Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Solutions for Riders, Part I

I think it's time we talk about what's been on everyone's mind in almost all regions (except for Nina, who probably is having beautiful weather in her hemisphere right now), the COLD.  I've got three posts scheduled for varying degrees of frigid with my favorite products for you (and your horse) to keep you warm this winter (Don't forget: most of this stuff will go on sale after the holidays -- be a savvy shopper!). 

I have a pretty carefully refined system for staying warm while riding and in the barn, since I am always freezing.  I find it best to dress in layers so that as you get warmer during your ride, you can keep peeling them off (learned this trick from hikers).  Tucker and I perform a bit of a strip tease as the ride progresses:  we walk around for a while and then I'll remove my jacket and his cooler, then we'll warm up at the trot and I'll remove another layer, my scarf, and his quarter sheet.  Usually after we canter in the first direction I need to either unzip or peel off another one.  When we are done, I walk around for about 2 minutes, to let the steam leave us but not so long that either Tucker or I get chilled, and then put most of my layers and his cooler back on while we cool out, and put my top layer on as I am leaving the indoor.  I do all this because I have found that nothing makes you colder than when you allow your clothes to get sweaty during your ride, and then you have to spend another hour or so in the freezing barn taking care of your horse.  Very miserable experience.

My favorite layers for semi-cold days (40s to low 50s):

1.  A base layer that is wicking and quick drying, like the Techwick Midweight long underwear from EMS (top and bottom).  They look like they are kind of baggy in that photo but they are quite thin and fitted, so they are a great option under your regular breeches.  I can wear these with my regular TS schooling breeches that I wear all year and they fit comfortably.  I have also found knock offs at Kohls and at Walmart.  The Walmart ones are markedly less warm though (I think I paid $5 for them though, so not really surprised).  I used to wear those standard cotton waffle weave long johns, and now I can't imagine doing that!  When it comes to staying warm and dry during winter activities, the high tech fabrics are your friend.

2.  A top that is also wicking and quick drying.  I love, love, love these 1/4 zip shirts from EMS.  I have several of them (and I'm excited they've added new colors this year).  They are super light weight, very comfortable, and keep you warm without trapping moisture.  I have even layered them over a show shirt for chilly horse show mornings.  I especially like shirts that have a zip at the neck, because I like to keep my neck warm but once I get moving, I like being able to unzip and cool off a little.  I've also hunted through the racks at Marshall's and found some similar shirts in the "active wear" section for less, but I like these the best.  Now that EMS is having its "buy 3, get 30% off sale," they are definitely worth making the purchase.  Once again, I used to wear cotton turtlenecks, but they would end up being very cold and damp by the end of the ride.  Now they sit on a shelf and only come out for days when I'll be outside but not riding (when does that happen, again?).

3.  Smartwool socks!  Best winter socks in the world.  I know, I know, they are insanely expensive for a pair of socks.  But they are so warm, and they aren't so thick that you can't possibly fit into your tall boots in them.  I don't know how they do it!  And they come in such adorable stripes and fun patterns.  They can actually cheer you up on a cold gray winter day.  If they are totally out of your budget, fear not.  I once found them at Marshall's marked "irregular," for a fraction of the price.  (I promptly bought all the pairs they had in my size, and Alicia's). 

4.  For a day in the low 50s, I probably would just top all this off with my TS schooling breeches and a wind-blocking soft shell jacket.  I have several of these, one with no lining, one with a little insulation (this is our Whitmere jacket, it's brown with WHITMERE monogrammed down one sleeve and my name on the back of the collar - so cool!), and one with pretty significant insulation (this one will go on major sale if you're patient).  Which one I choose depends on how windy it is and whether I'll be spending time outside or mostly just in the indoor and in the barn.  The bonus of a soft shell is that it also repels shavings and hay, as well as blocking the wind.  Most of these will keep you dry in the rain or snow as well.

5.  If it's more like the mid-40s, then I'll add a fleece layer between the 1/4 zip top and the softshell.  I prefer a 1/4 zip or 1/2 zip fleece because you can usually unzip and get them off without taking off your helmet, but there's not as much bulk for riding as with a full zip.  Old Navy Performance Fleece is great and very affordable, as is LL Bean Fitness Fleece.  My most favorite fleece was found on a particularly lucky trip to Marshall's last year.  It's paper thin but still warm, perfect for riding.  I think this is it.  Pretty sure I paid about $12.99 for it.  I've picked up some nice fleece pullovers at EMS sales as well.  (Can you tell I don't like to spend a lot of money on stuff that Tucker's going to use as a kleenex?)

6.  For Tucker, in this weather he just wears a fleece cooler to warm up and cool out, or in the trailer.  As long as it's not dipping below the mid-30s at night, in the barn, he's in a mid-weight standard neck turnout blanket, with or without a cotton stable sheet under it depending on actual temperature, and sometimes with a turnout sheet over it for turnout if it's really wet and mucky.  I like the Weatherbeeta blankets best for him, because they are durable and fit him very well (Tucker is a warmblood so he's built big, but also 1/4 TB, so he's got a high wither and is relatively narrow through his shoulder).

Look for Part II and Part III of this series over the weekend....  Stay warm!


  1. Ooooh. You're a trendy winter rider. I love it!

  2. Great suggestions and tips! The wicking base layers really are the key... Like you, I don't touch cotton if I'm outside working/riding, etc. I'm still surprised when I hear someone talk about wearing cotton as a base layer - it is so cold and gross if you get warm.

    I'm a huge smartwool fan too - best socks ever!

    looking forward to your next winter posts...

  3. Oh LOVE winter riding suggestions!! I'm dying to hear what you do about riding pants!!!!!

  4. Great post, Marissa. Layering absolutely works and I have purchased great winter clothing over the last year that will keep me nice and toasty at -15 Celcius (-5F), the lowest temperature I will ride at. The one place that is always cold and takes forever to warm up is my thighs! I wear long johns, winter weight breeches and snowboarding pants. Any suggestions???

  5. Hahahaha, Wolfie dear... my suggestion for when it's -5F is to wave to your horse from the warmth of your heated car! You are a much braver woman than I. When I lived in CT though, I wore these over several pairs of long johns for riding in super cold weather: They are bulky and not all that comfortable, but they are definitely warm!

  6. Very timely post!

    Wolfie, you've inspired me to pick a minimum temp for riding. I live in Ontario and I've already had a few nights when I skip the barn because its too cold, but I feel so guilty about it. Picking a temperature (I'm thinking -10 Celcius) means I don't have to agonize or feel guilty.

    After all, even though I take my training seriously I'm technically a pleasure rider so might as well keep things pleasurable :)

  7. Here's what I do :-)

  8. Marissa, you crack me up! I did try on those pants last year and didn't like how they fit. :-(
    Sarah - I am in Ontario, too! I had to pick a cut-off temp to encourage me to get out to the barn.
    Jess - thanks for the info!

  9. You seem to have a good system in place for keeping warm. I always dress in layers too, it just makes sense,as the ride progresses and the warmer I get I do the strip tease too. Now don't go poking your mind's eye out by picturing a 59 yr. old strip teasing, it's all done very tastefully! Good advice for us all thanks for writing this up.

  10. GHM: That made me laugh out loud! I think that's your funniest comment yet (which is saying a lot for a very funny lady like yourself)!


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