Staying Motivated to Ride on Dark Winter Nights

nightviewWhile thankfully winter riding in Texas is not all that bad right now, it is still not always ideal. Add to that working full time in a cube, barricaded by stacks of paper and books: a full time desk job does not lend itself to playing outside in the sunshine. Even more of a barrier to riding is the commute from work to barn–an hour, at least, on the most congested stretch of highway in the state during evening rush hour. Overcoming those obstacles takes a level of dedication I know I have, but is sometimes hard to muster. Weekday nights, I get to the barn in the dark.

Fortunately, I am at a full service boarding and training facility with plenty of well-lit cross-ties and two arenas, both with lights. And without fail, grueling as the drive can be, I immediately feel more at ease once I am interacting with my beastly animal. By the time I’ve ridden, I no longer care what time it is, nor do I even have one single thought about anything outside of my horse. Complaining about the drive, or the job, or the weird eating schedule seems selfish and silly. I have a good horse and the means to keep him well-cared-for. But I don’t always remember this when I’m stuck in traffic, watching the sun set on a weekday evening.

tackandfootingSo how do I stay motivated to ride winter evenings?

1. Be horse crazy. This is a given for most riders, and the longer you ride the more you realize it’s an addiction you never want to give up. You feel better after you ride, so why would you ever stop? You think about horses and horse-related things all day, and you wonder what the horse you ride is doing right now (he’s probably eating or napping, and hopefully not throwing a shoe).

2. Come prepared. What’s the weather like? In Texas, winter weather can be pretty much anything, from rain, to cold with single-digit wind chills, to 75F and sunny, dropping to a brisk 63F around sunset. So you might need a jacket, a heavy down-filled coat, or just a tee-shirt. You might need waterproof boots, or you might not. Everything I might need goes in my car every morning, because nothing is more annoying than a cold front blowing through right as you get out to the barn and all you have is an Icefil sun shirt. It’s hard to stay motivated if you’re freezing or drenched, so come prepared.

3. Remind yourself of how lucky you are even to be doing this. Riding horses is a privilege and a luxury. Gratitude for everything I have that allows me to keep riding horses goes a long way to keep me motivated. Even when it’s cold, even when it’s dark, even when I end up eating dinner at 10 o’clock at night, I’m lucky. Nobody is going to just hand you the opportunity to ride horses, you have to make it happen, of course. But be thankful that you’re in a position to make it happen. Many people aren’t.

4. Keep your horse comfortable. The horse comes first, which means you need to make sure you have the right equipment, the knowledge to groom him properly, and the foresight to understand that both you and your horse have limits when it comes to extreme weather conditions. What are you acclimated to? What is your horse acclimated to? Is he clipped, or not? Having a super fuzzy pony work hard on an 80F day in December can be just as much of a problem as trying to ride in a 25 MPH north wind when it’s 35F. I personally skip riding if it’s in the 20s, but I’m native Texan and so is my horse, so that’s bone-chilling cold to us. If you can manage to keep your horse comfortable, he’ll be much happier, and much more willing to work with you. And just remember that he might be a little bit more riled up and unfocused in cold, windy conditions, conditions that present, in my opinion, the absolute worst time to pick a fight with your horse about something. Not all horses are like my horse, I know, but that’s part of keeping the horse comfortable–know your horse.

Anyone else have any tips for staying motivated to ride during the winter months?

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26 thoughts on “Staying Motivated to Ride on Dark Winter Nights

  1. It’s HARD to stay motivated to ride in winter! I ride before work and hate getting out of bed when it’s still pitch black outside and it’s (usually) chilly. Like you, I remind myself that I’m lucky to be doing this at all. I also remind myself that neither I nor the horses are going to get any better if I don’t go ride! If I want to achieve goals, or even do something fun like go hunting, I owe it to the horses to make sure they’re prepared.

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  2. great list! sometimes it is *so hard* to make myself go. but then i almost never regret it once i’m there. for those days when ya need a little more help tho, maybe try breaking your leg and having to stay out of the saddle for a couple weeks. THEN see how motivated you are to get back 😉

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  3. This is so great! #1 is MY LIFE–I’m constantly worried about Roger throwing a shoe, a hobby he’s greatly enjoyed in the past (grrrr…..). Thanks for keeping us motivated when Daylight Savings Time rolls around!

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  4. Drink. Doing a shot before you get on will help you stay warm and loose, though it may lower emotional barriers and you may start crying over a bad ride. Also, there’s the waiting a reasonable amount of time before going home part.

    In all seriousness, though, my best tip is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s all it boils down to for me. Sometimes literally. Sometimes I’ll delay every little thing. Sometimes I’ll sit in my car at the barn looking at the temperature and just wanting to cry. But if I say to myself “all you have to do is take that next step” I get myself on my horse, and by the time I’m in the saddle it’s better.

    If I still feel miserable and tired and cold when I’ve ridden for a few minutes then I give myself permission to do a light ride instead. But I just have to force myself to keep going some nights.

    Granted, I literally just LOLed when you wrote that 63 degrees is brisk, because right now 40 degrees is a heat wave for us, and come January/February it’s going to be double digits below zero for weeks on end. That is a whole different level of wintertime motivation.

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    • Actually, a little bit of sippin’ whiskey before a ride is not totally foreign to me 😉 And yeah, I was kind of joking about the 63F … it’s a bit of a joke in central Texas that if the thermostat drops below 70F it’s time to get out the sweaters. You’re right–you are riding in a whole different level of extreme winter weather that would basically kill me! I don’t know how y’all do it!

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  5. I seriously relate to this in every way possible, esp with the hour commute time! It really does make riding very difficult in the winter (OR EVER), especially since i live up north and it gets FRIGID. I really love how you highlighted that riding is a privilege, so so true & one thing I have to remind myself of constantly.

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  6. Fully agree with all but especially #3! And some nights, when I am grumpy and tired, I just lunge, or let Georgie gallop around. I figure I still get to see her and she still gets out and doesn’t necessarily have to have grumpy me on her back.

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  7. In general, I don’t like riding in winter, especially because of it being dark and not having any lights or an arena to ride in. That being said, my one tip would be to embrace the scenery. One of the things I do enjoy about winter is riding in the snow (also, know your footing). I find it fun to go pushing (or jumping) through snow drifts on a short hack around the property.

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