The Rundown: Winter Training

Preparing for a mid-winter horse show isn’t for the faint of heart.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Ah, the wonders of winter and long hair coats. Every horse owner's dream, right? (Photo submitted by AQHA Member Laura Whitney for the 2013 AQHA Calendar)

Sitting in my intro to agriculture class at Texas A&M University some six years ago, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to live in the Texas Panhandle.

Somewhere along the way, however, I must have forgotten what our AGLS 101 guest speaker was trying to convey. You see, at some point I fell in love with the Panhandle and decided to call Amarillo my home. In November, December, January and February, though, I remember those words spoken to my college freshman self.

“Do you know how far down cow (poo) freezes? Thirty-six inches – that’s how far!”

Now, the manager from JBS-Five Rivers Cattle Feeding didn’t say “poo,” but you can fathom a guess at his actual words. And I think he might have been fudging the numbers on the 3 feet part. Truth be told – it’s all the same. It gets pretty darn cold in the northern Texas Panhandle.

Last winter – my first in the Panhandle – I didn’t think too much of the cold. I wrapped my mares in winter blankets, I let them hair up to the state of looking like miniature mammoths and I rode when I could stand to be frozen. They enjoyed a vacation, I enjoyed my furnace – all was well.

But that’s not the case this year.

This year, I’m prepping for the National Reined Cow Horse Association Celebration of Champions. Pretty soon, we’ll hoof it to San Angelo, Texas, for the January 25 - February 2 event – although not literally, because that would be inviting hypothermia.  

Since I didn’t want to be seen with any hillbilly, hairy horses, I got to work back in October with a strict blanketing regimen. Unlucky for me, I don’t have the luxury of locking my little beauties in at night under lights, so you can imagine how fruitless my blanketing undertakings have been. Yet, I did think ahead to put them on a coat supplement, and, my oh my, I do have to say their long hair is looking quite sparkly! Still, I’m not about to show my face at the NRCHA World Show with two horses who look like they traveled from the Arctic Circle.

Not only do my mares get wrapped in blankets, but they don sleezies and hoods – this is hands-down the most pampered these cow ponies have ever been. And because their experience with sleezies has been nil, some days it’s still a battle to get the holes over the correct eyes and ears.

But all of this effort – the sleezying, the supplementing, the blanketing and the coaxing to fight nature – none of it was enough. Alas, a little bit of body clipping was in order.

Learning from Pamela Britton-Baer’s woes in the March 2012 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal, I told myself not to get drunk on clipping.

“It starts out innocently enough. My horse grows some serious jowl-hair, so I think, ‘No problem, I’ll just take a little swipe here,’ ” Pam shared in the “Showing in Winter” edition of her column, Up and Over.
Knowing that Pam is all too-right, I exercised caution … and I used clipper-blade guards.  

I have to say, the blade guards were a nice touch – when they stayed on. One might liken my blade guards to Mexican jumping beans. But that’s OK; only minimal scalping occurred.
Things were going well on that afternoon of clipping; it was sunny, a little above freezing and the wind was only blowing at 10 mph. Needless to say, it was a mild day in the Panhandle. I finished the first horse – the “problem clipper” – with no fuss. Next up was my 11-year-old, Blues Nu Boon. Clipping has always been old hat for “Bunny.” Matter of fact, I recall clipping her at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity when she was 3, sans halter.

So, you can imagine my surprise, as I began clipping her wintry jowl hair, when she squatted down on the ground, looking like the cutting horse she’s bred to be, with a glint of fight or flight in her eye.

What was it? What could have possessed this mild-mannered little horse to drop her belly to the ground and then leap sky high, twisting sideways, before she landed docilely?

Thoughts rushed through my mind – was she done with the stresses of pampering and being a show pony? Was she all too ready to return to broodmare-dom? Did the pile of clipped hair we were standing in come to life as some small animal from hell?

My inner debate came to a halt as Bunny lifted a conquered tumbleweed into the air, vanquishing her foe.

Yes, cow poo may freeze 3 feet down in the Texas Panhandle, but there are some lessons you won’t learn in college …

Like how roving tumbleweeds make for dangerous clipping endeavors.