Friday, February 25, 2011

That perfect temperature

While I was in school in North Carolina I can remember a lot of the other riders and instructors getting a little nervous whenever we would have a cold snap. The reasons for this were usually two-fold.

1) The majority of the horses on the property were geriatric and had health issues to begin with. Weather change tended to send their gastro-intestinal systems into revolt and we would have a massive colic epidemic. I have yet to find any science that supports WHY all of our horses would colic whenever it got cold outside, but apparently no one told their guts that.
2) All of the horses would be fresh and sprightly.

I don't remember every worrying about this growing up, but I figured it was because the weather in Oregon varies so dramatically all of the time that our horses were just used to it and didn't really notice anymore. This was also my reasoning for why they didn't colic every two weeks when the weather changed AGAIN.

Now I'm thinking that it may have had more to do with the fact that the average temperature there was a more reasonable number than in North Carolina, where most of the year the heat and humidity made acts of physical exertion sound like a very cruel joke. Our horses' return to youthful vigor had less to do with the fact that it was cold, and more to do with the fact that the temperature was more comfortable. The horses at school seemed to think the perfect temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so, depending on the individual horse.

In North Dakota, I'm finding the opposite to be true. Because it is so unbelievably and unreasonably cold here, when it warms up to a temperature that is within the realm of possible-to-survive, they go crazy. This temperature, for my horse, is apparently about 27 degrees.

One thing about my little mare. She is a great little horse and a lot of fun to work with and train because she figures things out very quickly, but she is inherently lazy. Very very sensitive, but would rather be standing still than working, which is the opposite of the thoroughbreds that I've been used to working with. Normally, I ride her with a dressage whip to reinforce my leg aids and encourage prompt responses, as well as to start encouraging her to think Forward in her movements. I want to develop a little more reach through her hind end. I rarely need to use the whip, and when I do it's only light tickles to get her hind end in gear, and that's all that she ever needs. Still, nine times out of ten, she'd rather choose a slower gait.

Not this week. The weather "warmed up" to a "balmy" 27 on Tuesday as I headed out to ride after work. I should have known something was up when I led her in from the pasture and she started spinning circles around me. She stood surprisingly well while I was tacking her up, but pretty much exploded on the lunge line once we got in the arena. I have never had to give more than the slightest downward cue to bring her back to the walk (her favorite gait) but our transitions were a bit more rapid-fire than they normally were. Canter transitions were considerably more prompt than they have been, but they were punctuated by several bucks each time.

After a while, I decided that I really couldn't lunge her forever, but was a little nervous about getting on. Despite what she thought, it was still cold outside and the ground was still frozen and very hard. I didn't really feel like getting thrown. So we did a lot of in-hand work (including a review of one-rein stops) before I finally got on her and did some supplying and straightening work at the walk. She still felt like a bundle of energy underneath me, so I decided not to press my luck and work at the trot or canter, keeping the not-falling goal in mind. I've become such a wuss when it comes to that, it's kind of embarrassing.

The best part? She had the most beautiful flying changes. Unfortunately, they were on the end of the lunge line in between bucking fits while trying to run away from me... but they were lovely and clean! I'm hoping that means that when it comes time to actually teach them to her under saddle in a few years, it should be a piece of cake, right?

The other good thing that comes of the weather being slightly warmer is that I was finally able to get outside to snap a few pictures where you can actually see her. She is completely filthy, I know, and a bath will be at the top of the agenda once the weather gets to where I can get her wet without worrying about a call from PETA, but I have a feeling that that's going to be another great adventure.