It’s happened: those melodramatic Weather Channel headlines (ARCTIC COLD FRONT GRIPS MIDWEST AND NORTHEAST!!! MILLIONS BRACE FOR IMPACT!!) have actually come true. Your WTForecast app reads “-4 degrees, the cold is proof that either Mother Nature hates you, or the Earth is too far from the sun.” But you’ve got horses to take care of, whether they are your own at home, or, if you’re like me, a barn full of your boarders’ wimpy OTTBs, so out into the frozen tundra you go.
One day of this you can handle, no problem. Two, and it starts to get tiresome. But as a former psychotherapist, I can assure you that, when the cold snap begins to enter its third straight day, you will start to go through the Five Stages of Grief. I’m here to reassure you that these stages are completely normal, and you WILL get through them.
Stage 1: Denial
This stage starts before the cold has actually hit. You’re hearing forecasts, the weather guy is using that gleefully dire tone of voice, but you think, “It won’t be that bad. We’ve gone through this a zillion times. So I won’t ride for a couple of days; it’s only December, it’s not the end of the world. I can actually read that book I got for Christmas.” You stock up on hand and toe warmers and pull out your mittens instead of your gloves, but for the most part, you go on about your merry way.
Stage 2: Badass
Badass is everyone’s favorite stage. It’s the first day or two, and it’s below zero when you wake up in the morning, but you’ve got plenty of energy and you’re ready to go. You dress up like the little brother in A Christmas Story and laugh as one of the horses treats you like a masked monster. You lug hot water buckets, break ice out of troughs, thaw out pipes with your hair dryer, then use it on your fingers when they go numb. You complain on Facebook, but cheerfully, and laugh with your friends at how people in the south have to deal with snakes and spiders and other nasties, and you’ll take the cold any day. You’re an eventer, you’re a total badass–it takes a lot more than a couple of cold days to stop you!
Stage 3: Faltering
Now this s$!t is starting to get serious. Your shoulders ache from hauling hot water and breaking ice out of buckets. The air hurts your face. It takes less than 10 minutes for your fingers to freeze, and they feel like they’re being jabbed with 16 gauge needles when they start to warm up. The horses are fine, preferring to stand out in the -20 degree wind chill than in their nice snug stalls filled with fluffy shavings and piles of hay. You’re starting to resent them. Your family is getting irritated because you spend 20 or more minutes in the shower when you finish chores, and they complain that you’re getting cranky because you haven’t ridden in days. Your partner catches you sitting in front of the computer with a bottle of wine, looking at southern real estate listings on Zillow.
Stage 4: Despair
You can’t take this anymore. You look at the thermometer and nearly burst into tears when you see it’s still below zero at noon. You might or might not have hurled the rubber mallet across the driveway into a snowbank after breaking through two inches of ice in the troughs this morning. The cheerful bitching on Facebook has turned into a collective keening wail, and you are all starting to make snarky comments when your friends in Aiken and Ocala post their photos of the Holiday Horse Show or their annoying “between the ears” shots of hacking in t- shirts in the bright sunshine. You start to secretly but actively hate those people. You forgot to plug in the diesel truck last night (too busy worrying about frozen pipes at the barn) and now the damn thing won’t start. You have eaten every last Christmas cookie and piece of candy in the house and tack room, even those awful drug store chocolates that someone brought to the barn because no one at their house would eat them. The dogs, normally in a frenzy to go to the barn with you, look up from their cozy group snuggle on the couch as if to say, “No thanks, Mom, we’re all good here.” You fume at their disloyalty. You can hear your family members whispering behind your back; when you walk into the room, they stop talking and all have guilty expressions on their faces. You look at the lovely photos on the living room wall, the ones of you and your heart horse jumping cross country, and wonder if it was all a dream, or if it actually happened to someone else; those days feel like they were a million years ago. You email a real estate agent about a cute little property in Ocala with a four-stall barn and a pool.
DEAR EQUESTRIANS, LISTEN TO ME: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE ANY MAJOR LIFE OR FINANCIAL DECISIONS DURING THE DESPAIR STAGE. Do not put your house on the market, quit your job, or announce to your family that you are moving to the equator. Do not buy real estate sight unseen. Buy a plane ticket to the Caribbean if you can, but otherwise, give your credit cards to a trusted friend and go sit in front of the fireplace with your beverage of choice. If it’s 9 am and there’s bourbon involved, we promise not to judge—you’re in the throes of the despair stage, after all. You think you’re perfectly rational at this point, but trust me, you’re a wreck, and you are likely to regret any decision you’ve made at this point in the process.
Stage 5: Recovery
Take heart: you will get here. I promise. Every cold snap ends, no matter how brutal it is. Someday soon, you will wake up and your WTForecast app will cheerfully tell you that it’s double digits above zero, and you will do a happy dance. Slowly but surely, your hostility toward your southern friends will recede back into a healthy level of envy. You’ll find water in your horse’s bucket in the morning instead of an iceberg, and riding will start to sound appealing again. You’ll get dressed for chores and you will be able to bend your elbows. Your fingertips will return to a healthy shade of pink instead of ghostly white. There is hope, dear eventers: this too shall pass, and because we’re a bunch of badass crazy horse people, we will survive it!!