In which we describe how horse people can survive the Swamp in Winter

After asking in my last post what types of things y'all want to read, I learned that the "how-to" and "list" posts are good and useful.  So, here's one of those.  It's written for horse-people, but a lot of the suggestions will work for normal humans also.

(If you want a different kind of post, or want to "ditto" what others have said, you can leave comments on FB or in the comment box HERE

Keeping a horse--and a horse person--happy and healthy during a Swampland Winter
is a unique challenge.

It's not just the rain.  

This photo was taken around noon in December

It's the rain + mud + clammy air + grey skies + lack of natural color + short days and longs nights + a million other things.

This doesn't mean the Swamp is a terrible place to be in Winter. 

I admit that it's a lot nicer to be here in Spring, Summer and Fall.  But still, Winter doesn't have to completely suck.  

Let me offer some helpful advice for friends and family who are coming here from Sunnier Climes.  

"Planning ahead" doesn't have to mean stacking firewood, especially if you move to a place that doesn't depend on a woodstove for heat.  

That said, if you have the option to use a woodstove, use it.  Wood heat is the best to truly warm your body all the way through.

We put in 3-4 cords of firewood each fall, and usually have a bit left over in spring

Horse people:  it seems obvious (to me) that hay should be purchased each summer to last the entire winter.  But maybe it's not obvious, so I guess I'll say it:

Buy your hay in July/August, get it stacked and stored and covered before the rains start. Hay absolutely does not get cheaper or easier to find in February.

If you are lucky, you will have a strong young friend like Henry
to buck the hay into your barn for you.

Make sure you have bedding pellets or straw or whatever you use in stalls also.  Not because these things are difficult to find in December, but because nobody wants to move that stuff around in the pouring rain!

Planning ahead for winter in the Swamp means making sure you've got what you need, too. 

Know that there will be days when you will look out the window and cancel all your plans.

Make yourself a stack of pre-planned happiness:  a few books to look forward to reading (or re-reading), a packet of tea that's a fancier than your daily brew, a set of paint brushes or knitting needles, or baking ingredients or whatever makes your eyes sparkle.  

If you live with other people, make sure they have stuff too. They might not choose to use their happiness cache on the same day as you, which is fine.  

I'm gonna say that again, but louder: 


Do not wait for the sun to come out--it honestly sometimes doesn't come out for more than a month.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not even exaggerating.

The sun does, however, come up every day, and that needs to be good enough.

Spend at least an hour out-of-doors each day.  Rain isn't toxic.  In fact, the rain is often so misty that you can spend hours in it without feeling drenched.  

Get your hour of outside-time in 5-minute increments if you must.  

Go out and wallow for an hour or more if you don't mind it.  

Just go outside!  Poke around the garden, walk a fence line, do laps around your neighborhood.  

And when the sun does come out, get out in it!  

"Sun breaks" are a real thing here.

It's okay to sleep a lot in winter.  

It's dark out--do not try to convince yourself that "day" is 12 hours long and "night" is also 12 hours long.  That might work in equatorial regions, but it doesn't make sense here.  Around Thanksgiving, our day length drops below 9 hours, and that's still a month before Solstice, when day length is less than 8.5 hours.

Embrace the darkness!  Give yourself permission to sleep late, take naps, and do drowsy things sometimes:  watch cartoons all afternoon, bake cookies, read a fat novel, video-call somebody and chat about nothing.  

Avoid excessive time online, especially on social media.  Nobody needs that sort of extra darkness, especially in winter!  Give yourself a reasonable online limit and stick to it.

Tour the trailheads, beaches, or bike paths solo or with a friend.  Join a tidepool class, or a dog-training class.  

Downhill skiing or snowboarding is a great choice, and so is snowshoeing--though with luck (and a bit of climate change), the sn*w mostly will stay in the mountains where it belongs and you won't need special equipment to get to the mailbox and back in winter.

Learn to forage mushrooms, or practice photographing trees.  Read the bulletin board outside the local food co-op or REI for inspiration.  

And of course, RIDE YOUR HORSE.  Winter is a great time to take lessons (especially if you can ride in a covered arena), but I also ride trails whenever possible.  When riding trails in winter, give your horse (and yourself) time to learn to navigate in mud.  It's easy to lose shoes or injure tendons by rushing through deep mud, and that truly sucks.  Slow down, the trail ahead will wait.

There are no deadlines for riding in winter, so you can take whatever time it takes to teach your horse a trick, or concentrate on a skill for yourself.  


The wintertime version of the Backyard Scramble includes jam made from our own berries,
and a much larger cup of tea.

Geoducks are delicious.  All fish is good, but Copper River salmon is sublime.  If they offer you lobster, leave (we don't have lobsters here).

Hold out for Honeycrisp apples, unless somebody offers you an Opal, or a Pink Lady.  Galas are worthwhile.  Red Delicious is what we feed to animals, and Transparents are only good for applesauce. Local apples are worth several blog posts devoted only to apples, so don't just grab whatever you used to buy in the grocery stores before moving here.  Branch out!  (see what I did there?)

The best part about eating local cuisine is that you will be surrounded by other locals.  Soon enough, you may find the webbing between your toes start to fill in: a sure sign of acclimatization.


At our latitude, the sunlight is too weak to give you enough UVB to generate sufficient Vitamin D.  (science!

Supplement your Vitamin D intake all year, and double (or triple) your supplements in winter.  Check with your doctors about appropriate supplementation for kiddos.  

Many adults here also need supplements of Vitamin A and B.  Check with your doc, and take your vitamins.  


Wool socks, comfortable mid-layers, and Goretex over the top of everything.  

Waterproof barn boots and a Goretex raincoat over...pajamas.

Seattle has carved itself a niche in the world of fashion as one of the perennially worst-dressed cities in America.  Local lore says (proudly!) that when GQ Magazine came here to identify the "best dressed man in Seattle" they found a tourist and took photos of him.  

Regional natives pretty much believe that if clothing isn't practical to wear up the side of a mountain, we don't wear it to the grocery store, either.  

You can put a warm layer under or over a helmet.  Or both.

Layers of clothing is the secret to comfort in Winter.  Flop around in flannel, slip into silk, hunker into chunky wool, allow polarfleece to permeate, feel the smugness that is Goretex to guard it all.  It isn't always cold here, and buildings are often kept very warm, so dress in layers so you can add or subtract clothes as needed.  

Horse people, please note:  waterproof rubber boots.  You can spend a bundle and get the cute ones, or go to the feed store and spend less than $20.  You will not be happy without waterproof boots.

There are several schools of thoughts on the topic of headgear.  Hat?  Hood?  Toque?  Suite yourself.

If you're smart enough to read this blog, you already wear a helmet while mounted.

The only ironclad rule is the one against umbrellas.  Only tourists use them.  

You might find somebody carrying an umbrella who claims to have lived here for years.  Posers like that are just passing through.  Eventually, they will leave, and we wish them well.  

When you're the new kid in town, you might not know many people, and the "Seattle Chill" is a known thing:  we are not, as a group, a demonstrative and welcoming crowd.

Having a horse can help with this!  Learn the names of the staff at the feed store, talk to people at trailheads, ask questions and ask for help from people who are not carrying umbrellas.  Meeting locals IRL that you've "known" online for a long time is also a good bet.  

I find that asking for help (even if you don't need or intend to take the advice) is a great way to get strangers to talk with you in friendly ways.  


Gravel really should come in a subscription service

There's no such thing as "too much gravel."  

Your paddocks will need it, your driveway will need it.  Pathways need gravel.  That space around the mailbox probably needs gravel.  


I used to believe that people who vacationed in southern regions for a week--or three months--were sissies.

I was wrong about that.

Don't feel shy about leaving the northern climes in winter.  Go someplace with more sun, if only for a little while.  Light boxes are terrific, and really helpful for those of us on a tight budget, but real sunlight is the best.  Go somewhere that citrus grows outdoors, bask a bit, and then come home.

It is always sweet to come home

QUESTIONS?  The box is open!


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