As she shuttered the stable doors, Cynthia Turecki suggested that there is no holiday for horses.
Pausing for a moment, Turecki – co-director of Courtesy Stable in Andorra – considered the precision of her statement.
“Actually, there’s no holiday from horses,” she clarified, “because every day with horses is a holiday.”
While many Philadelphians spend their holidays waking and walking in veritable winter wonderlands, many occupations are exempt from time off. The obligations of many of those jobs are aggravated by cold weather and other inclement conditions.
For the staff at Courtesy Stable, Christmas, New Years’ and everything in between is just another day at the barn and winter is simply a season with its own unique challenges.
The mucker checks in
As she has most weekdays since early December, Lauren Rogers arrives at Courtesy shortly before 8:30 a.m. She is filling in for Walt Sasse, the barn manager who recently underwent hip replacement surgery. Despite a good prognosis, he is not expected back to work before the end of January.
Rogers, a resident of Andorra, has the ignominious title of “mucker” – one who, among other tasks, cleans out the horses stalls. As she unlocks the doors to the stables, there’s a palpable sense of enthusiasm coming from the several horses inside.
“They’re excited to get fed,” she observes as she distributes feed pellets via repurposed coffee containers to troughs located in each stall.
As the horses begin to eat, noisy exuberance gives way to the quiet-but-hypnotic rhythm of their chewing. It is during this lull that Rogers points out that most of the horses are without coats.
“They don’t need coats unless there is rain or snow or unless the temperature is under 30 degrees,” she says. As for the crisp morning air, she adds, “The horses love it.”
Horses in winter
“The horses like cold weather better,” suggests Cynthia Turecki, noting that horses can tolerate most climate conditions.
For the winter months, the horses’ adaptive processes allow them to shed their thin summer coats for heavier winter coats, a practice that is initiated, according to Turecki, by the reduction in daylight hours.
In fact, horses can endure temperatures up to 20 degrees below zero, she says.
“It’s OK for them to be cold,” surmises Turecki. “They’re outdoor creatures.”
However, winter isn’t without its challenges for horse owners.
“Honestly, we’re more worried about the pipes than horses,” explains Turecki.
Freezing water is a major concern during the colder months. If pipes burst inside the barn, significant clean-up and replacement costs would be compounded by the fact that it endangers the horses’ well-being.
“It’s OK for them to be wet,” says Turecki, “but they can’t be cold and wet. Their muscles can seize up.”
To prevent this, the staff at Courtesy Stables is scrupulous about draining hoses and making sure hose fittings and connections are dry, in addition to sealing all barn doors. Plus, the outdoor water troughs are heated electrically to keep the water at drinkable temperatures.
“All the little kids want a pony”
Winter isn’t all toil at Courtesy Stables. Every year, on the second Saturday of December, Santa stops by to visit younger riders and greet neighborhood children.
“All the little kids want a pony,” says Turecki, no doubt to the chagrin of their parents.
However, her motivations aren’t sales-oriented. “It’s a way to give something back to our community, and give the kids a chance to see Santa,” she says.
Asked whether there is any effect on ridership during the holidays, Turecki says that while interest in riding lessons decreases, horse owners come as often as they are able – and they won’t be stopped by snow.
Turecki explained that horses can be put into what she calls “4-wheel drive mode,” wherein small metal knobs are affixed to the horses’ shoes, and snow pads are attached to their feet to keep snow from accumulating inside.
There are limits to how much snow the horses can negotiate – if it’s too deep, it can stress the horses’ tendons – but given the mild winter experienced thus far, there has been little cause for concern.
“If it’s not above the knee,” she said regarding snow, “we can ride.”
As the horses complete their morning meal, Lauren Rogers heads upstairs for to prepare the hay for distribution in the fenced areas outside, which are called turnouts.
Each horse gets a flake of hay; each gender has an individual turnout.
“It just makes it easier,” says Rogers in regard to isolating the sexes.
She returns to the barn, and after attaching a halter and a leash to each horse, she leads them outside.
The horses will spend the rest of their day outdoors. In the evening, the routine will be reversed, with an additional feeding and bed-check to be performed at 9 p.m.
Although the personnel may vary, the needs of the horses remain consistent, regardless of season – or, in Turecki’s words, “twenty-four seven, three-hundred sixty-five.”
And, regardless of temperature, you’ll find the most dedicated riders on the trails.
“If you’re not a die-hard rider, you’re not riding in 20 degree weather,” says Turecki, who laughs while noting that “I will be.”