A Kind of Winter Hush


The other day, Sarah and Tim happened to drop by Dunrovin Ranch in the late afternoon, just as I was about to begin the evening feeding. They readily offered a hand and were soon spreading hay and moving horses.

Sarah and I went down to the riparian area along the river, to open the gate and let the main herd into the south pasture, where we had scattered their evening meal. Several of them stopped to greet Sarah and me as they quietly walked up the hill and meandered over to various hay piles, distributing themselves throughout the pasture without any sort of contention.

Sarah was surprised by the calmness and remarked about the quiet atmosphere that seemed to prevail over the entire ranch. She had done this chore with me before, but always during the hectic summer season when both horses and people are hard at work. That’s when the place is humming, expectations are high, and nerves are easily frayed. She’s accustomed to the horses bounding in for their meals and jostling for the prime feeding spots.

Her comment got us both thinking about and reflecting on how important the winter season is for our horses. Unlike wild animals that face possible winter food deprivation and predation, our horses are safe and well-kept. They always have plenty to eat, open water to drink, and shelter, when necessary. For them, winter is a true time of rest. They are released from the demands of pleasing people and can just settle into the joy of being a horse.

Their entire demeanors change with the passing of the busy season, when winter demands slowness with its snow and cold. On warm winter days, you may see them running and kicking up the fresh snow. On a cold, blustery day, you will find them huddled together, with their backs to the wind. They are so well-insulated with their wooly coats that the frost that settles on the bushes and trees, also forms on their backs and whiskers. Their days are dictated by the weather, the sun rising and setting, being with their friends, and their own inner ruminations.

During the holidays, Dunrovin sometimes interrupts their winter rest with Christmas parties that bring them together with their human handlers and riders. Their friends come out to groom them, give them treats, and decorate them with all manner of Christmas trinkets and tinsel – and the truth is that they seem to enjoy this.

At this time, our focus is not on training them, or riding them, or asking them to perform any sort of work. We really don’t expect anything from them or ourselves, other than to take the time to shower each other with kindness and good cheer and to thank them for being the wonderful animals they are.

My wish is that all of us, each of us, everywhere could experience the hush of winter and the holiday season in the same way that our horses do: To be safe and free from want, to be released for a short period from the demands of our overly busy lives, to recharge and play with our friends, and to just be ourselves while giving thanks to each other.



Get another dose of the horsing life in Montana from SuzAnne’s other posts: Driving Miss Dixie, A Professionally Nice Horsewoman, or A Friendship Born of Horses.

   Visit the Horse Around, Missoula archives.


SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.