The Land of the Midnight Sun: Horse Ownership in Alaska
Horse ownership looks different in every area and every region. That’s certainly been true for Horse Nation contributor Allie Carlson, who gives us a look at what horse ownership looks like in the last frontier: Alaska.
When I tell people that I live and ride in Alaska, their reactions are usually varied. Some ask if and how there are horses here, some figure it’s the wild west or, my personal favorite, think I’m on an island near Hawaii. What people don’t realize is that there is a wonderful horse community here. When I moved from Connecticut to Alaska, I was not entirely sure what to expect, and while it definitely differs from where I grew up, it has proven to be a wonderful place to be an equestrian.
Having owned horses primarily in Connecticut, but also having boarded in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire while in college, I have learned that each area has its very own horse community and vibe. It is always interesting to me to look at what is consistent throughout the horse world, and what might be different in each region. When I sat down and really thought about it, I was surprised by what I found when comparing my life in New England to my new life here in Alaska.
Before I get into specifics, I wanted to answer a few of the Alaska questions I get most often. I live in Anchorage, Alaska, so I can really only speak to life in one small part of a VERY large state. Areas like Fairbanks get much colder, and places like Juneau and Kodiak are more remote, presenting their own horse keeping challenges. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with a population of just over 282,000 people. It is home to many chains and businesses you see in the rest of the USA, as well as tons of incredible local companies. In many ways it feels a lot like the rest of the USA, though it lacks a few of my favorites like Chipotle, Panera and TJ Maxx.
I am often asked about the daylight and weather. At its darkest, the Anchorage area gets about 5.5 hours of daylight, but in the summer it is somewhere around 20 hours of daylight. Areas further north, such as Fairbanks experience even less daylight in the winter and even more in the summer. Our weather, again speaking for Anchorage, is yes, cold and snowy, but I find it pretty manageable. We will have periods of one-to-two-week cold snaps, but the worst temperature I have ever seen my car read is -19°F. And while I HATED it, I know many people have dealt with much colder weather. On the flip side, it is in the 60s and 70s and fairly sunny all summer, which is pretty dang perfect riding weather if you ask me.
Now that I have gotten some of the most common Alaska questions out of the way, here are ways being an equestrian in Alaska is similar and different to the lower 48:
5 Ways It’s the same:
- There are great trainers here. There may be fewer trainers to choose from, but there are great options who are incredibly talented. And that does not speak to just one discipline.
- Anchorage and Palmer have beautiful equestrian centers. They may not be WEG or the Kentucky Horse Park, but they still offer great stabling, multiple rings and good footing. I personally LOVE going to a show facility instead of a show hosted out of a barn.
- We have options for just about every equestrian. There are TONS of great trails, opportunities to compete in rodeos, hunter/jumpers, breed shows and dressage.
- Just like there are trails and shows for everyone, there are barns for everyone too. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy training barn, or the laid-back atmosphere of a smaller barn, you can generally find what you are looking for here (okay, maybe I can’t find giant grass turnouts in Anchorage itself, but a short drive out to the Valley will give you exactly what you are looking for).
- We have access to many national brands for things like feed, supplements and gear, but that does not come without its own challenges.
5 Ways It’s Different:
- It’s expensive! Bedding is $16-$19 a bag normally, not just when you forget to pack enough and have to buy it at a horse show. I don’t fault the local companies, shipping things here is challenging and expensive, with most things arriving on a barge. That includes grain, hay, bedding and more! Even more challenging is that sometimes the barges will be delayed, causing the local stores to run out of things like grain, sometimes for many weeks.
- There is only ONE feed store in town that carries nationally made feeds and both English and Western tack. And by in town, I mean within an hour or so drive of my house. For the most part this hasn’t been a huge issue for me, it might actually be better for my wallet. However, I recently started the search for a new helmet, and the local tack and feed store does not carry options and brands I am looking for, adding a new degree of difficulty to my search.
- There aren’t horse shows every weekend, just a handful during the summer. Having spent a large part of my riding career showing, and primarily at one-day shows, I thought this would be a bummer for me. Instead it has allowed me to refocus my riding on improving myself and my horse without feeling like I am constantly preparing for the next show. And when I do show it occupies a few days of my time, but doesn’t become an every weekend ordeal.
- Back home I was blessed to have access to many incredible vets. Here, vets are in short supply. It can sometimes be challenging to get a vet out for emergencies as they are so swamped with animals who need their help. Furthermore, most vets who are located here often have mixed animal practices, which has made finding someone for my gelding’s sports medicine needs tricky. But, while hock injections may be tricky to come by, I do feel the vets I have worked with up here are extremely talented and dedicated to what they do.
- Finally, the challenges of horse keeping here have made the community stronger. While there are exceptions to every rule, I generally have found people are more willing to come together despite what discipline they ride to help each other and the horses. Which is something that I have felt is a bit lacking in other places.
Moving and becoming part of a new equestrian community is always challenging. And while there are certain comforts of home that I miss, I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity and challenge that goes along with owning a horse in Alaska.