KEEPING horses in Winter sure ain’t for the faint-hearted, writes Farmer columnist Gilly Fraser. If that sentence has made you feel a bit déjà vu-ish, it may be because you’ve read it in my column before – never let it be said that I would be averse to a spot of recycling. I probably used it in this column around this time last year, driven by that sense of slightly martyred long-suffering we horse owners all tend to experience round about now, when our beloveds are mud monsters and the idea of actually being able to go for a lovely long ride feels like a far-off fantasy.

On the other hand you may be aware that I have, without the slightest soupçon of shame, stolen the words, because they were actually first uttered by one of Hollywood’s most iconic actresses – the late great Bette Davis. Admittedly she was talking about growing old rather than keeping horses, but the fundamental truth is just the same.

According to the poet Edith Sitwell, ‘Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is time for home.’ That sounds so very lush and positively turns Winter into a treat to look forward to. But makes me think she never had a horse. Comfort, warmth and talks beside the fire, as glorious as they are, would come well down the priority list after such things as attempting to untie the frozen-solid strings of a haynet with fingers that have long since lost all sensation and now feel like chipolatas. Or attempting to break the world record for the number of sock layers it’s possible to wear within a welly boot. Or remembering – too late – how much more things like catching your finger in the gate catch can hurt in the winter.

Actually – (and here I digress because the incident I am about to describe could happen at any old time of year) – I have a new addition to make to the list of ridiculous accidents which can befall a horsey person. This horsey person in particular. It happened just the other day as I was lifting a saddle down from its rack, which happens to be situated above my head – as indeed are most things in life. I must have tugged a bit too hard, because the stirrup came flying through the air and smacked me right on the bridge of the nose. I did see stars and the air very definitely turned blue and for a good few seconds I felt sure my nose must be broken. Happily it survived the impact intact, but for several days thereafter I was sporting a less than fetching black and blue nose and eye combo, so for a little while at least, the wearing of a mask became a godsend instead of a flipping nuisance. Should you now be thinking it served me right for not having the stirrup run up the leather in the correct manner – it’s a western saddle and the stirrups swing free, so ya boo sucks.

But coming back to the subject in hand – I have a mind which never likes to dwell too long on the difficult, so consequently always seems to forget just how much of a challenge Winter can be. When Spring arrives with its longer days and its green shoots and its promise of balmy summer evenings ahead, it’s easy to put away thoughts of trudging welly-deep through mud, hacking through ice on troughs and generally feeling as though you’ve taken up residence in a freezer. But as I write this, we’re still in the midst of the tough stuff and just coming to the end of an absolutely Baltic spell, when some places set new records for being the chilliest in the UK and others disappeared under great snowdrifts somewhat to their surprise since they never usually see much of the white stuff. The temperatures are promising to rise now, which will be a relief to my permafrost hands, but they’re promising to bring winds and rain along with them. Heyho.

Speaking of my hands – and this is another annual bleat – I have come to the sad conclusion that the gloves haven’t yet been invented that could keep my fingers warm. Lots of kind people have given me words of excellent advice on this subject – like wearing silk liners under the gloves, or wearing fingerless gloves, or wearing wristwarmers, or making sure hands and gloves are toasty warm before being introduced to one another. Nothing has helped. Over the years I must have spent a small fortune buying gloves on the recommendations of chums, who inevitably swear by their efficacy and assure me with total conviction that ‘these will do the trick.’ But they don’t.

However – if there’s one thing even worse than having frozen fingers, it’s the feeling of them thawing out. If you should ever catch sight of me with my face all screwed up and my hands tucked into my armpits, quite possibly hopping around from one foot to the other, while making the kind of howling noise any banshee might be proud of, it’s a fair bet I’m going through the profound pain of fingers coming back to life. If I manage to mutter anything intelligible it will probably be bleepable, so best not to listen.

So yes, having horses in Winter sure ain’t an easy life. But lest I sound like a right old moaning Minnie, let me say it holds many joys too and I’m profoundly grateful for every one of them. I found a rather lovely quote by an American naturalist called John Burroughs, so he can have the last word.

‘It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it.’