Stories from the Heart

How It Feels When Winter Eases Its Grip

It’s sometimes hard to fathom that this will soon be transformed back into a riding ring. Photo courtesy of the author.

It’s always something of a shock to the system: that first ride of the season after what felt like a repressively long winter.

It had been a few months since I had been riding regularly, months of non-stop mucking of stalls, chopping ice from feet, endless plowing and shoveling of snow, thawing pipes that were electrically heated but froze anyway, and chipping away at sheets of ice to get the manure to where the truck could haul it away. Once again, we survived digging out gates, multiple blanket changes, pulling icicles from manes and huge electric bills to get water in front of the horses and keep it from freezing.

Now, I am one of those people who frequently says that I have never minded walking down to the barn to take care of my horses, but I will admit that I came close this winter.

Not that I ever would want to miss out on caring for them, but fighting a few health issues, bracing each step against the wind while shielding my face from cutting shards of ice and blowing snow, feeling the thousand knives of crystallized breath inside my nostrils …. I did think, once or twice, “Can someone please come and do this for me, just tonight?”

Then the barn door opens and the air is filled with welcoming nickers and the comforting warmth of the hay fueled, hooved, barn heating system. The horses know that it’s cold, but they place no value judgment on it. To them, it’s not oppressively, horribly cold; it’s just cold.

DannyBoy checking out the latest in a series of midweek snowfalls. From my horses I have learned acceptance. Photo courtesy of the author.

There were a few warmer days in mid-winter that served only as a cruel tease, a little thawing of the arena footing followed by more snow and freezing temperatures. But one afternoon the tractor drags the harrow across the arena, grabbing loose footing rather than bouncing off frozen tundra. It begins to take shape. The parka comes off, the sleeves of my sweatshirt get rolled up, and …. it is time.

I still second-guess myself after a winter’s hiatus from riding.

Can I still do it?

Can my recently senior-citizen qualified body still take it?

I really only wonder about such things when I’m not actually on my horse—when idle periods let thoughts of “what if?” permeate my generally positive resolve.

DannyBoy demonstrates what horsemen learn: the first sign of spring at the barn is not the Robin! Photo courtesy of the author.

Fifteen minutes on a longeline dull Lola’s memories of the racetrack and I am awestruck once again at the poetry of a Thoroughbred horse in motion.

Then my leg swings over my horse and everything finds its familiar place. Reins fall perfectly into place between gloved fingers. Boots fall into irons at precisely the right depth and angle, all by themselves. I feel tall, physically and spiritually.

We walk the freshly groomed arena and get comfortable with all of the sensations again. The rhythm of the rising trot takes hold, her ears go forward and the partnership has been renewed for another season. I wasn’t going to canter but we both silently agreed to alter that plan. A slight leg pressure behind the girth and we take wing.

I love where I am, and I love who I am here with. I love who I am when I am one with my horse.

Dealing with the remnants of winter: Bella lends her support in repairing fences. Photo courtesy of the author.

Spring is a time of renewal and I am again renewed. More accurately, perhaps, I am born anew. Why is this so? Perhaps because my horses reflect my dreams of how I wish to be: strong, just, beautiful and powerful—and I get to borrow theses qualities while in their company.

This winter, we existed. This spring, we will soar…


About the Author

Thomas Gumbrecht began riding at age 45 and eventually was a competitor in lower level eventing and jumpers. Now a small farm owner, he spends his time working with his APHA eventer DannyBoy, his OTTB mare Lola, training her for a second career, and teaching his grandson about the joy of horses. He enjoys writing to share some of life’s breakthroughs toward which his horses have guided him.