We welcome Karen McBurney to our blog. Karen has about 30 years of experience riding and working with horses, and has been riding in the Austin area since 1997, where she is a full-time librarian. She currently rides and boards her horse at Kings Bridge Farm, with a focus on riding in the jumper ring. More about Karen, her horse Eli, and her dog Conrad can be found at baywithchrome.com
While thankfully winter riding in Texas is not all that bad right now, it is still not always ideal. Add to that working full time in a cube, barricaded by stacks of paper and books: a full time desk job does not lend itself to playing outside in the sunshine. Even more of a barrier is the commute from work to barn--an hour, at least, on the most congested stretch of highway in the state during evening rush hour. Overcoming those obstacles takes a level of dedication I know I have, but is sometimes hard to muster. Weekday nights, I get to the barn in the dark.
Fortunately, I am at a full service boarding and training facility with plenty of well-lit cross-ties and two arenas, both with lights. And without fail, grueling as the drive can be, I immediately feel more at ease once I am interacting with my beastly animal. By the time I've ridden, I no longer care what time it is, nor do I even have one single thought about anything outside of my horse. Complaining about the drive, or the job, or the weird eating schedule seems selfish and silly. I have a good horse and the means to keep him well-cared-for. But I don't always remember this when I'm stuck in traffic, watching the sun set on a weekday evening.
So how do I stay motivated to ride winter evenings?
1. Be horse crazy. This is a given for most riders, and the longer you ride the more you realize it's an addiction you never want to give up. You feel better after you ride, so why would you ever stop? You think about horses and horse-related things all day, and you wonder what the horse you ride is doing right now (he's probably eating or napping, and hopefully not throwing a shoe).
2. Come prepared. What's the weather like? In Texas, winter weather can be pretty much anything, from rain, to cold with single-digit wind chills, to 75F and sunny, dropping to a brisk 63F around sunset. So you might need a jacket, a heavy down-filled coat, or just a tee-shirt. You might need waterproof boots, or you might not. Everything I might need goes in my car every morning, because nothing is more annoying than a cold front blowing through right as you get out to the barn and all you have is an Icefil sun shirt. It's hard to stay motivated if you're freezing or drenched, so come prepared.
3. Remind yourself of how lucky you are even to be doing this. Riding horses is a privilege and a luxury. Gratitude for everything I have that allows me to keep riding horses goes a long way to keep me motivated. Even when it's cold, even when it's dark, even when I end up eating dinner at 10 o'clock at night, I'm lucky. Nobody is going to just hand you the opportunity to ride horses, you have to make it happen, of course. But be thankful that you're in a position to make it happen. Many people aren't.
4. Keep your horse comfortable. The horse comes first, which means you need to make sure you have the right equipment, the knowledge to groom him properly, and the foresight to understand that both you and your horse have limits when it comes to extreme weather conditions. What are you acclimated to? What is your horse acclimated to? Is he clipped, or not? Having a super fuzzy pony work hard on an 80F day in December can be just as much of a problem as trying to ride in a 25 MPH north wind when it's 35F. I personally skip riding if it's in the 20s, but I'm native Texan and so is my horse, so that's bone-chilling cold to us. If you can manage to keep your horse comfortable, he'll be much happier, and much more willing to work with you. And just remember that he might be a little bit more riled up and unfocused in cold, windy conditions, conditions that present, in my opinion, the absolute worst time to pick a fight with your horse about something. Not all horses are like my horse, I know, but that's part of keeping the horse comfortable--know your horse.
Anyone else have any tips for staying motivated to ride during the winter months?