Sunday, April 13, 2014


Escape from Winter                                                                 

Originally published in Horse Directory, May, 2014
By Tom Gumbrecht

It felt like something of a shock to the system: that first ride of the season after an unusually
The snow seemed endless and was our sole focus
for weeks on end
severe and repressively long winter, mercifully interrupted by a teasing, late spring.

It had been many months since I had climbed into the saddle, many months of non-stop mucking of stalls, chopping ice from feet, endless plowing and shoveling of snow, and thawing pipes that were electrically heated but froze anyway.  Chipping away at sheets of ice so that the cart could get the manure to the dumpster and the manure truck could take it away. Digging out gates, multiple blanket changes, pulling icicles from manes and huge electric bills to get water in front of the horses and keep it from freezing.

Now, I am one of those people who can honestly say that I have never minded walking down to the barn to take care of my horses, but I will admit that I came close this winter.  Not that I wanted to skip caring for them, but fighting a fever and chills, bracing each step against the wind while shielding my face from cutting shards of ice and blowing snow, feeling the thousand knives of crystallized breath inside my nostrils …. I did think, once or twice, “Can someone please come and do this for me, just tonight?”

Then the barn door opens and the air is filled with welcoming nickers and the comforting relative warmth of the hay-fueled, hooved, barn heating system.  The horses know that it’s cold, but they
A few moments recalling the racetrack on the longeline
make for a more productive first ride
place no value judgment on it.  It’s not horribly cold; it’s just cold.

The first few warmer days are a cruel tease; a little thawing of the arena footing followed by more snow and freezing temperatures.  But one afternoon the arena looks perfect, the sweatshirt comes off, the shirtsleeves get rolled up, and…. It is time.  I still second-guess myself after a winter’s hiatus from riding.  Can I still do it? Can my recently senior-citizen qualified body still take it?  I really only wonder about such things when I’m not actually on my horse; when idle periods let thoughts of “what if?” permeate my generally positive resolve.   

Fifteen minutes on a longeline dull Lola’s memories of the racetrack and I am awestruck once again at the poetry of a Thoroughbred horse in motion.  Then a boot finds an iron, a leg swings over a horse and everything finds its familiar place. Reins fall perfectly into place between gloved fingers.  Boots fall into irons at the right depth and angle, all by themselves.  I feel tall, physically and spiritually.  We walk the freshly groomed arena and get comfortable with all of the sensations again.  The rhythm of the rising trot takes hold, her ears go forward and the partnership has been renewed for another season.  I wasn’t going to canter but we both silently agreed to alter that plan. A slight leg pressure behind the girth and we take wing.  I love where I am, and I love who I am here with.  I love who I am when I am one with my horse. 
The  girls enjoy a long awaited spring day.

Spring is a time of renewal and I am again renewed.  More accurately, perhaps, I am born anew.  Why is this so?  Perhaps, as expressed in the words of horsewoman/ writer Pam Brown,

“A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and has the capability of lending escape from our mundane existence.”

This winter, we existed.  This spring, we soar…

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