Winter is tricky. Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just clickbait Facebook scrolling fodder, it is real. Winter is SAD.
Here in north eastern Europe, the realities of winter are particularly gruesome. Global warming seems to be slowly denying Poles the harsh winters of yesteryear. If we get days of below -10 they do not seem to last for very long. Whereas in decades past, it was acceptable to have week in week out -20 or similar.
This has not really made a horse life easier. Yes; it might be a bit warmer, but it is also a lot wetter. The good thing about snow is that things are sort of ‘dry’, and the ground is firm. One can ride out in snow without too many problems.
Mud. It is hard to describe how much I hate mud. I really, really hate it. When I get my hands on my own bit of land, I do not care how much work or money it takes, I will eliminate mud at least from all major traffic or standing zones for the horses and the people. I don’t expect to eliminate it entirely, especially on small parcels of land. But mitigating its presence on all functional spaces is a serious priority for me, I don’t care how many tonnes of pea gravel that takes!
Mud comes when the ground is degraded to the point that it loses its ability to control water content and hold itself together. Some area’s of ground will deal with water better than others, but all ground, if subjected to enough stress, will eventually succumb to mud. Just like the earth, some people stand up to winter better and some stand up to it worse.
And it is now February, which is officially the hardest month to get through, in my opinion. And I almost immediately noticed the changes.
People are heavier. People are sadder. Just like the ground after heavy rain and trampling, horse people in particular are up against it and their energies can get muddy. In working with horses you must inevitably work with people, and I have noticed the change. A lot like mud, if you don’t want to get beaten down and succumb to the sadness of winter, you got to be smart and avoid situations and predicaments which expose you to harsh conditions. If that means going to the stable earlier or later than you would like, so be it. If it means not going to stable at all, so long as your horse is taken care of, so be it. If that means saying no to things you used to say yes to and vise versa, so be it. Self care is the priority.
People are heavy with the darkness, the gloom, the hard conditions, short days and long nights. Our body clocks are screaming at us to hide, hole up and hibernate, but our rising bills and expense recovery from Christmas holidays forces us out into the world, into traffic and heavily air conditioned work places. It only serves to put people on edge, and feel a base line of stress and trouble. Our immune systems are in constant assault from the elements and increased contact with pathogens from confined spaces. The world is a smaller, darker, harder place. The horses too. So many of them are frustrated. They are out in these hellish conditions all day, or cooped up and deprived of stimulus when not. The horses get frustrated too.
I have had it easier than some. I was born in a sunny country and although Melbourne winters can be cold, it is nothing like this, which is like Melbourne winter gloom on steriods, after an espresso. It is rather shocking and powerful. Still, I find this time of the year very tricky. Every February, when my head is swirling with winter chaos, I look up at the clouds and say to myself… ‘It is February’, just to remind myself to not take how I feel right now too seriously. It is so hard to lose oneself in the quagmire of winter.
But if I compare how I feel now, to how I felt last winter, I am really grateful with the difference. So far, I am much happier, healthier and finding it better to get from day to day. I am not without troubles or stresses, but unexpected trouble in my environment doesn’t send me into a tail spin very much, if at all. I know I am burnt out when I lose the ability to roll with the punches. And if you choose to be an Australian living in Poland running an equestrian business with a niche ethos and unique placement, you can be very confident that the punches will come thick and fast, especially in the winter. But so far, I am rolling with them. If something unpleasant shows up, after that first moment of ‘Oh god why?’, I am very quickly getting to a place of ‘Thank you’. I smile and ask myself, ‘What is this here to teach me?’.
As always, I let my horse be my safe place. Being with him and working with him brings me such joy. His name could not be any better, Sanson, an old Spanish name meaning Son of the Sun. He is like my little fluffy, fatty portable Spanish sunset. Beautiful and confronting and grand and warming and reminding you to be grateful and happy and present and positive. It is the sun I miss most, and the blue sky. I hate the mud most and miss the sun most. Today, driving through the bleak colourless forest, I saw the outline of the sun through a haze of cloud, and a little bit higher up, a few wispy streaks of pale, watery blue. It was enough to make me smile. I missed it.
Staying positive. It is something you gotta work at. It is a full time job, staying Winter Positive. It would be so much easier, to get drawn into the chaos and let it take you over. Even if it means being an island in a tempest, you have got to stay positive.
I am seeing too much of it. People who are good, kind and loving souls, who have succumbed to the heaviness of the season. Usually walking into things bright eyed and bushy tailed, they now walk with head bowed and have sadness behind their eyes. It is sad. Others might seem to be coping well, but then make a blunder out of character, something thoughtless or stupid, simply from not being all together with it. Under the normal set of circumstances, the locals here will be with these winters for the rest of their lifetime, and nobody has discovered a system, yet, to fight this or beat it? Some type of social awareness campaign to mitigate the damage and keep people going through these hard times, until spring comes?
I have to get a running start at winter. Otherwise I am just a mess. I have to let myself rest when I need it but be able to distinguish rest from hibernation and snap myself out of it. I gotta remember sunnier times, good moments and hunt for people who feel the same!
It can be chaotic. Imagine a busy stable in winter during ‘peak’ hour. Throw in conflicting training ideals, a couple of sick horses, over worked and understaffed managers and more than a large language barrier, you can imagine the type of situations I come across. But in all moments I am trying to remember what I am doing this for. Sanson; Son of the sun, my southern horse with the sun in his bones, come hell or high water or MUD, I am doing all of this for him. Because in order to help Sanson I have to help myself first. And for that I am endlessly grateful.