I love riding in the winter.
The snow absorbs sound, creating an eerie peace interrupted only by the crinkling of branches as the wind blows them together. Hooves crush through the surface of it, leaving prints behind.
The color palate is stark. Trees appear black, the snow white, sky gray.
The wind is either calm or nonexistent, allowing the land to lie still – or wicked and disruptive, biting at cheeks and making the horses blink their eyes fiercely.
The smell, if you can stand to breath in the cold without freezing your lungs, is dry and sweet with frosted earth tones.
The pent up energy inside the horses, created from standing idle when the weather is too harsh to ride, makes them keenly aware of their surroundings. As deer jump into view from behind trees, the horses stop and stare intently, following the bounding creatures with their eyes.
When they disappear, we proceed along the woods that line the snow-covered field. My horse’s thick, wooly-mammoth coat radiates warmth through my snow pants. Their movements are exaggerated as they labor through the snow, lifting each leg purposefully over drifts. Their back rolls from side to side, shoulders and haunches swaying, lifting, pushing.
Swaying, lifting, pushing.
Sometimes they decide that trotting is easier than walking, and jog off in elevated bounds that threaten my grip without a saddle. They might even throw in a quick crow hop or two… or five if it’s Larry.
It reminds me of my favorite poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost:
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.