BY ALLIE CARLSON
My ideal weather is about 65-80. I am NOT really a cold weather, winter person. When my husband told me we were moving to Alaska, I was excited, but not exactly sure how I would survive the winter. I don’t do outdoor winter sports, unless you call fighting ice filled water buckets a winter sport. So how does riding work here in Alaska? Well for me, that’s where snow comes in.
Boarding in Alaska is expensive. Not crazy, but still pretty pricey. For me boarding at a bigger barn with a heated indoor was not in the budget. So I chose a smaller barn, with great turnout options and care for my horse. Luckily, the big barn with the indoor and great trainer is only half a mile away, and there is a really nice trail to get there. I like to pretend I’m headed to the ring at WEF, not slipping my way to a lesson.
But for everyday riding, I make it work with what our conditions are at the barn I board at. Believe it or not, the key to a good ride is SNOW!
In Alaska, if it is not cold enough to snow we get rain, which quickly freezes into an icy mess. The ice then tends to stick around. If it snows we usually get a nice powder, which is perfect for riding in. Lately we have had a lot of rain.
When it’s icier, I carefully pick a not slippery place to ride. Depending on the size and footing, sometimes my rides are just a lot of walk work and lateral work. When the footing is better I am able to do more trot and canter work, which my horse really likes and needs to keep his brain happy and engaged.
Daylight is also a consideration this time of year. The sun comes up around 9:30/10am and sets around 4pm. By winter solstice that will be more like 10:30/11am sunrise and 3pm sunset. To combat that issue, I get up early to work with my Plaid Horse teammates for an East Coast 9am-5pm (5am to 1pm here). This gives me the chance to ride with some light left and work with people and make phone calls when they will be working. It’s a good thing I’m a morning person!
On lesson days I tack up and (usually due to ice) hand walk over to my trainer’s barn, Eaton Equestrian Centre. Eaton is run by two sisters, Dana, my trainer, and her sister, Britta. There they have a heated indoor with fantastic rubber footing, so we get one day a week of a little harder work. Right now we are really focusing on more flatwork and different lateral exercises that I can then work on even when my footing might not be perfect at home.
Dana has told me that one of the both good and bad things about having horses up here is that we don’t have the resources people in the “lower 48” have. We can’t just easily get a new horse because ours isn’t prefect. We don’t have easy access to chiropractors or sports medicine vets. We have to learn to ride better to make up for the imperfections and strengthen the weaknesses we have as riders, and in our horses.
My horse, Wyatt, is far from perfect, but he’s making amazing changes with this new mentality. Dana also has pointed out that the winter makes it so we can’t be riding and jumping all the time — it simply isn’t an option here. What we do instead is really hone in on our flatwork, something Wyatt and I really needed.
Riding in the winter in Alaska definitely comes with its challenges. This week’s to do list includes getting Wyatt’s Cavallo boots studded at the local running store for more traction on our walks to our lessons, something that probably sounds pretty foreign to those who haven’t tried to ride here, or other places that are extremely icy in the winter. As temperatures get colder, days get shorter and we get more snow, I will fill you in more on what new challenges I discover riding through my first winter in Alaska.