Cold Weather Gear for Horse Riding
I’m told the groundhog did not see his shadow this year. This means, (providing you believe in the foresight of groundhogs) that there are just six weeks left to winter. Yet, here we are shoveling snow and still dressing in layers. As it turns out, Mother Nature still has a few deep freezes and probably another snow storm up her sleeve.
No matter—we’re horse folk, tougher than most everyone we know. We crack icy buckets with the heel of our boots, leap over snow banks in a single bound and…..well, you get the idea. But, no matter how tough we might feel on the inside, staying warm and dry on the outside is the key to enjoying winter with horses. This month, we offer tips on choosing clothing that keeps you comfortable no matter what the weather.
I often think of the early explorers as I trudge through deep snow to get to my barn. The British explorer, R.F. Scott, had pony snow-shoes crafted for his team of Shetland ponies he brought with him to Antarctica. Don’t get too excited. The pony show-shoes were an abysmal failure, leaving the ponies to struggle as best they could through the deep snow drifts.
But, R.F. Scott and his team didn’t fare much better. They’d brought only heavy woolen layers that trapped cold air and moisture next to their skin, while his adversary, the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, chose thin Eskimo-style skins he and his team wore under layers and layers of fur. Scott’s men complained bitterly of the cold, but Amundsen’s team fared much better, shedding layers when they got too hot. Moreover, Amundsen’s men found it easier to move around in the deep snow drifts without the added weight of heavy (and often damp!) woolens.
I can’t imagine strapping a pair of snow shoes on my Haflinger’s feet or trudging around in those heavy-weight fabrics. These days, you don’t have to feel cold, uncomfortable, or wet if you choose the right clothing.
Let’s take a look at a few basic rules:
Start with a base layer: base layers are usually made of a synthetic material like polyester with a little nylon thrown in for comfort. Base layers come in all sorts of styles—from crew necks, short-sleeve t-shirt styles, to long-sleeve or turtlenecks. If you absolutely must have cotton next to your skin, go ahead and don a cotton under-shirt. You can wear the base-layer over the top of it. It’ll still keep you warm, dry, and will evaporate moisture.
Add a mid-base layer: I like fleece because it’s warm and comfortable and has a little stretch to it, but keep in mind that fleece collects horse hair so probably isn’t a good choice if you’re going to take off that outer layer. I’ve also worn sweatshirts or thin sweaters as mid-base layers as well.
Choose an outer layer: your outer layer must be wind-proof and water-proof. Nylon shells over duck or goose down work nicely. Be sure to choose a jacket that has snaps or drawstrings at the wrists and a generous hood to keep wind and snow out. I love the new riding jackets that offer long back hemlines. These snap open or closed depending on what your activity.
Ditch the jeans: denim is the worst fabric you can wear in cold weather. It has no insulating properties and if it gets wet it stays wet for a long, long time. I’ve tried flannel lined jeans to no avail. They still get wet and most of them simply don’t offer a good fit. You might try moleskin pants (don’t worry—no animal was harmed in the making- they’re made from a heavy duty cotton). Moleskin pants are soft, durable, and moleskin pants made for outdoor use are somewhat water and windproof as well. Just be careful washing and drying them as this material tends to shrink. This year, I invested in a pair of wind and water-proof rain pants with knee patches for riding. This is my first year in them and I must say—so far, I’m a fan. I can wear whatever I want underneath them, they offer freedom of movement, and they keep my pants clean and dry. I simply take them off in the garage and hang them up for the next time. That’s cut down on the laundry.
Invest in gloves: Don’t overlook the layering principle when it comes to gloves. Consider buying one size too large so that you can add a pair of thin gloves underneath. One of my friends sports a pair of surgical gloves under her down gloves. She claims this works well to keep her warm. Buying one size bigger allows room for hand warmers as well. This year, I sported a pair of trapper-style Sherpa mittens I purchased from an outdoor clothing shop. While I gave up dexterity, my hands did stay toasty warm. I wore them for big tasks like emptying water buckets and mucking stalls and switched to a pair of regular gloves for tasks like opening latches or riding. No matter what you buy, look for gloves that offer generous wrist coverage and wind-proof protection. I’ve found that gloves are an investment. Inexpensive gloves simply don’t keep my hands warm. You’re better off waiting for a sale and buying quality gloves at a reduced price.
Get boot savvy: I like my muck boots for winter chores, but they can get chilly depending on how cold or damp the day. This year, I added a pair of fleece liners (made for muck boots) and my toes stayed toasty and warm. In a riding boot, look for something that’s easy to care for (won’t be damaged by water, mud, or sand) and is comfortable. Make sure your riding boots are not too big for your stirrups. You should have at least ½”of space between the boot and the irons on either side. Anything less than ½” and you run the risk of your foot becoming trapped in the event of a fall.
Buy a good hat: I love llama wool. Llama wool has a hollow core which gives it a good weight to warmth ratio. It resists shrinking and is easy to care for—plus, it just feels so nice against your skin. Buy hats with ear flaps. Okay, so you won’t look all that fashionable, but your ears will thank you. When it comes to your head, the less exposure, the better. The Inuit have a saying—if your feet are cold, cover your head!
Don’t forget the unmentionables: like silk undies, cotton sports bras, and wool socks. We love SmartWool® socks, a combination of Merino wool and other fabrics. They’re expensive at around $20 a pair, but they don’t shrink and they keep your feet warm and dry.
No matter what the weather, be sure to enjoy your horses and stay safe and warm! Now is the time to get the best deals on winter wear as all the shops look to switch over their inventory. Spring really is on its way!
Karen Elizabeth Baril