Good winter wear isn’t exactly new. Depending on where we live, many of us have had to endure cold winter weather for generations. What has changed are the types and styles of clothing and materials available to us today – particularly on the equestrian scene.
The main tip for anyone once the weather starts getting cooler and more unpredictable is layering. Organize your outfit so you can add layers when you head out for your winter hack, or peel a few off when you begin to get to warm (such as during a dressage lesson). Also, if you are going to be at the barn most of the day, or have multiple horses to ride, make sure to pack an extra set of base layer clothing in your car. That way, you have something warm and dry to change into if you sweat through the clothing you’re wearing.
It’s just as unhealthy for us to be cold and wet as it is for our horses. You go to great lengths to make sure your horse is properly cooled out and dry when you finish riding him. Look after yourself, too! Follow the three W’s – wicking, warming, weatherproof. Also, keep in mind that fewer good quality layers are better than several rather useless and bulky ones, and that slightly looser clothing insulates better than super tight clothing.
Wicking — Your base layer should be a thin breathable material with moisture wicking properties, such as silk, or a synthetic like polyester or nylon. Check out Irideon Supplex Thermals or Under Armour ColdGear. Do not use cotton – it will hold moisture next to your skin. You can use wool, but it can often be heavier and more restrictive than you want in a base layer.
Warming – Your secondary layer will be your warming layer – favorites include materials like wool, fleece fabrics (i.e. Polartec), polyester and microfibers (i.e. Thinsulate). Wool retains its insulating properties even when wet, but can be heavy and restrictive. Fleece is lighter and dries more quickly. Fleece lined breeches are amazing. What could be better than a pair of breeches so comfortable they feel like pajama pants, and will keep you toasty warm? There are quite a few companies that make these now, including Kerrits, Irideon and Tropical Rider.
Weatherproof – Your outer layer should help keep you dry and protect you from the elements. If you are a fan of fleece, like me, but hate how much horse hair gets stuck to it within seconds of entering the barn, a fleece-lined softshell jacket can really do the trick! You can also get a slightly bulkier, more insulated winter riding pant from companies like Mountain Horse – these can be great for winter trail rides as they are typically more weatherproof.
No one likes having frozen toes. Multiple layers of socks will often do more to keep your feet warm than wearing just one heavy pair, as the air trapped between the layers provides insulation. Try wearing a thin sock paired with a thicker wool sock, then insulated Ariat Brossard or Mountain Horse Rimfrost boots with winter half chaps. Change your socks any time they get sweaty. And leave your cotton socks at home – they hold moisture next to the skin. Look for wool or a wool-synthetic blend. Take note of your boot size. If your boots are a tight fit when worn with layers of socks, your warming efforts will fail. The tight fit won’t allow air/warmth to circulate, and can restrict your foot circulation, causing cold feet.
It’s a good idea to bring two pairs of gloves to the barn each day – one for chores/grooming/tacking, and the other for riding. This way you always have something dry to wear. Any gloves used for chores or riding outdoors in the snow have a water resistant layer. The ideal glove will incorporate the three W’s. Again, stay away from your summer cotton gloves. For those super cold days, you can also get sets of disposable hand and toe warmers – you just shake up the packet, and it stays warm for several hours. Keep a few pairs on hand in your tack locker.
Winter riding gear is going to be a bit more bulky than your summer wear – there is just no way around it. As a result, you need to be careful that you aren’t endangering yourself by wearing something that could get caught up in the barn, on a horse, or during a fall.
• Check your winter boots against my stirrups. Consider a larger set of stirrups for the winter to accommodate your winter boots, which are typically a bit wider than my regular riding boots.
• Be careful how much bulk you add under your helmet – it’s meant to fit your head, not your head plus a toque. Equestrian headbands will cover your ears, with just a thin strip of material going under your helmet. You can also get covers that will go over your helmet and protect your ears and neck.
• Be cautious wearing scarves when you are around horses and riding – it always makes me a bit nervous to see people doing this. You can get scarves now that fasten with Velcro rather than knots — a safer option should you get caught up on something.
• Be aware of the length and fit of your jacket – longer jackets offer more coverage for warmth, but double check that it can’t get hooked over the back of your saddle. Now that you’ve got your layering system all sorted out, you can look forward to a winter of beautiful snowy hacks and whine-free lessons. Happy riding!