Winter is not just coming…for those of us in many parts of North America, it is completely, frigidly, and snowily upon us. Any horse person knows that things just get a bit, well, harder when the temp dips below zero. It doesn’t matter what size the manure pile—it all freezes to the ground.
Kendra Gale has been breeding, raising, and training Miniature Horses in Alberta, Canada, for decades, so she’s no stranger to ice in the water trough. Gale is the author of THE BIG BOOK OF MINIATURE HORSES, where she shares sage advice for keeping Miniatures as best suits their equine nature, as well as competing them at the highest levels. Her book is the perfect primer for the horse lover new to Miniatures, or the first-time horse owner, period.
In this segment of TSB’s “Horseworld by the Hour” series, Gale gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to walk a long (but satisfying) day in her winter boots.
6:30 am It’s winter in Alberta, so while I usually get up about now, it’s not the “jump out of bed and get going” it might be on a summer day with lessons or workshops or competitions on the schedule. After all, the sun won’t be up for a couple hours yet!
First priority is, of course, to let my Chihuahua, Clara, out to pee. Depending on the amount of snow or degree of Arctic temperatures, sometimes I’m successful in convincing her, sometimes not. In the summer she spends a lot of the day at the barn with me. In the winter, she opts out of the outdoors as much as possible. To be fair, the snow is sometimes deeper than she is tall!
7:00 am Breakfast and I jump onto the computer for a bit. Check emails, Facebook, and any concerns with my online classroom (www.MiniatureHorsemanship.com). Depending on how it goes, I might get some work done, editing videos or building slideshows, or maybe some writing.
8:00 am The sun starts peeking up between now and 8:30 am this time of year, and I usually wait for it before I head out to start chores. I like being able to see my horses in the daylight. They’re Miniature Horses, and lots of them are black…on days when I have to feed in the dark, I’ve been known to literally trip over them.
Before I go outside, I fill my big pail of hay cubes and senior feed with hot water to make a breakfast of mush for my collection of geriatric Miniature Horses. Then it’s time to layer up to head out—the number of layers is directly proportional to the cold. We have a wide range of winter temperatures here, and it could be above freezing, or it could be 40 below, and those two extremes could be in pretty close proximity to each other. Layers are key!
Image, my blind, one-eyed, 28-year-old, is the first to greet me when I get to the barn, with a hungry nicker and a big “downward dog” stretch. Image, along with Robin (age 27, a retired broodmare) and Valdez (age 29, sire of many of the horses on my farm), spend their nights inside in the winter, and their days, too, in nasty weather. Miniature Horses handle the cold really well, but these old folks do better with some extra spoiling.
With warm mush in their bellies, I head outside to feed the rest of the mush to my pen of slightly-less-old geldings (Knight Rider, 26, Spook, 22, and Paco, 21) and dole out some complete feed for some hard-keepers and the two weanlings, eight-month-old Victor and Vodka.
Next, it’s to the hay stack to collect a couple bales onto my calf sled. Currently I’m feeding about a bale and a half, morning and night, except when it’s colder than -20—then I feed more to help the horses stay warm. I distribute hay to the herd, checking everyone as I go to make sure no one is cold, or sick, or losing weight. I touch each horse every day—that’s 32 miniature equines in total.
The herd. Photo by Kendra Gale.
8:30 am With all the beasties enjoying their breakfast, I love to stop and stand for a moment and enjoy the peace and morning light…unless it’s storming or something.
Next on the list I feed and water my birds. I keep Partridge Chantecler chickens and some mixed-breed ducks that never fail to make me laugh. The birds all do really well in the winter. I check to make sure their heated water dishes are all working and collect any (hopefully not-yet-frozen) eggs.
9:00 am Last week it was -36 and one of my heated, automatic waterers gave up the ghost. Of course, it was the one that the most horses drink from, and with the most run-in sheds in that pasture, I couldn’t move too many horses to other waterers. We got some heated pails to plug in for the herd so they all always had access to that all-important unfrozen water, but it means that next on my to-do list is hauling water: I do about six pails from the hydrant each morning to fill everything up for them.
9:30 am Some days I might head out to teach lessons at a client’s place, or spend the morning working on computer stuff, but today it’s farrier day. I see which horses are due for a trim and bring them into the barn. My farrier comes every two to three weeks and does six Miniatures at a time, which works out to a pretty good rotation. With a little luck, I get them in with enough time to dig the packed snow out of their feet and give them each a quick groom before the farrier arrives.
11:30 am It’s a trickier day for trims—most of the herd is easy, but we’ve got the weanlings on the list today. Victor is perfect, but Vodka used up all his “Good Boy” during treatment for an eye injury earlier this year and is going through a rebellious stage. We’re patient with him and he decides he’ll be a good citizen in the end. The big challenge today is Bentley, my new Miniature Mule: He’s only lived here a few months and is nervous of strangers, especially strangers who want to pick up his feet while holding tools. It takes some time, but it ultimately goes well. The farrier and I are pleased with his progress, and he gets lots of treats for his bravery. Luckily, the other three we trim today are old pros (that’s enough excitement for us for one day). They all get cookies and go back out with their friends to finish their breakfast. At this point, it doesn’t have to be very cold for me to still feel frozen solid—it’s definitely time to get back in the house for a bit!
Clara and Victor. Photo by Kendra Gale.
12:00 pm I grab some lunch (and probably some hot tea!) and get back on the computer for a while. Time to get to work on whatever project I’m working on. Currently, I’m organizing a clinic/conference event, preparing for a clinic I’m teaching up north in a few weeks, and building a webinar and a couple promos for my online classroom.
1:30 pm I’m wrapped up in what I’m working on and would love keep at it, but the sun is shining so I head back outside. Time to clean stalls while the old folks are out enjoying some winter sun. Stall cleaning gets more complicated the colder it gets: frozen poop balls bounce away when they fall off the fork, and at times I take the pee spots out in one big frozen chunk, kind of like clumping cat litter. I also haul more water—another six pails midday (I’ll never take my automatic waterers for granted again after this…)
2:00 pm I want to get Rocky’s tail put back up—he’s my breeding stallion (Victor and Vodka’s daddy) and one of my favorite driving horses. I love his long tail and usually keep it up in a sock to protect it. This fall I let it down during fly season, and then I never got it put up again. After the last big snowfall I was laughing at the funny trail it left in the snow, but I’m sure that was pretty hard on it. Now that the weather has improved I’m going to get it up before the next snow and cold snap is scheduled. I set up my video camera so I can make a quick tutorial of the process for my YouTube channel.
2:30 pm Since I have Rocky in, I set up some of the obstacles for the January online Horse Agility competition. Rocky’s been off for a while, so it’s a good refresher for him. I set up the obstacles inside the barn. My barn is a good-sized tent building so I’m able to squeeze in a full agility course if I’m creative. It’s nice to work in out of the wind, and I’m paranoid about my horses slipping on poor footing outside in the winter. I also never drive in the winter, unless there is no snow or ice at all. Luckily, while driving is my favorite discipline, there are lots of other fun things to do with my Miniature Horses, and agility is one of my preferred wintertime activities.
Rocky with a frosty forelock. Photo by Kendra Gale.
3:00 pm Now I’ve got the obstacles set up, and I let Johnnie in to play. He does his agility at liberty. Johnnie is coming four, and while he’s one of my tiniest in stature at not quite 31 inches, he’s the biggest personality. I don’t dare practice any obstacle too many times, or he gets bored and invents new ways to do them. We work on standing and waiting until I ask him to come toward me, practice his sidepassing, and then move on to something else. Johnnie has been trained using positive reinforcement. I also want to start him in harness, so today I have a sidepull I’m going to use on him—I’ve driven Rocky bitless some, but I’m really looking forward to starting Johnnie bitless right front the start. We practice giving to pressure on the sidepull, first using a target to help him understand. It’s a fun new game for both of us! I’ve got the video camera running again, as one of my online courses is on starting your Miniature Horse in harness, and I want to add the bitless training process to the content. The toughest part with Johnnie is always convincing him to leave when I’m done playing with him…after demonstrating all kinds of skills at liberty, I actually have to put a halter on him to lead him back out to be with his friends!
3:45 pm I’m cold again, so it’s back in for more tea (Earl Grey with milk and a dribble of maple syrup—my friend named it a “Canadian Fog”) and to download my videos onto the computer. I get started on video editing and laugh at Johnnie’s antics. The bloopers are always my favorite, and if I don’t leave them in, I save them for future amusement.
4:45 pm I haven’t quite warmed up, but it’s getting dark, so I’m back out to start the evening chores. I bring in the old folks and and feed everyone just like in the morning. It’s supposed to extra cold overnight, so I give everybody some additional hay to help them stay warm. I turn on a podcast while I work: I like to listen to Horses In The Morning or Star Trek: The Next Conversation.
5:30 pm The sunset over the mountains is my favorite. I often pause my chores to take photos if it’s particularly spectacular.
I give Robin and Image their medication (Cushings medication for both, and anti-inflammatory for Robin) and haul another six or eight pails of water (I really can’t wait til that waterer is fixed…) before I say goodnight to everyone, close up the coops for the night, and head for the house. I check that the security camera is working in the barn—if anything seems amiss, I can see the stalls from my phone. It’s especially handy during foaling season.
Another day done. Photo by Kendra Gale.
6:00 pm It’s back to the house for the evening. A couple times a month I teach a live webinar in the evenings, but most of the time I curl up on the couch with my laptop, enjoying some TV while I keep working away on my current projects. Or I might head over to my grandparents house to watch the game on TV…Go Flames Go!
10:00 pm I let Clara out one last time and we head for bed—a Chihuahua’s favorite time of day!
Kendra Gale’s book THE BIG BOOK OF MINIATURE HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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Be sure to read the other installments in the TSB “Horseworld by the Hour” blog series:
HEATHER SMITH THOMAS
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.