The first real cold snap of winter is here. The thermometer reads a steady -14°C (7°F), never budging throughout the short January day. The sky is white and flat, a featureless backdrop for the pine trees and bare-branched maples. Snow sifts down in a fine white powder that builds across the top of Larry’s heavy turnout blanket, and squeaks under my boots. It’s hibernation weather; instinct urges me to find a toasty corner, hunker down with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book.
But duty and addiction have landed me at the barn. Larry needs to be exercised.
It takes a lot of clothes to stay warm during a cold snap. The secret is layers. For the upper body: merino wool base layer, polar fleece sweater, down jacket, down coat over top of the down jacket (to be taken off when riding), tuque (to be replaced with a riding helmet when riding). For the lower body: thin ankle socks, knee socks, leggings, soft-shell winter riding breeches, mukluks (to be replaced by paddock boots and half-chaps when riding). I feel like the Michelin Man – er, Person – when I’m all kitted out like this.
But it still wouldn’t be enough without my ultimate secret weapon: electric gloves. Without them, ten minutes of arena time turn my fingers into painful, frozen sausages. Soon, the rest of me is cold too, no matter how many layers I’m wearing. If I’m riding, Larry is quick to tell me that my performance has become unacceptable. He sticks his head in the air and puts on a convincing show of being ridden by a beginner. When this happens, I’ve learned to bow to his judgment and forego the heroics of making it through the list of exercises.
But with electric gloves – warm hands, warm everything else! Equipped with rechargeable batteries, these marvellous inventions have three heat settings, and make it possible for me to ride or lunge Larry whatever the temperature. At -2°C, they keep the ‘damp cold’ from seeping into my bones, and at -14°C, the cold snap loses its power.
Today is a lungeing day for Larry. Picture us in the arena: me in all my layers, the electric gloves cooking away on ‘high’. Larry in nothing but his birthday suit. I get him trotting without delay so he stays warm. We’ll make this session short, I promise him. Fifteen minutes, and then I’ll blanket you back up, and you can go back outside to eat hay with your buddies.
Larry has other ideas. Apparently he doesn’t need electric-anything in this cold. He just needs to take control of the workout. What’s that noise outside the arena? He explodes into a race-horse gallop, speeding around me at the end of the lunge line, hoofs kicking up clods of footing, eyes white-rimmed. Eventually he slows to a trot and I see how magnificent my little brown Thoroughbred can be. He arches his neck, his steps are springy and his back swings, his hindquarters seem to brim with power. Even though I’m getting dizzy from pivoting around with him, and I’m struggling not to let all his snorting rattle me, I’m thrilled. Despite all the worries about his kissing spine and neck arthritis, he can do this! Where’s a camera when I need it?
Like the good boy that he is, he soon listens to my crooning ‘waaaaaalk’ command. And to bolster my ego, he trots and canters again under perfect control – looking like a star.
Apparently there’s magic in them thar cold snaps.
And in electric gloves.