It’s that time of year again where we start digging in our closets and pulling out our winter riding gear to help us help our horses stay in motion and continue our favorite sport, despite the harsh, blistering and icy efforts of an unforgiving mother nature.
I don’t know about you but anything below 30 degrees and I’m miserable. I honestly don’t know how my friends in Canada do it all winter except for possibly having polar bear DNA. Lucky for me my own horse is Canadian and has always never seemed to care about our nippy New Jersey winters whether he’s naked or I’m over-blanketing him for my own peace of mind.
The cool thing about me is that in addition to being an equestrian, I’m also a skier and a runner. Skiing temps never bothered me, and I always preferred running long distance in the cold because 10 minutes into my runs I was sweating buckets. 5 below in the mountains and if there was a chance to go skiing, “yes please!” 25 degrees below at the barn and I’d ask my trainer, “why don’t you ride him today?!” It’s hard. Being cold is not fun. In skiing you’re warm in the lodge until you hit the slopes and a 5 minute ride up the ski lift has you in action. At the barn that 20-30 minutes you spend chasing your horse in the field, grooming and tack-ups immediately had my extremities frostbitten. Then you walk around for another 10 minutes like an ice pop in the saddle too cold to get started. Don’t even get me started at what happens when you’re done riding and that icy post sweat chill sets in.
I wanted to love riding and be as eager to do it as I was skiing each year no matter what the elements so I really started thinking about the essentials of what was keeping me warm at the slopes and transferred them into my riding.
Here are the absolute best products and tips I’ve taken from my time on the mountain & trails that has kept me warm each winter down at the barn.
First of all you need to stay dry. The second you get wet during the winter, its all over. This especially goes for your hands and feet. If you are walking into the barn in wet and mucky conditions make sure that you are wearing boots that will keep your feet dry until you are ready to get on your horse. Water resistant isn’t enough. Your gear needs to be water proof!
Winter riding boots are a great option to keep your feet dry and warm. The downside is that they don’t have the give and flexibility that your regular riding boots will give you, (don’t try driving in these its near impossible) but definitely an option for people who don’t want to ruin their expensive show boots. Expect them to ride stiff like “dress boots” but they offer warmth and waterproof protection all winter in any condition. I prefer winter riding boots like these from Ariat because they are made out of leather and do offer more give and flexibility while you ride. I DO NOT recommend winter riding boots made out of rigid synthetic materials, they will not allow your ankle to give or flex at all. You can check them out here on Amazon: Ariat Winter Riding Boots
If you insist on riding in your regular riding boots, I highly recommend a nice pair of insulated rubber soled boots you can find at any all weather trail or mountain or even a tack store. I have a pair of LL Bean boots as well as these shorter boots from Eddie Bauer that keep you super dry and last forever. Great for the barn even just on rainy days. Under $100 not a bad investment at all for keeping all your toes every winter. On Amazon: Rubber Winter Boots
If you absolutely insist on wearing your regular riding boots this winter you need two things. The first one is high quality, wool ski socks. I have yet to find a riding or equestrian sock that compares to the warmth and comfort you can get from actual ski socks. Most of them come with reinforced areas for your toes and heels that give you extra warmth and cushion. I can’t say enough amazing things about these types of socks, only that I wear them all year round when I ride. Yes, they will set you back $15-30 a pair but I cannot tell you how worth it these socks are. You will never wear another winter sock ever, and they are even great for wearing on winter nights in. But more importantly, they keep your toes as warm as possible. Smart Wool is one of my favorite brands that you can check out here, but you can shop a ton of different colors/patterns and brands on Amazon: Smart Wool Ski Socks
Toe Warmers for Equestrians
On the coldest of days I do not leave my house without these in my boots. Once your extremities get cold it’s all over. They’ll start to burn, and you’ll be completely miserable. These toe warmers stick right to the bottom of your socks and keep your toes toasty. Best of all, you can buy them in bulk so they’re really cheap for their one time use. There are a few different types, but I use Hot Hands for both my foot and toe warmers. The toe warmers are flatter than the hand warmers so they lay well in your boot. Amazon: Hot Hands Toe Warmers
That should take care of your feet, now lets move on to your hands…
I know it can be hard to ride in winter gloves and I’ve gone through many that have left me dissatisfied but through the years I’ve found that I like Heritage Winter Gloves the best. They are warm and reinforced for long wear. Easy to hold onto the rein in, and my absolute favorite thing about them is that they have a zipper pocket for hand warmers! The pocket has also been used to hold my keys, cash and other things but definitely my hand warmers. You can check them out here – Amazon: Heritage Winter Riding Gloves
If you are someone who struggles to grip the reins in winter riding gloves, I can relate. When I ride my own horse, they tend to slide right through my fingers. So this is what I recommend. You want to buy a pair of your favorite riding gloves one size up from the size that fits you the best. Under these riding gloves you are going to wear insulated thin ski liners. They are fantastic. If you don’t size up your gloves, they may not fit under the liners. You get the warmth of winter gloves, a leather outer protection and grip of your regular riding gloves, they’re easy to move in and you can also slide a hand warmer in between the two lawyers and it will stay put. As warm as ski gloves are, I always wear liners underneath so the same applies here. Spyder is my top choice of winter ski gear (that I also use for riding) all around. They’ve spent years perfecting their warmth technology and I end up staying too warm most days I have to remove jacket shells. What I love about their glove liners are that they also include finger tips that allow you to use your smart phone without removing your gloves completely. Amazon: Spyder Ski Glove Liners
And of course you have to get the Hot Hands Hand Warmers. What I LOVE about the hand warmers is that after your winter ride, they have a second use as a phenomenal heating pack for sore muscles! They go from my hands to my thighs or lower back as I sit on my couch recovering! Amazon: Hot Hands Hand Warmers
While I have seen some hoods for sale that make you look like equestrian ninjas, I do have a better suggestion when it comes to your hands and face. I cannot tell you how much it drives me CRAZY to see equestrians wearing traditional scarfs on horseback. You’re asking for that thing to get snagged and hung up during a fall. Instead of living dangerously, ski scarfs are the absolute best way to go. They fit perfectly around your neck and they can be pulled up to keep your face and nose warm at any time. I own many. I have to wash them often because I use them to cover my face and in the cold weather you’ll spend your whole ride breathing and your runny nose dripping into them. But they keep your face super warm. Turtle is my go-to brand for neckwarmers because they are made out of super warm material, have every color you’ll ever want and last forever, but you can shop around. Amazon: Turtle Neck Warmer
As a runner and skier, I have learned there is no better gear to keep you warm while riding your horse than winter run/ski gear. Thermal layers sometimes called “cold gear” are made by many athletic wear companies such as Nike, Under Armor, Champion, and are the best thing since sliced bread. You can stack layers and layers of them under your winter coat without feeling really bulky and they don’t decrease mobility. They have an anti-sweat material that helps you dry off faster to avoid any cold sweat, and there is no need for winter riding pants. You can wear the leggings under any of your favorite pairs of riding breeches without feeling too bulky. The double layer will keep you warmer than most “winter” riding breeches. Even if you get winter riding breeches, I still recommend the additional cold gear layers. They don’t get in the way of performance. When you size them make sure they are snug. Because of compression they also increase circulation. Nike and Under Armor are my favorites for all sports. Amazon: Under Armour Women’s ColdGear
And for the leggings – Amazon: Under Armor Cold Gear Leggings
The last thing I recommend to keep you warm as your riding you horse this winter is a high quality ski jacket. There are “ski jackets” and then there are ski jackets made for real enthusiasts. The best ski jackets for riding are going to be the one made by really good companies – Spyder, Burton, and even Columbia is a great affordable option. You don’t have to break the bank to get a warm coat however, the ski jackets that are designed and going to keep you the warmest do run a little expensive. Columbia is definitely a decent lower cost brand of super warm athletic sports winter coats. I have two Columbia winter coats that I wear to the barn often, both a single and a double shell because I feel less guilty getting horse hair and dirt on them than my higher end Ski coats which I reserve for skiing, and the extremest of cold horse riding days.
The Columbia jackets are very well made. Here is one of the ones I own and recomend – it comes in a ton of cool colors. They run $100-200 depending on the time you buy and the sales. Great price for the quality and warmth. Amazon: Columbia Womans Ski Jacket
And here is the ever-so-cozy 3-1 Columbia ski jacket I use so I can stay warm while tacking my horse, shed the outer layer while I ride and then put the shell back on and not get a cold sweat after I ride while I’m putting away my horse. The inner shell is so cute I also wear it to the barn on it’s own. Amazon: Columbia 3-1 Winter Riding Jacket
Spyder jackets, I cannot tell you enough how warm they keep me. Their extreme winter jackets are amazing and I usually end up having to take layers off.
That is the other extremely important thing when you want to consider winter riding gear and a jacket. You definitely want to find a jacket that has an inner and outer shell you can take off while you ride. The goal to winter riding is to start cold enough that the exercise of riding will not make you sweat. This means having the ability to peel off an outer layer and let the sweat evaporate as it warms you up, or else, if you can’t leave the barn immediately after your ride, if you have lessons to teach or a second horse to ride, that cold sweat will make you sore and miserable. Good down or insulated ski jackets with removable shells are absolutely the way to go! Don’t break the bank, but if you can afford a high quality ski jacket to keep you warm during all of your equestrian activities this winter, I can guarantee your warm toasty core won’t regret the investment.
Ski Coats I love to ride in:
For a single heavyweight ski jacket that will keep you so warm you’ll sweat, I recommend this one. (Just not in white for the barn!) I own it and it is unbelievable: Spyder Heavy Winter Coat This is the coat I recommend hands down if you’re at the barn only riding one horse (and can leave immediately after) or you’re just caring for horses or teaching lessons. It has one shells, tons of pockets and has kept me toasty while skiing in sub zero temperatures with winds whipping across the mountains. I highly recommend it, worth every penny. Amazon: Spyder Heavy Winter Coat
For a coat to ride in that you can shed layers so you don’t sweat, you’ll want a 3-1 ski coat. Amazon: Spider 3-1 Winter Coat
My final tip is to keep your head warm. Any decent wool hat and ear coverings will do. I recommend even bringing your helmet home and gloves home and wearing it over your winter hat to help keep your head warmer. Putting on a cold helmet or even gloves isn’t fun. It just adds to the uncomfortable conditions!
I highly recommend a nice hot chocolate (with peppermint schapps!), glass of red wine, hot cider or your favorite liquor, baileys or even whiskey in your coffee… You’ve faced the elements to spend time with and care for your favorite equine pals, you’ve earned it! Thanks for reading and happy trails. Stay warm!