The Riding School: Baby, it’s cold outside
Frigid temps present a special challenge for those who make their living teaching others how to ride. Here’s how our columnist The Riding Instructor makes the most of winter.
From The Riding Instructor:
So we in the Northeast (and, I hear, much of the rest of the country besides Ocala and Aiken) have been in the grip of a cold… I don’t know what. Snap, the word I was originally going for, doesn’t seem quite right. There’s nothing snappy about it, in my book. Lock down might be better; highs below 20 feel more like prison than a musical number with jazz hands.
So what does this mean for your reliable local riding instructor? We’re lucky enough to have an indoor ring, so we can teach lessons in most conditions. The question is, should we? Over the years, I’ve come up with some guidelines for how we deal with cold weather.
Number 1: If it’s below 20 in the indoor, it’s too darn cold for lessons. It’s not healthy for the kids, it’s not healthy for the horses (it was in the mid-20s the other day and one of the schoolies–a little in need of a whisker trim–still ended up with icicles hanging off her chin). Now, I hate to cancel lessons completely (ponies–and instructors and barn owners–still gotta eat), so I offer barn lessons on these days. We sit in the heated office or the horse-body-heat-warmed barn and learn parts of the horse and grooming technique and tack cleaning and adjusting. If I’m well-prepared, we watch video, of ourselves and of others, and set goals for improvement. We practice those darn polo wraps and study the bit section of the SmartPak catalog. We browse the feed room. But I also don’t penalize the folks who cancel in extreme temperatures (although I do make sure I mention how much fun those barn lessons were later).
If it’s in the acceptably freezing range, we ride. But not until after I’ve made sure I inspect the children’s attire. It still blows my mind that parents will send their kids out to riding lessons–in a barn and ring they know is unheated–without 18 layers of clothes on. I have kids show up without gloves (I grew up in southern California and even I know about gloves!), with gaps between the tops of boots and the bottoms of pants, or so lightly dressed their teeth are chattering before they even come in the ring. Parents, bundle up your children, whether they like it or not! And while I’m at it, make sure everything they are wearing has buttons or zippers all the way up the front; riding does get them hot and we can’t take things off over their heads. Anyway, I’ve taken to wearing many, many layers myself, with extra gloves in my pocket and a fleece or two to hand; that way, I can head off hypothermia without having the student leave the lesson. If a kid needs my jacket, I can wear one of the horses’ wool coolers
Once I’ve ascertained that we are dressed for polar conditions, I adjust our usual rides. I tend to skip our traditional warm up of marathon half seat and get right to the no-stirrups work; it warms the kids up more quickly, as the hard work gets the blood flowing, and their feet aren’t frozen by the metal stirrups. We keep moving; cold weather is a great time for arm stretches that have the students take their hands off the reins (Circle your arms! Reach for the ceiling! Arm behind your back! Touch your toe!). We might ride bareback or, especially for the little ones, I might pull out the vaulting surcingle: no stirrups to freeze the feet, no reins to freeze the hands, and they can take turns between riding and warming up in the office.
So that’s how we cope until the cold front moves off and we can begin dreaming of spring….
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