Will The Real Santa Please Stand Up?

Before there was Santa Claus, there were Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas.  And, before there were reindeer, these holiday gift-givers rode horses.

sleipner-christmas-horsePrior to Christianity, people celebrated a midwinter event called Yule (the Winter Solstice). During this period, supernatural and ghostly occurrences were increased, such the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky. The leader of the wild hunt is usually the god Odin, usually seen with a long white beard. He is also known by the Old Norse names Jólnir, meaning “yule figure” and the name Langbarðr, meaning “long-beard.”  Odin rode his gray “horse” (the eight-footed steed called Sleipnir) on nightly rides and visiting people with gifts.  Years later, Odin’s white beard became part of the new Santa Claus, his blue robe was changed to red, and his eight-footed grey horse became eight reindeer!

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Santa Claus is called “Sinterklaas” and the holiday for giving gifts is December 6th. He traditionally rides the rooftops on a white horse, known by various names.  Sinterklass is an elderly, stately and serious man (unlike our jolly Santa Clause) but does have the traditional white hair and a long, full beard. Also like Santa, he wears a long red cape and a red hat, but holds a long, gold-colored ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. sinterklass

To keep track of who should receive presents, Sinterklass notes writes on all the children in a book – the start of the legend of Santa’s list of who was naughty or nice. Sinterklass’ was a friend to all, especially the poor.  His solution to helping the poor was by putting money in their shoes – this later evolved with Santa Claus into giving presents.

After going into hiding for a few centuries during the Reformation when public celebrations were banned, Sinterklass returned to ride over roof tops and deliver presents through chimneys to good girls and boys – but now his horse was grey.  Either people realized that whites often turned grey as they age or riding over all those roof tops turned the horse darker, but you’ll either hear Sinterklass has a white or gray horse.  Children leave a carrot, apple and/or hay as a treat for Sinterklaas’ horse.

The first known written account of reindeer in association with the legend of Santa Claus occurred in 1821 by William Gilley.  According to Mr. Gilley, the area where Santa Clause lived was far north near the Arctic.  There a series of animals exist that have hooves and antlers and otherwise resemble reindeer.  These animals are feared and honored.  Mr. Gilley claimed that his mother, an Indian from the area, told him when he was young that these animals could fly.

So to be sure you get what you want for Christmas, make sure you write to Santa Claus AND Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas – just to cover all the bases.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Classic Equine Equipment!

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Warm Up Your Horse To Prevent Winter Injuries

stretchingfront-prachorsemanWhether you’re a competitive rider or just go out for the occasional trail ride, warming up your horse before riding can help prevent injuries later.  Pre-ride safety can start even before you get on.  If you are working in an arena, check the area for holes that need to be filled or big rocks that can cause your horse to stumble.  When grooming your horse, make sure there are no cuts or loose shoes or other indications that your horse isn’t 100%.  Finally, when tacking up, make sure that your tack doesn’t have any weak areas, such as stirrup leathers or the throatlatch that can break while you’re riding.

Once you’re on your horse, you’re probably like many riders who don’t really have a warm up plan but just amble around the arena.  Or you’re eager to get on the trail and figure you’ll warm up as you go.  But to really make sure your horse is warmed up on both sides, at all gaits and is listening to you, you should take a systematic approach to your warm-up to ensure that your horse is really ready to go.

Warm up gradually and thoroughly, making sure you stretch and supple your horse on both sides.  Check that your horse is listening to you and your aids.  Keeping him moving will help not only help warm him up, but will help keep his focus on you as you start asking more or take off down the trail. With a systematized warm-up, you’ll know when your horse is ready to go, while if you just wander around, you can never be sure.

Start with five minutes of walking and put your horse on a 20m circle.  Always work your horse’s easier side (and they all have one) first.  Make sure he is bending around your leg to make a true circle.  While you are walking, do some stretching of your own and/or check your riding position.  You can change direction through the circle (making a figure 8) to work the other side.  Make sure you do the same sequence at the walk on each side.

Move on to 10 minutes of trotting.  Always start with a posting trot to let your horse’s back warm up as well.  At first, use the whole arena and encourage your horse to trot out down the long side or across the arena.  Later, you can put him on a 20 meter circle and start asking for him to come on the bit.  You can also start adding some canter work once your horse is on the bit, relaxed and listening to you.  Once you are cantering smoothly, work on transitions – canter to trot, trot to walk, walk to canter, etc.  Change rein often to make sure you are working both sides of your horse. 

shoulder-in-prachorsemanFinally, add in some additional bending exercises like leg yields and shoulder in.  This is a great test to see if you and your horse have it all together.  By the end of this warm-up, you should be able to feel your horse moving from behind, that he is relaxed through the back and soft in both reins.

At the end of your ride, don’t forget to cool down your horse as well.  Most of this can be done riding at the walk on a long rein.  But you may also want to add some easy bending exercises like let yielding to stretch out those muscles after a hard workout.  As always, make sure your horse is no longer sweating before you finish your ride.

Like athletes or dancers who stretch both before and after a workout, warming up/cooling down your horse each time you ride is essential to his well being.

Photo credit: Practical Horseman

 

A Few of My Favorite (Winter) Things

horse-and-barn-in-snow_stablemanagementIf you own or manage a barn, over the years you’ve come up against some challenges in doing so in winter.  Me, too.  I’ve put together a list of some of the things I’ve discovered over the years that have made my job a bit easier.

Stall mats – My favorite multi-use tool.  However, in the winter, in addition to keeping your horse off a cold concrete floor, these are great to as anti-slip walkways to the barn.  They are also indispensable for helping to keep mud from forming around barn or stall door openings.  Outdoor water troughs often become churned up and muddy -when the mud freezes, it becomes a landmine for your horse to walk over.  This helps protect him from taking a bad step on frozen mud.

Water heaters – Horses need about 10 gallons of water daily. While the optimal temperature for adequate water consumption is between 45 and 650 F, most times it more of mater of just having water instead of ice!  Heated water buckets can help with that.  Classic Equine has automatic water options for both inside and outside use.  Both come with a heater option.

 For those of you without an automatic water system, there are heated water buckets that work great.  Plug them in and the heated coils in the partitioned bottom of the bucket keep water ice-free.    If your horses use a stock tank for water, a stock tank deicer is another great option to eliminate ice.  While neither may bring the temperature up to “warm,” both are excellent at keeping ice from forming. For those bigger warm water jobs, there are portable hot water heaters. 

white-horse-with-feederAutomatic Feeders – Unpredictable winter weather can sometimes make it difficult to get to the barn at exact times to feed.  And you know what your horses can do to your stall doors if the grain isn’t delivered on time!  If you aren’t able (or don’t want to) get out to the barn to grain your horse, this may be an option. The iFeed system is an automatic grain feeding system that allows you to set up one or several stalls on whatever schedule you want to deliver grain. 

wash-bay-heaterWash Bay Heaters – this went from being a luxury to a necessity when the winters started getting colder and snowier over the last few years.  Great for both clipped and unclipped horses.  If you don’t clip, the heated lights can help dry out your sweaty horse before blanketing.  If you clip, the heated lights can keep your horse warm during the time between grooming and putting on his blanket.  Also great for riders, trainers or spectators who are frozen from too long in the arena.

Auto lights – Let’s face it: even though you know every inch of your barn, there’s still something scary about going into a totally dark barn before you hit the lights.  I like the old-fashioned automatic lights that go on an off at set times and illuminate my way to the horses.  Or you can go high tech with new smart products like Amazon’s Echo.  With Echo, you plug your lights into a special socket and then you program your phone to not only tell it when to turn the lights on or off, but you can check to see if you actually remembered to turn them off.

Good winter clothes – no one knows cold like the people who live in Maine.  There are a lot of good winter apparel companies, some specifically for horse people (though most of them are geared for riding), but by far L.L.Bean has the best assortment of warm weather clothes – from undergarments to hats rain/snow boots.  And they are all guaranteed with easy return.  Wear it all winter.  Didn’t like how it performed?  LL Bean will take it back for an exchange or refund.  For any reason.   During winter months, water should be kept between 45 to 65°F to maximize consumption. 

Please note that, except for Classic Equine Equipment, we don’t promote the listed brands of equipment.  They are only the ones I have used with success.

With Christmas still more than a week away, there’s still time for you to ask Santa for one of these winter helpers. It can help you get the best present of all – more time riding!