Saturday, November 15, 2014


When I was growing up I rode during the winter. In the snow. In the cold. We were always outside. I remember walking the bottom of the canal with my brother and sister, climbing over rusted out machinery some farmer had dropped in the canal rather than storing it on his land. We were sure we had walked the six miles to Shelly before turning for home with frozen toes and fingers. I rode Queenie bareback until I was so cold my teeth were chattering, the only real warm spot on me was where my butt and her back met. I would be so cold when I got back to the house, that I could barely pull the bridle off over her head. I would sob in pain as I held my hands under the warm faucet in the sink. I think my little fingers on both hands were crippled during those years. I don't know if it is nostalgia or stupidity, but I want to ride Ashke on trail this winter. In the snow and cold. J was game. T thought we were absolutely insane.

J and I did our first of the season snow ride today. She rode Coyote and I rode Ashke. The temps were right around 16 degrees F when we left the barn and 14 when we got back.

Snow fell in big, puffy flakes our entire ride.

When I first put the saddle on Ashke, he humped his back bad. I was a little nervous about riding out, if he was humping his back before we ever left the barn (he was very humped last time I rode him in the arena. Took several minutes for him to relax). I told J I wanted to mount in the outdoor and if need be, work him there a little bit before we headed out. As I led him toward the outdoor arena (through the falling snow) he was very snorty. Then he saw J and Coyote. His head came up and he stopped in his tracks to study her for a moment. Then he walked to the mounting block and calmly waited for me to get on. We walked out of the outdoor and headed for the trail.

J and Coyote (while she could still feel her toes)

Ashke crossed the field in a bit of a jig, while I used my powers of persuasion to calm him to a walk. We walked the majority of our ride, although he did trot at a couple of points. Walking, because I didn't want to run the risk of him getting hot or sweaty, and walking because the ground is not even and we couldn't see the holes. We walked carefully across the road and then through the neighborhood. Ashke didn't have boots on, since boots would have be disastrously slick in current conditions. Bare feet, though, have good grip on the snow. Our snow is dry enough that it doesn't ball up in the horse's hooves (this can happen in wetter, more humid climes). Ashke had two slips all day and both were when we crossed the bridge to and from the subdivision. When we met up with J, Ashke followed her on Coyote through the subdivision. He reached out and bumped her in the back at least five or six times in the two and a half blocks we walked. It was his way of reassuring himself that she was there. So cute.

The flakes were huge all day, but there was minimal wind. The wind would have been a deal breaker.

My only concession to the cold was to use the BOT pad that I purchased last year. It fits under the saddle and covers his haunches. We rode in it a lot when we were rehabbing his hamstring. I wanted to make sure that the hammie and his hip remained warm and relaxed during our ride.

I am Ninja. He is Unicorn.
We can walk in the snow with our eyes closed.

This horse loves being out. He didn't give me any trouble all day, except to ask to move out faster once we turned for home.

There is no way to look sexy when riding in the snow, unless you are the Last Unicorn.

When we turned the corner to hit this gravel path, there were cows in the field by the corner. It was a very snorty moment. Then we crossed paths with a coyote. He was a scraggly little thing out hunting mice in the weeds. I watched him pounce and gulp down one right before he walked in front of us. 

He never spooked and he never hesitated.

We went past the ball fields and turned left, following the road around to an access road that took us back to the canal. Nifty little four mile loop.

This was a whole field of thistle, the thistle heads just covered with snow.

J posing for a photo op. If you look at the bottom of her pants, they are wrapped with white vet wrap. 

Ashke was not amused that we were waiting for J to take photos.
He was pawing for emphasis. He knew where we were and how to get home. 
Impatient boy.

He jigged a bit on the canal, since he knew where we were and how to get home from there. He asked to canter when we got to the field where we canter on our way home every time. I said no and some trotting ensued. It didn't last for more than a few moments. The snow had settled on the edges of his winter coat, and aside from a couple of spots on his neck where they melted, he was completely dry when we walked in the barn.

Going through the neighborhood was pretty fun. There was a flock of girls with toboggans racing down a side street, but they were respectful and stopped while we rode by. When we got to the road, I dismounted. The road looked icy and I wanted Ashke to only have to worry about balancing himself as he crossed. There was no sliding. On the other side of the road was a fence. I led him over to the metal gate and climbed up. I had my right leg and foot on the outside of the pole gate and maneuvered my left foot into the stirrup. Ashke was at an angle to the gate, which was not optimal for mounting, but since I really didn't want to walk the half block to the barn (yes, I am lazy) I was committed to trying to mount from the gate. I put a little bit of weight into the stirrup and verbally asked Ashke if he was ready for me to swing on. In reply, Ashke stepped up a half step, swung his hip around so he was closer to the gate and in a better position, and then braced himself for me to step into the stirrup. It was the sweetest thing he did all day. I was able to swing into the saddle while he stood quietly until I told him to walk on. 

He was dry and warm, but not hot, when I untacked him. He got settled into  his stall with a mash. He promptly stuck his head in the bucket and licked out the last morsels, before I took the bucket away, then dug into the mash in his bin. He was still eating when I left.

I was fairly warm during our ride. The biggest issue in riding in the cold, is that the rider really isn't moving much, so there is no way to produce heat to keep you warm. My legs got cold about half way through, but not cold enough to impact the enjoyment of the ride. 

I was wearing:
                    Long sleeved cotton t-shirt
                    Cotton sweatshirt (bonus points that it had the Serenity logo on it and the word Shiny)
                    Carhartt Sandstone Sierra Sherpa lined coat
                    Thermal underlayer pants
                    Cotton Silvertab jeans
                    Northface insulated winter boots
                    Cotton socks
                    Balaclava under my helmet (with face protection)
                    SSG 10 Below Waterproof Gloves

I do not recommend wearing what I wore if you tend toward cold. J yelled at me for wearing so much cotton, although she couldn't fault the Carhartt. My biggest area of heat loss was my legs. They were cold. And so were my toes. After we got home and ate lunch, we went back out to Murdocks to shop their sale. I got a pair of Berne insulated bib coveralls, in black, for half the price of the Carhartt bibs. I wanted bibs because there is no gap between the pants and the jacket for air to come in or heat to radiate out from and no waistband to bind up while I am riding. I really wanted the Carhartts but couldn't justify the extra expense, especially when I can layer under the ones I picked out. I can also wear them to the Bronco's games in late November and December of this year. I can replace the cotton socks with ski socks and add toe warmers. I would like to add another layer over my ears, but the helmet cover I purchased last year does not fit on my helmet and there isn't enough room under it for more than one hat. My core was toasty warm. I might exchange fleece for the sweatshirt, but that is a minor change. I wish I could wear wool, but I'm allergic. My fingers got chilled but not cold.

J wore four layers on her top and three on her legs. She wore bike shoes. Her feet were cold, so next time she will probably add toe warmers, since adding another layer to her feet won't work. Her shoes are too tight. She also wants to try a different configuration for her legs. She wore two pairs of bike pants, but there was no loft to that. She is thinking of fleece pants between her waterproof/windproof pant covers and the bike pants she wore underneath. Her thumbs got cold, but not enough to hinder our ride. She wants to add a turtle neck gaiter to help keep her chin warm.

All in all, we had a great time. There was no frostbite and Ashke was so happy with the ride. It was magical to ride in the snow again.


  1. I LOVED this post and had been looking for it! What a great time, and it's so wonderful that J went out and shared it with you. The little things that Ashke does for you and the level to which he understand you, always make my heart get all warm and fuzzy for you two. What an amazing horse.

    I know you've lived in cold climates FAR longer than I have but I gotta say I'm astounded you were comfortable with so much cotton! This is the time of year when I say, "Death to cotton!" I don't wear wool either simply because it is expensive, other than my SmartWool socks, and even with those I'll be wearing nylon sock liners underneath. I've had great luck with technical tops (like Cuddl Duds and Patagonias Capilene tops), a thin synthetic fleece with a thicker fleece jacket over that, and then my big 3-in-1 ski jacket over all of that when it's really cold. TJ Maxx, Ross and Marshalls tend to have really nice winter gear for really great deals. Cuddl Duds layers work almost as well as the high end brands and cost significantly less. Sears and JCPenny's carry them, and I believe Costco or Sam's is selling them now too. My plan B is to go to big outdoor gear stores like REI, try on the stuff I like to figure out what size I am, then go searching for them on eBay. The most I've paid for any item was $60, and that was for my 3-in-1 jacket, which was about 1/3 of its original price according to TJ Maxx where I bought it. :) Just suggestions that might be helpful. Do let us know how the bibs work for riding. I've wondered about them.

    And J's idea of fleece between pants layers is wonderful: that's what I do when riding on the trails when temps are below 30. She can also add warmth to her lower legs by wrapping her pants with pony polo wraps instead of Vetrap! :D

    1. We ordered what basically amounts to dressage boots for J to wear around the bottom of her pants. They are neoprene lined with fleece and go between the shoe and her knee. Sounds like dressage boots to me. :)

      My issue with synthetic materials is that it makes me sweat all over my body. Even when I feel cold, I have a layer of sweat on my torso. It is the most uncomfortable feeling ever. Cold sweats are not my favorite thing. So, it's better for me to wear cotton with a wind proof outer layer, and layer a little less to stay warm. I want enough layers to maintain my body heat without risking sweat. In winter, sweat is death. (I would love to find a rabbit skin shirt to wear, but that's a little impractical.) I'm excited about trying the bibs, since it should add the windproofing to my legs that I was missing yesterday and waterproofing so I'm not wet when the snow melts.

      Ashke and I have worked out a process when I have to remount on trail. I have been using the command "stand" for a couple of years now. I use it whenever I need him to hold still. When I go to mount, I tell him stand and then I get my foot in the stirrup, put a little weight there, and then ask him if he is ready. He will usually shift his stance to balance himself better, knowing I'm going to step up into the saddle. Yesterday was the first time he actually stepped himself sideways in response to my question to line his hip up with the fence. He amazes me every single time I ride him.

      I love finding things on ebay. We also shop the big sale weekend at REI, and have gotten T ski jackets for $15 one year. Sometimes it's being in the right place at the right time. We also enjoy shopping REI's garage sale twice a year.

  2. Karen, you rock! So does Ashke! I couldn't ride in this weather. My hat's off to you. Okay, it's not - that would make me cold.
    It's interesting that Ashke doesn't get snowballs in his hooves. Reggie, who is barefoot, doesn't either, but Paj (shod) gets enormous ones. I've tried every form of grease, snow popper pads (hooves couldn't tolerate them) and settled for rim shoes. They help, but it's still a problem.

    1. We had a great ride. I'm looking forward to trying Dowdy Draw during the winter. Will have to have hot chocolate waiting at the trailer though.

      Snowballs are caused by ice forming on the metal. Horses that have bare feet don't have anything for the ice to form to - hence no build up in their hooves. Although you can have packed hooves (like with mud) if the snow is wet and soft, but those usually flip out as the horse walks.

  3. Your post brought back so many memories of when I rode in the snow and cold when I was young:) I grew up in ND and once rode for about 15 minutes when the wind chill was -60! Ahhh, the craziness of youth:) I remember wearing a lot of layers with a down coat and always freezing anyway, but I loved riding so much I couldn't give it up for the winter. Kudos to you on your successful ride!:)

  4. I love this!! I want to ride in the snow again too but holy cow that is cold!!!