The weather continues to define daily life! Basically, it’s been rubbish – either unbearably cold, torrential rain, sleet, snow, ice or gales or a combination of all of these at any one time. Riding has happened where and when it has been safe(-ish) to do so! There were a few dry days in the middle of the mayhem which provided a short respite and was a great relief. I even managed to get the tractor out and harrow one of the fields which had been trashed by the horses. Repairing the land always makes me feel better as it appeals to my sense of tidiness!
Meantime, I have trying to work out how to use various cameras (my phone, which has now been upgraded), a Go Pro and a ‘proper’ video camera and decide on the accessories I need such as a selfie-stick, tripod and microphones for filming life and times in the wilds of Wales. Though not comfortable with techy things, progress has been made. I have even worked out how to get video (as well as sound) on Facebook Live, so you can expect another broadcast soon! I also made a new video on some of the precautions I have taken at my place to keep myself and the horses safe in the extreme weather. It’s called “How to beat the elements & other tips” and is on my Youtube channel. Photographer friend Chris learned how to use the video camera so he could film it for me and while we still have to master the use of radio mics, it isn’t a bad first attempt at working together.
The horrid winter weather also prompted communications with a fellow equestrian in Canada who puts up with far worse than I do, to see what I could learn from a weather ‘professional’. I was astonished to find out that the large Welsh snowfalls had made it onto Canadian TV. Ironically, shortly thereafter, the extreme Canadian snowfall made it onto ours. Hilarious – not! So I thought it would be interesting to ask ex-Brit and dressage rider Jane Weller to write a few words for my blog on how she copes. This is what she said:
…As proof that the internet is more useful than just people sharing cat videos, I have been corresponding with my friend Fiona in Wales and sharing a great deal about horse management in all sorts of conditions. As two country horsewomen we have much in common, not the least is enjoying a good, healthy moan about the awfulness of the weather in our respective countries!
I am based in southern Ontario Canada. We have lovely hot summers, nice spring times, colourful autumns and truly epic winters. This winter has been colder than normal (think lows of minus 25C to minus 35C and highs of minus 16C) and we have had more snow over a short period than is normal or fair! I still think in inches and feet for snow and rain – it seems more real to me, so in just a few days recently, we had two and a half to three feet of snow. That meant huge drifts on our farm of four feet or more.
We get intense bands of blinding snow (whiteouts or streamers in the local parlance) that are caused by the ‘lake effect’; this is a scientific way of noting that the cold air blowing over the warmer waters of Lake Huron picks up tremendous moisture content and gleefully deposits it as snow right on me, as a personal insult! It is like living in your very own snow globe.
The horses cope surprisingly well with the cold. Feeding lots of good quality hay is key. Digesting that keeps them quite warm. My boys get a bran mash on Sundays and their daily grain ration is mixed with hot hay cubes so that gives them a little more moisture as well. They have a decent wardrobe of blankets to choose from and are not clipped. My barn isn’t insulated and only has a cold-water spigot (wrapped with electric wire to stop it freezing). So making sure all animals (cats included) keep drinking is crucial. Buckets freeze no matter what you do. Emptying them involves the application of a rubber mallet to knock out the ice (and accumulated green gunk if you have a hay dunker). I heat lots of kettles to add to the buckets while I am mucking out each day, as the horses prefer warmish drinking water. My barn cats seem to know when I’ve given them fresh water and they run (OK waddle) over to drink. During the winter, the cats turn into amoebas; eating, drinking, excreting and sleeping. I hope they regain their figures and mobility in spring!
If I were doing a lot of hacking I’d have bubble pads in my horses’ shoes to throw out the snow but if not, having the rubber mallet next to the outside door, means you can tap the hoof to gently knock out the shod horses’ snow stilts before bringing them in to the stable. Most of my riding in these temperatures is indoors and, even then, I am very careful. The horses are booted and bandaged and wear quarter sheets. When it gets well below zero, I don’t want my older guys breaking into a sweat or suck in too much cold air. So I warm them up very carefully and stick to gentle school figures and not too much lateral work, as I also don’t want old joints accidentally twisting.
Personally, I am not a fan of lunging my big elderly warmblood, as I prefer to try and control his steps and not risk him leaping freely about if the snow crashes down from the arena roof, for instance. His whiskers are always frost covered after we have finished but his eyes are bright and he enjoys his work, although he might be thinking of the Florida showgrounds of his youth!
Mucking out is a challenge in these temperatures. First, you have to dig a path for your wheelbarrow to get to the manure pile. Then there is the challenge of frozen horse poo in the horses’ beds. It clunks when you hit it with your fork so at least you can find it buried deeply in the straw. It can also ‘artistically’ stick to the wall, just for your amusement. On a personal note, it’s vital not to wear heavy moisturizer on your face because as you trundle your load to the muck heap, the winter wind will whip the barrow load up at you and you will get covered in….well, who knows what?
On the subject of personal appearance, the fashionable winter clothing shown in horsey magazines is all very nice – cute puffy jackets, boots with fur and sparkly winter breeches. But the reality for me is multiple unattractive layers of thermals, farmer-type work boots and heavy padded coveralls with riding clothes underneath. Definitely not the ‘haute-couture’ riding clothes of your magazine! My riding boots feel like telephone books strapped to each calf – but at least they are warm telephone books! I always take three pairs of gloves to the barn, one to start work with (I am bound to splash water or ice on them), a second pair for the rest of the barn work that doesn’t involve water and a third dry pair to ride in. Ditto socks as I am inclined to tip water buckets into my boots on occasion!
Most Canadian stables and riding arenas are designed to carry a heavy snow load on the roof. It’s expensive to add extra trusses to a building but essential for where we live. Occasionally you will hear of an older arena or barn collapsing under the load. We have a long rake-type of implement for removing some of the snow when it builds up on the roof. It is a ridiculous job really; the person using the rake (dear hubby) has to poke at the roof hoping to loosen the snow. The person watching (me) waits for the avalanche to fall and the inevitable cursing as it crashes on ‘DH’. A good tractor and snow blower are must-haves for life in Canada. This winter they have seen a lot of usage. Smaller snow blowers that you can push by hand are useful for clearing pathways but the big snow blower makes sure we can get in and out of our long country driveway and get out to work and to civilization.
Fiona’s ‘go-to’ reward seems to be coffee and cake, I have to say my go-to reward after all this effort is Hot Chocolate and Bailey’s!…………………….
Pics: Making the video with assistant Bryngywn; me ready for some harrowing; Jane’s barn; knocking the ice out of water buckets with a mallet; Jane and one of her boys dressed for riding; a frozen spider’s web at my yard and talking of cakes, the latest one, a banana cake (recipe on Food page)