We've been on a bit of hiatus this past week, as I'm sure you could tell. One of my dearest college friends has been in town all week, so we've been off having fun.. between that and work, the mares haven't has much of anything done with them all week. We're also fast approaching winter, which means that there is less and less daylight to make use of.
Fewer daylight hours and chilly temps mean that O starts to do an awful lot of this in her paddock if she isn't worked regularly:
We affectionately call those "handstands." She was galloping in circles around P bucking like a maniac yesterday... P was standing there looking completely nonplussed the whole time. (She has always been an economical horse, but now that she is pregnant, she is saving literally every scrap of energy she has for the sole purpose of eating everything in sight. I had to let her blanket straps waaaaay out yesterday to accommodate her growing belly!)
So what do you do if you are me and you still want to make sure your horse gets worked and you don't die every time you climb up into your cart, but you also don't have an arena, lights, or much time? You CAN in fact get your horse exercised in the inky dark, if you get creative! Here are some tips for getting it done!
1) You Need *Some* Light
Horses can see pretty well in the dark, a lot better than many animals... but unfortunately, humans are not very good at this kind of thing. In order to make sure you are not about to fall into any potholes, put any equipment on backwards, or walk into a skunk on a nighttime stroll, you need at least *some* measure of light. Really bright moonlight, lights from the nearby barn, or even headlights turned to your area are all really helpful. (Note about the headlights: use caution with this, because you WILL drain your battery and have a dead car and then have no way to get home. Ask me why I know this.)
2) Know Your Horse and Your Equipment
When you are working in the dark, you are operating in the dark. You need to know which hole all of your buckles go on, which things go where, and exactly how everything sits - you may need to do some things by feel. This is no time to break out the new bridle that needs tons of adjusting to get just right. Likewise, you need to know your horse. Is he liable to be stupid and spooky, or a steady eddie? Since you'll be giving up some of your eyesight, you need to make sure that your partner is going to be there for you, and not take this opportunity to dump you into a bush and go galloping back to the barn.
3) Tell Somebody Where You Are
Seriously. If you're out there in the dark where nobody can see you, and you get hurt, and nobody knows where you are.... how long do you expect it will take for them to find you? Make sure you let somebody know where you are and what you'll be doing. This is a good daytime tip too!
4) Befriend Your Weather App
Your weather app is your new best friend. Is it going to be -15 degrees? Snowing hard? Everything covered in ice? Maybe not the best days to be out working. The weather might mean you have to forgo some training and riding, but it is far better to skip a few days than to risk injury to yourself or to your animal. Be smart, and only work when the weather means that you'll have some decent footing and not die from hypothermia, unless you're some sort of polar bear. (Below 10 degrees and I'm hiding in my house. Too icy on lungs for me!)
5) Good Footing Only - Know Where You Are Working
Speaking of footing - you need to know your riding/lunging area like the back of your hand. This is not the time to go exploring down the trails! You have to know that your footing is solid and without holes/major terrain issues/etc, because you won't be able to see well enough to avoid them. Don't work somewhere unless you know for sure that the footing is safe - it's not worth it!
6) Keep It Simple Stupid...
When it is dark out, keep things simple. Does your horse really NEED four boots and bells? Does he NEED a bunch of extra special grooming and prep? Does he NEED polos, or can you just slap on a pair of simple strap boots? In the dark, I usually skip legwear altogether - but O goes naked-legged more often than not anyway, simple because she never interferes anywhere. If you have a total clutz on your hands, opt for what you need to protect them, but don't bother going beyond that... too many pieces of equipment to make mistakes with in the dark! Likewise, this is NOT the time to decide to start teaching your horse flying changes, or add in anything else new, unless you are particularly adventurous and/or have a super complacent horse. And if I am working in the dark, I am just doing groundwork or lunging - I wouldn't dare drive her in the dark. Same goes for jumping - don't do it! It's just not safe without proper light.
7) .... But Don't Skip the Basics
Even if it is dark, you still need to make sure that your saddle/surcingle areas are clean and groomed. You also need to make sure that feet are picked and shoes are checked, if your horse is wearing them. And if your horse is clipped, don't forget a quarter sheet or a cooler if it is really cold!
8) Know That Your Horse May Be Stupid
It's cold out. It's dark. It might be before breakfast, or after dinner (although you should make sure your horse has some hay in his belly before you get out to work him anyway). Your horse might not be particularly thrilled about this prospect at first - he might be cold, or spooky in the dark. Let him get used to his weird work schedule, and don't be too hard on him if he's having a heartattack about the weird shadows over there that he hasn't seen before. He'll get over it, they always do!
Not totally awake yet but happy to get out and do something
Happy riding/lunging/whatever! Get out there and get it done!