With snow in the forecast this Halloween evening, I guess it’s inevitable. Winter IS coming. It hardly seems fair especially when we really didn’t have much of a summer and to me, the fall has been cool and rainy (sadly, not the warm Indian summer weather I was hoping for).
At the barn, we know the season is changing because our horses and ponies have started to grow their winter coats. Many people ask me when/if I blanket them and it really depends on the animal. On a day like today, when it is cool and rainy, I like to keep them dry with a rain sheet but in general, until it gets colder, I try to keep blankets off to allow them to grow thick coats as blanketing too early deters hair growth. Once we get into colder temperatures, a waterproof winter turnout is added to their wardrobes and in most cases, one good blanket for the winter months is all they need. Sometimes, if we have a horse that doesn’t grow much of a coat, we’ll add a stable blanket underneath for extra warmth. In the case of the ponies that get ultra furry, if they are going to be ridden often and get too warm during riding lessons, we will sometimes body clip them. We will leave the hair on their legs but clip away the hair around their chest and part of the body where they sweat. By doing this, the pony cools out quicker but it is imperative then to put on a blanket afterwards to avoid chills.
So, this leads us to the winter rider. Many people will stop riding in the winter, in fear of being too cold; however, if dressed appropriately, winter riding can be fun – especially after a fresh snowfall out in the fields!
The first thing to keep in mind is to dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature. Layering allows you to add or remove clothing easily as your body temperature changes. On top, I usually suggest a turtleneck or high-necked shirt followed by a zipped sweatshirt or fleece top. For those riders who wear protective safety vests (which on their own add about 10 degrees to your body temperature), wear your vest on top on your turtleneck, followed by the zip top so that you have 1 less layer to remove as you warm up. For the final top layer, a down vest or winter jacket would be best. This piece will also keep you warm before and after you ride when you are grooming your horse or pony.
Since your head allows much of your body’s heat loss, fleece helmet covers will help maintain some of your body temperature, and can also keep your ears warm! Some riders will also add an ear band underneath a helmet and as long as it doesn’t interfere with the fit of the helmet, it’s another way to keep the ears warm.
For pants, I prefer to ride in “winter riding breeches” which are nylon on the outside and fleece on the inside. I don’t like to promote specific brands but will acknowledge ones that have been great for me over the years. After riding through many cold winters, the “Kerrits” winter riding breeches wash up the best, last the longest and are super comfy to wear. For added warmth, both on top and bottom, you can also add long underwear in cotton or silk. These natural fabrics add warmth and pull moisture away from your skin so that as you ride and get warm, you won’t get chilled when cooling down afterwards.
For me, what get cold the quickest are my hands and feet so it’s important to find the best gloves and winter footwear. For gloves, try to look for products that are rated for a minimum of -10 degrees. My favourite ones are SSG’s “10 below” winter gloves. They keep my hands warm and stay relatively dry. I also like the sheepskin lined deerskin gloves, but unless you are good at keeping track of your things, they can be a bit pricey.
Winter riding boots come in many different brands and styles. Some riders prefer winter paddock boots (short boots) while others like to ride in tall boots. Either way, the key is to wear good socks and to have lots of room to keep wiggling your toes. Both Mountain Horse and Ariat have many different styles so it’s a good idea to figure out if you want short or tall boots and then try on different brands. It WILL be difficult to get 1/2 chaps over most winter paddock boots so keep that in mind when selecting your style. Some of my students bring “Hot Shots” to lessons which keep their hands/feet warm and I know that many parents “buy in bulk” at Costco and keep a good supply in their rider’s “barn bag”.
All this being said, I admit that I AM a wimp when it comes to winter riding but when I dress properly, I warm up quickly. When I go out to teach, I am bundled up from head to toe from my Foxwood toque, down to my full-length parka and Sorel boots, and this year, I’m adding snow pants to my winter teaching wardrobe.
As much as I complain about the cold, I still love riding and want to be out in the barn with my horses and my students.
So, if I can handle the cold standing on the ground while teaching, so can all of you (on the backs of warm horses/ponies;).
Until next time,