Amateur Hour

A Canadian’s Survival Guide for the Winter Equestrian

©Tomi Tapio K/Flickr

Like a lot of adult amateur northern equestrians, I’m not able to participate in the snowbird mass migration to Florida or California for the winter months.

And just like you, winter-weary equestrian, I’m stuck here, braving days of bitter cold and others of mild ice-creating above 0 (Celsius, you silly Farenheiters) melts, snow drifts big enough to scare a moose, road conditions that would make a sled dog team question their purpose, and cabin fever.

As a Canadian, I feel that it is my solemn duty to help spread the winter survival tips I have learned since I first hatched out of a frozen lake. As an Equestrian, I also feel that I can apply a lot of handy dandy Canadianisms to winter survival, and perhaps help out a few other horse folks who are snowbound for the winter.

Boot Crampons

crampons (1)

For around $20 you can save yourself the embarrassment of going arse-over-teakettle on an icy driveway or while trying to catch your stubborn horse in the paddock. These also come in handy for traction when playing every Canadian equestrian’s favourite winter pass-time: turd hockey (see sidebar).

Your favourite travel mug

Is it a mug? Or a mini keg? You decide.
Is it a mug? Or a mini keg? You decide.

Not just handy for the insane amounts of warm coffee, tea, or hot chocolate you’re going to consume over the next four (six? eight?) months, but also excellent for hiding that shot or two of your favourite alcohol which makes getting through chores in the cold slightly more enjoyable.

Four Wheel or All Wheel Drive


Whether you’re travelling to the barn, travelling to work, or running errands, a four wheel drive vehicle (No longer just for trucks! Cars and SUVs have this option now, too) is going to make getting traction in the ice and snow a bit easier. A word of caution, though: 4×4 or AWD doesn’t make your stopping distance better, so take it easy on the brakes and drive safely in winter conditions. Give yourself a LOT of room to slow down or stop, and always keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. If you’re really hard-up for a proper winter driving vehicle, invest in a dog sled.


©oatsy40/Flickr CC by 2.0
©oatsy40/Flickr CC by 2.0

I’ve always insisted on a kettle in every barn I’ve worked in, if there wasn’t one there. I’ve actually got two in my own barn (overkill? You be the judge) that I use for thawing ice, hot towel grooming my dirty grey horse, or adding some warmth to beet pulp or bran mash. These can also come in handy for making additional helpings of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to add to aforementioned travel mug.

A rubber mallet

Rubber mallet, aka the workhorse.
Rubber mallet, aka the workhorse.

Sometimes, water freezes. Even with a stock tank heater or heated bucket, you’re going to run into this problem at some point through the winter months. One of the best tools I’ve found for literally hammering the ice out is a rubber mallet—far less likely to freeze to a wet surface than metal, and a heck of a lot kinder on plastic buckets. Tip the bucket upside down, give it some taps around the bottom and sides (where the iceline is) with the mallet, and watch the ice break away! For added bucket protection, you can wrap the mallet with a towel and some duct tape.

A good toque

Wear a toque and look cool doing it. (Yes, I leave the house looking like this.)
Wear a toque and look cool doing it. (Yes, I leave the house looking like this.)

A “beanie” for my American friends. A lot of heat escapes through your head and feet, so pairing a warm toque with a good pair of winter boots and insulated socks is going to go a long way. Added bonus: no one has to know that you didn’t brush your hair before heading out to the barn in the morning.

Keep your old, spare blankets


Sometimes the weather doesn’t play nice, or your horse decides to have a good roll in the snow. The dead of winter is one of those times that I’m glad I have kept some of my horses’ older blankets, especially when their nice new ones get soaked or incredibly dirty. Even if I have to layer a liner underneath an older rainsheet, I’m happy knowing my two are warm and cozy on their coldest days. Blankets are also great for insulating water buckets in insanely cold temperatures.

A Sense of Humor

©Tom Purves/Flickr CC by 2.0
©Tom Purves/Flickr CC by 2.0

I’ve mentioned it before—what can go wrong, will go wrong. Winter is an incredibly frustrating time of year but it’s also a beautiful one. There’s something special about going for a snowy hack, or watching your horse frolic and play in the snow. Even when conditions aren’t favourable for riding there’s always tack to clean and organize, show seasons to plan, and horses to just groom and enjoy. If your sense of humor is strong enough, you’ll not only survive winter, but have fun doing it!

Have some fun this winter, and stay safe and warm. We’ll see you on the other side of cold!