False spring, begone!
For equestrians who live in climates beset by long winters, we take awhile to readjust when spring finally rolls around. The weather shifts from ice to mud and back again several times in the space of a week, and we spend our time at the barn constantly switching blankets and scrubbing mud off of everything we own. Our cars include at least one extra pair of boots, gloves, and a coat heaped in a pile somewhere, just in case a day that looked like spring when you left your house turns into a blizzard by the time you leave work. As soon as you think it’s safe to start hoping you can ride outside without three coats, a front of freezing rain moves in. Likewise, if you wash your horse’s heavyweight winter blanket, it’s sure to snow again.
Here are five surefire ways to tell that the real spring is upon us (although it’s still not safe to wash winter blankets until mid-May, lest you scare off the nice weather).
1. When you get to the barn after work or class, it’s light enough that you can actually see your horse in the pasture. No more slogging out with a flashlight and a halter, hoping that whatever creature wanders up to you in the dark is your own horse.
2. You condition your boots and they don’t immediately turn white with rock salt. When my boots make it through a long winter miraculously crack-free, I can condition them without them reverting back to their previous salt-streaked look. They might be caked in mud soon thereafter, but at least for a few minutes you can remember what your boots look like with clean leather.
3. Bareback butt. This is an all-season phenomenon, but during the spring it intensifies between the shedding and all the winter-accumulated dandruff.
4. You turn your horse out without a blanket for more than one day. Sometimes at the end of winter, the afternoons get warm enough to justify pulling blankets, but you feel the need to run to the barn in the evening to scrub the dried mud from your horse and replace his blanket lest he get chilly. You know it’s officially spring when you leave your horse naked outside, then let him bask in his muddy shedding glory for as long as possible.
5. You feel the need to ride outside. The ground might not be dry enough for more than a walk around the outside of the barn, but you and your horse both perk up under the spring sunshine. You may even forego a productive ride in an indoor arena for a leisurely trail ride through the mud, just because it feels so good to be outside and warm.
Despite the relief from constant cold, spring is in some ways the most unpleasant season — everything is muddy but it’s not quite warm enough to bathe horses, all the bugs come back to life and your horse is shedding so much that you leave the barn with horse hair everywhere. However, even the droves of spiders and flies, the horsehair up my nose and stuck in my Chapstick, and the mud soaking my jeans halfway up my shins seem negligible when I am riding outside for the first time in months, comfortable in a t-shirt, the world framed by my horse’s forward-pointing ears.
Haley will continue to share more adventures from the perspective of a collegiate equestrian! Keep an eye out for The Academic Equestrian weekly.
Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English with a minor in Equine Business Management. She owns two Quarter Horse geldings, Cricket (“At Last an Invitation”) and Slide (“HH Slick N Slide”). Haley is a captain of the AU western equestrian team, competing in horsemanship, reining and hunt seat. She also loves trail riding.