to grad school in Troy, NY, for my Masters. I really, REALLY wanted to do a Ph.D. too, but I decided I'd never last another four years because of the horrible, awful, winter weather. Now I'm in Texas (again) and ... well, this morning it was 36 degrees and I wore my ski pants, with thermal underwear, to feed. Yeah, southern girl here too.

Bundle up!

Unknown said...

Yep Feeling your pain.
I live in Casper WY. Subzero temps from Nov to May. Not that big of a deal, unless the wind is blowing. Did I mention I live in Casper? Do you know where Casper is on the windiest Cities list....number 4!!!! The wind always blows here, and it is always cold.
I'm from AZ. Lived there my entire life. I've been up here for 6 years. I HATE WINTER! Heck I hated AZ winter and it rarely got below 40 there.
Truth is, I can handle the really fridged cold. But the wind kills me every time. There doesn't seem to be any amount of layering that can block a 30-40 mph wind at 10*.

My only saving grace is the neighbors indoor arena. He charges 10 dollars per person to use it. After the first of the year, it goes up to 15.
I am happy to pay what ever he wants to charge.

Someday I am going to move home to AZ, and I will nver complain about winter again!

horsegenes said...

Perfect timing for your post!

We are supposed to get 10" of rain over the next 3 days and have wind gusts up to 40mph.

I dread winter coming. Absolutely dread it. I start whining about mid September that winter will be here in 45 - 60 days. I shop for new silks, down coats etc. Drives my husband crazy. He loves to duck hunt and prays for bad weather.

People think that it is always sunny in CA but that is SOUTHERN CA - not the north half of the state. We get weather, not like what the midwest and northern states get but temps in the 20's and 30's and lots of rain and snow occasionally.

I wear silk underwear and Under Armour thermals, keep my ears covered and gloves on. I would go stir crazy if I couldn't get out so I just bundle up and go. When I come home, I take a nice long hot bath to warm back up.

The only positive I can see to your colder temps is that maybe the ground would freeze and the mud might not be so bad. We will be in a constant state of "mud" till May. I hate mud.

horsegenes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Benson said...

Oh Natalie - I feel your pain. The thing I resent most about winters in the north is how long it takes to get dressed to go outside. So. Many. Layers! It takes, like, 5 whole minutes to get out the door and be comfortable.

I actually never had any fancy riding boots for the cold, but ended up riding in my lace-up insulated rubber galoshes (the same ones I cleaned barns in) because they were the warmest, and I could actually move my toes around. We are not talking safety here, we are talking comfort! LOL

Good luck surviving out there! Personally, I've been threatening to winter in AZ myself.

Francesca Prescott said...

Oh Nathalie, I soooo know! It was sleeting at my stables today, and the forecast for tomorrow is snow. Bleh. We have an indoor, so things are far from disastrous, but it's a bit of a deep freeze indoor, and last February, when the climate went insane and we had minus seventeen for two weeks following a good dump of snow and everything looked like Siberia I seriously froze more than just my tootsies while riding.

I invested in some wind proof fleece lined breeches and they are wonderful. I wear either merino wool long sleeved high necked undershirts (icebreaker), or the new technical-fleece sweaters, with a technical-fabric super warm sweat shirts, and a down sleeveless vest, and a jacket. I do a partial strip-tease while I'm riding, peeling off layer after layer, and then struggling to put everything back on again. The worst part is dismounting, because my toes are always frozen, and I always get that horrendous electric shock that I've braced myself for but which still makes me pull a funny face and even sometimes say rude words.

But I say rude words in French, so it's much more chic :)

Vive la Suisse en hiver!

You made me giggle :)

battleshipdestroyer said...

I used to use those sticky little foot warmers that you crunch up and then I would stick them to the top of my sock above my toes, but this ridiculous item seems totally unreal:

I'm not sure if I believe they would survive my dismounting from a 16-18 hand horse numerous times a day, but if they did? SO AWESOME.

battleshipdestroyer said...

Yikes! Just checked the price - 130 smackaroos. I think I will stick with my cheapo "Grabber Toe Warmers"... Also less chance I will electrocute myself. LOL.

Laura Crum said...

You are too funny. I loved your post. On the other hand, I do not do cold weather riding any more. I live on the California coast and my climate is similar to what "Horse Genes" describes. We get days in the thirties and we get lots of rain...we're getting some now. I do not ride when it is below fifty degrees--nope. I don't ride when its raining and/or windy. Not interested. I do, of course, have to feed and do the chores, but this does not take me too long and I deal with it. I have gathered cattle all day in the blowing snow (in my younger days) and I think I permanently damaged my ears. So my solution is pretty simple...no more cold weather riding.

When I did ride all day in the cold...silk long underwear and fleece jackets with an outer shell and fleece lined boots were all a big help.

Terri Rocovich said...


I think you should come to California for a visit and escape the awful weather. Between Laura and I you could see both ends of the State. As a born and raised California girl, I would simply not survive. The headline would read "Idiot California dies in snowdrift, new at 11."

My neice recently moved to Virginia and ask hurricane Sandy I called her and said, "So are you rethinking that whole east coast, want the change of seasons thing?" She says she does not think she is going to be warm again in May. I feel for you and whenever I teach on the east coast I marvel at the human and equine hardiness. Won't work for me, I think that 50 is cold.