Songs that lend a voice to the equestrian world in a way only music can.
There is a comic that depicts the two stages of winter. It reads: “December: Magical Wonderland of Lights. January – Spring: A Cold, Gray, Bucket of Suck.” I had to laugh. It certainly can feel that way, especially if you are an equestrian along the U.S. eastern seaboard this week, just coming to grips with your newly acquired snow drifts.
Indeed, for all of us enduring unbearable cold, mountains of snow, endless rain, wicked winds or any combination of the above, time spent outside with your four-legged friend this time of year can sometimes feel like, well, a big bucket of suck.
The good news is, like listening to carols in December, listing to the right music while riding during the winter months can improve your spirits. So I give you these ten songs as a way to brighten your time with your horse in this wild weather and to remember there is magic waiting in the winter even after the wonderland of lights has been put away.
Get the full playlist on Spotify here: There Is Magic Waiting In The Winter
1. BETTER COMPANY by Horse Feathers from the album Cynic’s New Year
I begin by admitting it is not always easy to be a ray of sunshine when the weather is downright miserable. The members of Portland-based Horse Feathers’ know this all too well. “Winter rains are coming to drown the coastal range, from Manzanita on towards Young’s Bay, the clouds are rolling in heavier each day. Here it’s hard to be better company, where the hope or the sign of summer clouds your mind. From October through July, it’s the way it is.” That being said, the soothing sounds of Horse Feathers somehow already make me want to lift my spirits. And, incidentally, this band’s name, Horse Feathers, is seriously in reference to the saying “Horse feathers! That’s rubbish!” Now that is silly.
2. BROKEN HORSE by Freelance Whales from the album Weathervanes
This second song is a bit of a cautionary winter’s tale that interweaves the lives of a rural couple with those of a wild horse. Is it the female character, the wild horse or both that is being broken? From line to line, it can be hard to tell, but the moral is clear. As the Freelance Whales band member, Chuck Criss, explains, “The line “a goddess moving in your bloodstream” suggests that there are chemicals or spirits (or humors) moving in our blood, that are responsible for our emotional impulses, in this case, the desire to remain self-sufficient, and free.” And those impulses should not be ignored or denied even in the dead of winter. So, as The Cure would say, “it’s a perfect day for letting go. For setting fire to bridges, boats and other dreary worlds you know. Let’s get happy!”
3. WHITE APPLE by Blind Pilot from the album We Are The Tide
On our sunlit path to winter magic, we first encounter this open hearted tune from Blind Pilot that reminds us that life can be like an apple. You only get so many bites. So make each one count, even in the bitter cold! But good luck teaching this lesson to your horse as he finishes the whole thing in two chomps!
4. RUSTLE OF THE STARS by A Silent Film from the album Sand & Snow
A Silent Film’s album Sand & Snow could not be more aptly named. This band, hailing from Oxford, England, abandoned the U.K. to record their sophomore album in the great American west – Arizona to be exact. Lead singer Robert Stevenson said of the move to America, “Previously I had written everything in Oxford, but as soon as I saw America, it changed my process; I wanted to live and breathe it.” In “Rustle Of The Stars,” you can perfectly hear the influence of both cultures, as they bring the beauty of a desert sky to a snow-white scene. What isn’t magical about that!
5. POINT ME AT LOST LANDS by Tired Pony from the album The Place We Ran From
I feel fairly certain that Tired Pony lead singer, Gary Lightbody would agree with my assessment of the last track. The name Lightbody may not be familiar to you, but I expect many of you will know the band Snow Patrol. Belfast native, Lightbody is also the lead singer of that outfit, and A Silent Film is often compared to this famous predecessor. But the comparisons between A Silent Film and Tired Pony don’t stop there. Lightbody formed the supergroup Tired Pony, which also counts among its members Peter Buck (formerly of R.E.M.) and Richard Colburn (of Belle & Sebastian), to dip into his Americana sensibilities, and he spends most of his time recording for this project in southern California. So naturally, the result is two songs that hang perfectly together.
“Point Me At Lost Lands,” also advances our story. In the freezing could the protagonist of this track has found love and adventure. Certainly, he will be the first of many that have found a way to be “Better Company,” despite the wicked weather.
6. STAY YOUNG, GO DANCING by Death Cab For Cutie from the album Codes and Keys
Maybe it’s too many years in the saddle, but when I think of dancing, I think as much about a night out at the club as I do about the time spent training my horse. It’s all a type of dancing to me. So I suggest we follow Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie’s lead this freezing season, because, as they say, “life is sweet in the belly of the beast,” and “through winter’s advancing, we’ll stay young, go dancing.”
7. COLD WIND by Joshua Hyslop from the Cold Wind EP
In track three, “White Apple,” Blind Pilot lead singer Israel Nebeker sings, “In shadow, in dark, in cold wind, open up your heart. Joshua Hyslop seems to be taking his advice in this track. He sings “But when that cold wind comes. If all you do is undone, and you don’t understand. I will wait for you.” Is there someone, human, horse or otherwise, you would wait for even in the frigid wind? Well, if so, maybe there is a touch of magic in that too!
8. FROSTING by Trembling Blue Stars from the album Fast Trains And Telegraph Wires
And so we reach our title track. It comes from, almost unsurprisingly at this point, another English band. It seems they really know a lot about inclement weather. Go figure! Amidst images of winter, wind and rain, “Frosting,” teaches us that “The details are the frosting. There’s magic waiting in any given moment.” So brave the weather as much as you can, and don’t miss the good stuff!
9. SNOW DAY by Matt Pond PA from the Winter Songs EP
As we near the end of this playlist, I couldn’t resist going all in, and offering up some of the happiest winter songs I know. First up is “Snow Day,” by Matt Pond PA (though he dropped the PA from his name in late 2012. I guess he finally gave up on Philadelphia and became a real New Yorker at last.) Anyway, come on and be like Matt Pond (PA) this winter and sing “As the day goes gray to grayer, we don’t think of all the struggle in our footsteps. It’s behind us.”
10. VALLEY WINTER SONG by Fountains Of Wayne from the album Welcome Interstate Managers
Now last, but certainly not least, is “Valley Winter Song,” by Fountains Of Wayne. If you’ve heard their hit song, “Stacy’s Mom,” you probably thing you know all there is to know about Fountains of Wayne. But the truth is for every silly song they produce there is another that will strike you with its poignancy. “Valley Winter Song” is my favorite example of this.
Front man Chris Collingwood sings, “Late December can drag a man down. You feel it deep in your gut. Short days and afternoons spent pottering around in a dark house with the windows painted shut… And the snow is coming down on our New England town, and it’s been falling all day long. What else is new? What can I do? But sing this valley winter song I wrote for you.” It seems the simplest and most elegant solution to winter sadness. Write a song and get out there and sing it to the one your wrote it for. For us equestrians, honestly, that’s probably our horse anyway.
So, I urge you, don’t let this year’s January to spring period turn into a bucket of suck. Sing, dance, spend time with your horse no matter the weather, and find a bit of that magic waiting in the winter!