Prepared for Anything
Later that week, when we rode the
sandy brown riverbed that leads to the
glacier, I felt the same electricity in the
air as when I first arrived. It was spooky
riding through the backcountry. It’s
completely off the grid and filled with
wildlife, like brown bears and wolves.
We took precautions; some riders
carried bear spray. And, especially
when we rode near noisy, running
water, in dense woods, and when the
wind was strong, we yelled, “Coming
through!” to let the bears know we
were there. Bears don’t like surprises.
They also don’t like humans and
remain unseen most of the time.
In addition to black bears and wolves,
the area is home to lynx, wolverines
(remarkably tough little animals that
look like bears but are actually a very
large weasel-type animal) and moose.
Very large moose. These animals can
weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and
stand 7 feet high at the shoulder.
My host in Alaska, Jen Garner, is a marine biologist in addition to running the B&B where
I stayed. In 2016, she founded ArcticHorseGear.com. She grew up in Vermont, riding and
caring for homebred Morgan horses. In those days, blanket changes for different temperatures in the chilly Northeast dominated the winter care routine for the horses.
Over the years, Jen has simplified her approach despite living in a severe winter
climate. In Alaska, the stakes are high when it comes to properly caring for domestic
animals that live outside. The danger of cold, wind and wet is extreme.
Here are a few critical success factors Jen keeps in mind to keep her horses—an
Appaloosa named Falybe and two Tennessee Walking Horses named Sambatara and
Willow—healthy and comfortable during Alaska winters where temperatures often dip to
20 degrees below zero.
SHELTER: Jen’s hardy, furry horses live in a large, alpine paddock with a well-used open-air shelter made from logs found on the property. She focuses on making sure the horses’
coats stay dry enough to trap air, which their body heat then warms. When it’s rainy, the
horses may wear sheets or blankets. Inside the shelter they have a heated water trough.
24-HOUR ACCESS TO FORAGE: “In this climate, I make sure my horses have access to
quality hay all the time,” she says, explaining that hay digestion works like a combustion
engine that creates heat from the inside. Her horses each eat about 25 pounds of hay a
day, and more in the winter. Jen says they tend to bulk up at the end of the summer.
FREQUENT MONITORING: Jen’s horses live not far outside the back door of the log
cabin she shares with her husband, Chris, and are closely watched. But even if it’s
super cold, the horses tend to do just fine. “It depends on the individual horse and the
conditions,” she says. “I’ve been around horses in many different climates, and these
are the happiest horses I’ve ever known.”
kept riders cozy
even in freezing