Tag Archives: winter

Waiting For The Chinook

Yesterday morning while I was driving to work the thermometer on my car said -37. That’s minus 37 Celsius, if you were wondering, not that it makes much difference at those temperatures: -40 is -40 whether you speak Canadian or American. Until this cold snap hit, we’d been spoiled with a positively balmy winter, temperatures hovering around freezing for the most part, with some spring-like days. Up until this week, the dangerous winter weather we’d had to deal with involved wind, not frigid temperatures.

As usual, as I was looking at that -37 on the digital readout, my imagination took me back into Alberta’s past, to the early settlers. They didn’t have weathermen warning them that the cold temperatures were coming, and after weeks and weeks of temperate weather the cold snap could have easily snuck up on them. If they weren’t prepared, with food and shelter and warmth for themselves and the animals they relied on, there could be deadly consequences.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in history, writing


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This has been a terrible winter for much of the US. States that never get snow have been shut down by blizzards. I can see how even a couple of inches of snow would be a big deal for a city that doesn’t have any snow removal equipment!

Here in Alberta, we’re used to snow. Used to it, which doesn’t mean we’re all that adept at dealing with it. Every year the city of Calgary spends millions on snow removal, and there is always an outcry that their efforts are not good enough, that side streets never see a plow.

There are a lot of people who live in this area that love the snow, wait for snow, and wish it would snow more. They love to go skiing or snowboarding or snowmobiling, and part of the reason they live here is because they love the winter sports that are available.

I’m not one of those people.

I went downhill skiing once in my life, in grade six. It was a disaster. As the only beginner in my class, I even had a private lesson. I feel for that girl who tried to teach me, I really do.

I fell down on the T-bar, then panicked that the people behind me would run over me. I fell down a lot. I spent more time on my butt in the snow than I did up on the skis. At one point, a boy in my class was going past and said, “You’re doing great, Kendra!” in a misguided attempt to encourage me. I snapped back at him, “I am not!” and didn’t even feel bad about it.

Finally, the lesson was over, and after lunch I was supposed to ski on my own. Ha. I spent an enjoyable few hours settled in at a table in the lodge, drinking hot chocolate and visiting with classmates. THAT part was fun.

Earlier this week a drift pulled me into the ditch, where I proceeded to get the truck I’d borrowed from my mom hopelessly stuck.

Last week the horses walked over the fence on top of a drift.

I’m not a big fan of snow. There are other things I like about winter though. It’s hockey season for one, and every time the Flames play I go watch the game on TV with my aunt and my grandma. Winter is when I get to hang out and watch movies, and most of all, when I have time to curl up with my computer and write.

Today, it’s cold and sunny. The snow sparkles on everything, and even the air looks like it’s filled with gently falling glitter. The fir trees are draped in snow like something out of a postcard, and even the leaf-less branches of the poplars are dressed up, coated in frost. The mountains are white in the distance, standing tall against the bright blue of the sky.

Maybe snow isn’t so bad … through a window … with a hot cup of earl grey.

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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized, writing


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Shut The Barn Door – after the horse is out

I was recently reading a forum post where people were expounding the virtues of stalling their horses. Post after post common comments were “My horses are in every night and in bad weather.” and “Maybe some climates are mild enough to have horses outside 24/7 but not here.”

Horses evolved to survive outdoors. They roamed large areas, grazing as they travelled. Their digestive system works best for small frequent meals. Their speed, vision and reactive temperament all helped them to survive.

Colic is the number one killer of horses. When you take an animal ideally suited to frequent grazing and near constant exercise, lock them in a stall, and feed them relatively large meals twice a day, is it any wonder that their digestive system is disrupted?

Wild horses don’t get respiratory problems like COPD (“heaves”). Dusty barns and dry or mouldy hay are solely responsible.

There have been studies on the bone density of young horses were stalled from birth, versus those that lived out on pasture. Unsurprisingly, the pastured horses had stronger bones.  How many Thoroughbreds that “broke down” on the track might have had stronger bones, tendons and ligaments if they’d been turned out to stress their legs as weanlings and yearlings?

Two of the most common breeds of horses to have common problems with upward fixation of the patella (locked stifle) are Miniature horses and warmbloods, both breeds that tend to be kept in small areas – Miniatures because they’re so small, warmbloods because they’re so big. The first treatment for locking stifles is exercise; the joint locks because the horse lacks muscle to control the ligament that allows them to lock the stifle to sleep standing up.  Running and playing in the pasture would build muscle before it became a problem.

It’s easy to think that you’re helping your horse by bringing them into the barn, but horses are well suited for cold weather … they don’t grow all that hair for no reason!  The temperature change of bringing them in and out of a warm barn is hard on their immune system, making them succeptible to respiratory viruses.

I bet there’s not a lot of weaving or cribbing in the wild horse herds either.

I’m not saying that it’s never okay to stall a horse. There are many, many perfectly healthy and happy horses that spend part or all of their day in a stall, and there are lots of reasons why people might find that stalling their horse is the best option for them.

We don’t have a mild climate here. We get snow, and wind, and extremely cold temperatures.  Our horses live outdoors, except in special circumstances. They’re healthy, sound, and well adjusted.

And also, very fluffy. 😉


Posted by on January 26, 2011 in horses


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Have Snow, Will Shovel

This past week, there was a big storm here in Alberta. Right where I live, we actually got about the best of it … lots of wind, blowing snow and drifting roads, but not too much new snow. Other places weren’t so lucky. There were closed highways, power outages and nine foot drifts. The cars abandoned on the highway were drifted completed under when their owner’s came back for them. I watched on the news about a small town restaurant that stayed open all night so that stranded motorists would have somewhere to stay until the highway reopened.

So, as I tend to do, I was thinking about a storm like this blowing in a hundred years ago, before there were snowplows and graders to clear the roadways. Even today, huge amounts of snow are a problem to deal with. I keep hearing stories of huge drifts that even the biggest tractors struggled with, and took hours to clear.

Of course, my first thought was of getting up to pee in the middle of the night and having to take a shovel to clear a path to the outhouse!  Yikes … just in case I haven’t said it recently, I’m very grateful to live in the era of indoor plumbing. Very.

So off I went to research “horse drawn snowplows” and the internets didn’t let me down! 

This is a sidewalk plow in use at Princeton University, circa 1910. Pretty efficient for a reasonably small amount of snow, but not much good for drifts … I imagine a shovel would be involved there! Snow plowing would be hard work for a horse. Snow is heavy! Even in this photo you can see the horse is really working.

Because the roadways were then usually travelled by sleigh in the winter time, rather than plowing them free of snow, big, horse drawn “rollers” were used to pack and groom the snow for easy sleighing.  Any ‘Little House On The Prairie” fans? Remember the book where they got so much snow they were looking out the window and could just see the hooves of the horses as they went down the street in front of their house?  I always wondered about that, reading it as a little girl. I mean, I grew up with snow  I know that with the exception of drifts (which are often hard like cement and routinely allow our horses to walk over fences) freshly fallen snow is soft, and I wondered why the horses didn’t fall through. Maybe the snow had been rollered, like in this photo. Course, it’s pulled by six horses that would have to go on the fresh snow, pulling the heavy roller and struggling through the snow. Guess that’s why they needed 6 horses.

This was fun research! That horse drawn snow roller is definitely going to become a part of Stella’s 1910 adventure …

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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in history, horses


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