This morning I woke up to the chill of fall air for the first time. Hurricane Michael luckily did not hit us here in Maryland. The remnants brought us some pretty wicked storms, but upon waking up, it is as if fall may finally be here.
Fall is one of the best times of year to ride. There are cooler temperatures, no flies, and beautiful scenery all around us. For those of us running riding programs, though, it can be a tough time of year.
1. Fall is a worrisome time for riding programs.
Fall can be a worrisome time mainly because it brings us to winter, and many of our students either don't want to ride at all in the winter or ride rarely during the winter season.
Some are too busy with other sports and activities, but most especially with children, their parent's don't want them out in the cold. There is also the factor of parents being afraid that they will pay for lessons that their child won't get to take due to bad weather.
Some farms have indoors, which make weather less of an issue. Our farm does not, so our whole program is dependent on Mother Nature over the winter, which can be a scary thought.
Weeks of below freezing temperatures can put a hold on riding lessons. Unfortunately, the horses still need to eat. They need the farrier and the vet to maintain their health over the winter, so they will be ready and able to work in the spring.
Unlike a soccer ball or baseball bat, at the end of the season, the horses cannot be thrown in the closet until next season begins and forgotten for the time being.
Professionals like myself, rely solely on our income from our farms to maintain our businesses, maintain our property and take care of our personal needs.
We can't afford for Mother Nature to roll into town, just to have all our riding students quit for the winter season.
2. Riding in the winter isn't as cold as you might think.
Let me tell you, from an instructor perspective, we are the ones that are cold, just standing around and watching your child ride. Your student is sitting on a thousand pound animal with a normal temperature between 90-101 degrees. Not to mention they are moving around and warm up quickly when they ride.
3. Proper attire is necessary.
Many students do not come out in the winter dressed properly for the weather and that is why they are cold.
Layering is the key. Not to mention, there are many companies that make cold weather athletic gear. Some specific to riding and others non-specific to riding but just as good.
Wearing gloves and a scarf helps too. Gloves are fine when you ride, and they can even help you grip the reins and will keep your hands warm. Some riders wear gloves all year round because they prefer the extra grip it provides!
Wear warm socks and winter boots. I bet you would be surprised how you can comfortably ride in the winter if you come dressed for it. If you are not sure what is best to wear, ask your instructor for suggestions.
4. Keep on progressing.
Yes, to a point, riding horses is like riding a bike and you won't forget how to do it by taking a season off. That does not mean though that you will be able to pick up right where you started off.
You will have to regain muscle strength, muscle memory and coordination that was starting to come naturally before you stopped for the winter. Which means that when you begin riding in the spring, you will be spending early spring playing catch up.
5. There are excellent opportunities for unmounted horsemanship lessons.
There is so much to learn about horses, you really never stop learning about them. As a professional, you just learn more in-depth and complex things than you did as a beginner.
Winter days when the ground conditions are not good enough for riding is an ideal time to do unmounted lessons. There are tons of things you can learn depending on where you are at in your horsemanship journey.
Riders that attend unmounted horsemanship sessions are the ones who show true dedication to the craft of horsemanship. There is a lot more to it than just riding. Winter is a great time to build on all the other knowledge you have of horses and horse care. Spring, summer, and fall will provide you with plenty of opportunities to ride.
6. If you plan on ever owning a horse...
If you have ever thought of owning a horse, you can't just ignore it as soon as it gets cold and yucky out then show up in the spring thinking you will have the same horse you left at the end of the fall.
Not only do responsible owners spend time with their horse over the winter to monitor their health and wellbeing, but they also are maintaining a routine with them. Grooming them, making sure their shoes are still on, insisting that they keep up on their good ground manners. They also ride when the ground is fit. Riding bareback is a fun way to ride in the winter, it keeps you nice and warm.
Sometimes in the winter, there are spells that Mother Nature goes on vacation and allows more moderate temperatures and safe ground conditions. Horse owners that are active all winter and riding students who stay dedicated to their programs in the bad weather months as well as the good, will get more opportunities in all aspects than the fair weather riders do.
7. The horse community needs commited riders.
I'm writing this from my own perspective as a professional horse person, trying to run a business, not just to make money or to do the job I love, but also to keep the farm in the family.
Keeping the farm in the family is our priority. Since we love horses and teaching horsemanship that is what we have been working hard to do. When winter comes and we lose a lot of clientele until springtime, that puts us in a hard position. It is hard to support the lesson horses when they aren't working and earning their keep.
It is stressful and scary wondering how we are going to get through the winter sometimes. So please, those of you who ride in a small family lesson program like mine, keep this in mind. If you want the horses to be able to be here for you to ride, we need committed riders who are willing to stay involved all year long.
Yes, it is about the money, but it also because true all-around good horsemanship is a year-round activity. Farm owners work 365 days a year in all weather conditions to keep their animals, whether it be livestock for processing or horses for recreational riding like ours. The work never stops. Rain, sleet, snow, income or no income, on a farm, animals require care and maintenance.
The farm life is a hard life to explain to someone who wasn't born into it. And it's not for everyone, that's for sure.
8. Keep family farms in mind.
Even if you are just a recreational rider or have a child who is one, or even if you have no interest in agriculture or farming, please keep us, the farm families in mind. The horse people like us who work year-round to provide you horses to ride when you find it convenient, as well as the farmers that grow our food and raise our livestock.
It is not the lifestyle that many chose in this day and age, but for those of us who do, it is the only one we know. We just hope that if you chose to start your horsemanship journey with us you will support your local farmer and be as dedicated as possible year round!