The first step to enjoying your Winter riding is to ensure that you and your horse are dressed for the weather. Fortunately, there have been many innovations in technical riding apparel that can keep you warm even in the fiercest cold. Dressing in layers is an ideal way to prepare for cold weather riding and dressing appropriately will ensure that you are able to enjoy your time in the saddle without freezing.
Starting from the layer closest to your body, this base layer should be a comfortable material that is designed to wick away moisture, helping to keep you dry and comfortable. Synthetic materials are a great option for horseback riders as they are very lightweight; another great option is merino wool. Wool tends to be a more expensive option as it is a natural fiber, however, it is naturally anti-microbial as well as moisture-wicking.
Winter Riding Jackets & Vests
There are two different base types of winter riding jackets; those that are designed for inclement weather and feature a water-resistant or waterproof shell and those designed as an inner, insulating layer that can also be worn separately for relatively nice weather.
The insulating layer is designed to add an appropriate level of warmth for your ride. These layers can be tops, jackets or vests. The materials and fabrics used for this layer vary greatly, though generally for athletic pursuits such as horseback riding you will want something that is breathable and that allows you to move. Synthetics such as polar fleece are a great option for this middle layer as it breathes well and provides a moderate level of warmth. For extra warmth consider polyfill or down; these materials do tend to add extra bulk as they provide warmth by trapping heat and air within the fibers. Down is one of the best insulating materials, but is a more expensive option as a natural material. One of the ways to add warmth with less bulk is with the use of a riding vest. Vests add warmth around the torso, where it is most needed, but keeps the arms free to allow increased flexibility and movement for the rider.
Outerwear riding jackets should be at least wind and water-resistant for optimal use. This is the layer that will protect you from the worst of the Winter’s elements, by keeping your heat where you need it, around your body. You’ll also want to make the decision about how much waterproofing you want your jacket to have; in general terms the more waterproof the material the less breathability it will have. You’ll also want to decide how much insulation you want in your jacket, the most versatile jackets will have a removable inner shell with just a light outer shell, allowing you to maximize your layering choices to accommodate the weather. Riding jackets are designed for life in the saddle. Any longer cut jacket will feature saddle vents, and, typically, a two way zipper front. This allows the jacket to easily lay over top of the saddle helping to protect the saddle from bad weather and allowing you to ride more comfortably. Additional saddle-friendly features may include a helmet-friendly hood that can be worn over top of a riding helmet.
Winter Riding Breeches
One of the key elements of staying warm while riding is winter riding breeches; breeches designed for winter share all the basic elements of their all season cousins, but they are designed to keep you cozy with technical, performance fabrics.
Winter riding breeches are available in knee patch, fullseat and even bootcut styles. When choosing your breeches you’ll want to consider where you’ll be riding; if you’ll be riding outdoors on a regular basis a pair of winter a pair of breeches that features water and wind resistance is a great option, but if you’re riding in an indoor that may be less necessary. Some of the favorite fabric choices for breeches include soft shell fabric, which offers wind and water resistance, and polar fleece, which generally has a finished shell so as to not attract as much hair and dust.
For extreme weather conditions, there is also a style of riding breeches that look similar to snow pants. These are heavyweight, snow pant breeches and are designed to be waterproof and keep snow and wind out to keep you warm. Unlike regular snow pants, these do still feature knee or fullseat patches and are designed for life in the saddle.
Winter Riding Boots
Winter riding boots are typically available in either a tall riding boot or short paddock boot style. Available in a variety of materials including both synthetics and leather, these boots feature insulation and are waterproof, or water-resistant. Which ones work best for you depends strongly on the type of riding that you do and your climate.
Tall boots offer a few benefits as winter boots; foremost they provide the most protection from the weather; the snow and water has to be pretty darn high to trouble you in these boots. However, if you are vertically challenged, or have an athletic calf, it can be more difficult to find a pair of tall boots that fits as they tend to be less adjustable in a tall boot. Short boots, on the other hand fit just about everyone; however, they are shorter, so typically only provide protection from the elements up to about the ankle. Another thing to consider when choosing between a tall and short boot is the closure system on the boots. Laces offer more flexibility in sizing, but can be difficult to unlace at best, or close to impossible if they’ve frozen. Zippers are generally easier to use, particularly when wearing gloves, but offer less choice in sizing. Remember that adding extra socks can change the fit of your boots, particularly if you’re wearing tall boots, so you’ll want to keep this in mind for sizing your boots.
The next thing you’ll want to consider is the material used in the boots. Waterproof or water-resistant leather is a very traditional choice, and many consider boots to be the best-looking option. However, leather is a “living” material and requires extra care, including cleaning and occasional oiling and re-waterproofing for the best life of the boot. Boots created with a synthetic material tend to need less care and are considerably easier to keep clean. There are various types of insulation that can be used in boots ranging from natural materials like sheepskin to synthetic fibers; some manufacturers also include temperature ratings on their boots. You’ll also want to make sure that the boots are designed for riding and not just for barn work. Riding boots will have a defined heel and will feature a lighter tread that can be used in a stirrup without becoming caught in the event of a fall.
Often overlooked in Winter attire, a good pair of socks can make the difference between warm and cozy feet and cold and clammy feet. Moisture-wicking ability is key in your socks; because most winter boots sacrifice breathability for waterproofing, your socks will be key in keeping your feet dry if you become overheated. Many people like to layer socks in winter, consider keeping a pair of fine wool socks next to your skin and then layering with a welly cozzie made of polar fleece, or similar, for extra warmth.
Winter Riding Gloves
During the rest of the seasons, riding gloves are designed to give you more grip on the reins and to help you maintain your grip in inclement conditions; Winter riding gloves must do all that and keep your hands warm and prevent nasty things like frostbite.
When choosing a riding glove for Winter you’ll need to consider how much warmth you’ll need for your climate and how much dexterity you need for your type and style of riding. Typically the more insulation in the glove the less dexterity. Riding gloves are available in a variety of different materials, from leather and suede to synthetics. The style of the glove is another factor that can contribute to the warmth and usability of the glove. One of the newest styles of riding gloves is the riding mitten, which functions as a regular mitten, but has a separate slot for the finger so that you can hold your reins normally. If you already have a great pair of gloves and require a very lightweight glove, consider a silk glove liner, which adds warmth without changing the glove. Polar fleece and similar materials make for a reasonably warm glove, but they tend to be less durable and may not have as much grip as other similarly styled gloves. For riding gloves you’ll want to ensure that they have wear and grip patches where you’ll need them for gripping the reins, at the palm, at the thumb and first finger and between the ring and pinkie finger.
The items mentioned previously are the mainstays for staying warm in cold weather, but there are a few extra items that you can add for additional warmth. Most riding helmets have decent to excellent ventilation, which is great for Summer, however, this same ventilation also allows cold air to easily enter. There are a few ways to keep your head warm while wearing a helmet; first think under layers. Many clothing manufacturers are designing hoods that fit closely to the head and can be worn under your helmet; other options include a thin balaclava. Balaclava are especially useful because they can be worn in so many different ways, including on the head and covering the mouth and nose, covering the neck and mouth or as a neck cover. A winter helmet cover is another option, these have a lycra cover over the helmet, allowing them to fit many different styles of helmets and then have a polar fleece portion that goes around the lower face. Of course, before or after your ride a winter hat or headband is the best way to keep your head warm. Another useful accessory is the neck warmer, unlike scarves that can get tangled and pose a safety hazard while riding, the neck warmer or collar stays close to the neck and has no loose ends. When used according to the directions, chemical heating packs are also a great way to keep warm in cold conditions.