Horse people know more about what is going on in the sky and in the dirt than most.
We have multiple weather apps on our phones and check them often. Our toes feel the level of slickness under our boots to see if it’s safe to ride in the outdoor arena. Our fingers know the feeling of reaching under a blanket to see if a horse is too warm or too cold. Our ears and our cheeks turn pink from the cold or the heat.
We mark the seasons by the sound of clippers, the whir of fans, and whether or not the waterers have heaters in them or not.
Some moments mark a change in the year. One of those markers came for me two days after daylight savings when the first frost settled on the corn stocks behind the back pasture.
That morning I groggily emerged from bed and reached for my barn clothes.
I donned dirty jeans, wool socks, and a flannel work shirt my dad had shrunk in the dryer and gifted to me instead. From the back of the closet, I unzipped my trusty Carhartt coat off its hanger. The cuffs around the wrists are embedded with a tapestry of stubborn horsehair from who knows who. I smiled, looking at. Despite all the winters, chores, and trips to the washing machine, that 13-year-old jacket, like a good school horse, still faithfully goes to work.
As I drove to the barn, the glint of ice crystals on the corn stalks in the neighbouring farms hinted at winter in the morning light. It is still a month off, but these whispers of what is coming remind us to be ready.
In the barn, my horse is already prepared for the cold. Her thick winter coat and long-bearded chin are extra fluffy as the season changes. She blew out her summer coat at the beginning of September, accustomed to winters much colder than this one will be.
Even though it is harder to get out of bed and even simple tasks require more effort, I love the cold and the blissful quiet it brings.
The barn empties as the fair-weather riders run back home. Sure, the indoor gets more crowded at times. But, there is a strange camaraderie in hanging out with the other hardy types who still ride even when they know the ground will be harder if they fall—rationalizing that hey, those extra layers of clothes offer some extra cushion.
I am one of those lucky few who are basically a human furnace. My favorite barn trick is telling the older women in the barn to hold my hand. They usually gasp in shock at the warmth I emit. Unless the thermometer drops down into the teens, I am usually still doing chores or riding in a t-shirt and a sun shirt underneath to absorb the sweat. If I need to wear something warmer, it’s probably too cold to ride anyway.
Of course, cold weather riding requires extra precautions. It gets dark quickly, and the light is different. Warming up is more important and cooling down takes longer, a delicate balance between avoiding a chill and the ever-dreaded sweat. Nevertheless, there is something deeply satisfying about watching sweat wicked away by a cooler and the steam rise off my skin.
The frost in front of me melted by 10 am. The colors of fall in the trees on the east side of the pasture reminded me of the season we are still in. There will still be a few comfortable days left. But winter is around the corner, and I cannot wait for the change.