Clothing for Winter Horse Riding

Cold weather horseback riding clothes
from Cherry Hill

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Clothing for Winter Riding

  2006 Cherry Hill  

 The biggest challenge for a rider in winter is staying warm.  Here are some tested tips that can help make your winter riding more comfortable and enjoyable.

1.  Select fabrics carefully.  Some fibers make you feel toasty and comfortable while others make you feel cold and clammy.  Cotton absorbs perspiration and does not retain insulating properties when wet so is not the best choice  for very cold riding.  Silk doesn't retain soil or odor yet absorbs up to 33 percent of its weight in moisture without feeling damp.  It is ideal for under layers because it is thin yet very warm.  Polyester is good as a thin under layer and fluffy insulation.   Wool is lightweight, absorbs up to 16-18 percent of its weight, and retains its insulating properties even when wet; it can be itchy.  Down, depending on the grade, can be light, resilient, and provide good insulation.  Cordura nylon is lightweight, durable, abrasion resistant, and rot and mildew proof so it is good for outer layers.  Gore-Tex has pores that block water penetration but allow for perspiration evaporation.  It is windproof, waterproof, and breathable.

2.  Plan for perspiration release.  Choose necklines with zippers or buttons.  Select fabrics that move moisture away from your body and release it.  Silk, open-weave fabrics, and treated polyester wick moisture away from your body.  The drier you stay, the warmer you will be.

3.  Use layering.  Layering traps air which keeps cold out and body heat in.  You can peel off layers as you exercise and avoid overheating, soggy clothes, and subsequent chill.  Use an under layer to handle perspiration, a middle layer to provide insulation, and an outer layer to cut the wind and provide protection from precipitation.

4.  Dress according to your activity level.  Is your riding passive, active, or very active?  Trail riding at the walk is passive, so extremities (fingers and toes) may get cold from decreased circulation.  Cross-country galloping is very active for the rider and rarely results in coldness during reasonable environmental conditions.  If you are cold, you can increase your activity level.  Move from a jog into a posting trot, or get off and lead your horse to restore the blood flow in your legs and arms.  If you are too warm, decrease your activity level temporarily, gradually vent body heat, or remove a layer. 

5.  Carry compact, lightweight accessories.  When appropriate, take along added protection such as a neck gaiter, scarf, extra gloves or socks.  They take little space in your pockets or saddle bags but can make a real difference in your comfort. 

6.  Avoid tight clothing.  Pressure on surface capillaries from tight garments will slow circulation and decrease body warmth.  Loose clothing traps fluffy layers of air which act as insulation.

7.  Target problem areas.

  • Seat.  Use a sheepskin saddle seat cover.  The fibers of the sheepskin and the air trapped between them warms up much more quickly than cold stiff saddle leather.

  • Feet.  Start with warm, dry boots, warm feet, and don’t impair your circulation by tight boots or socks that are too small.  Use a thin sock liner with a medium weight wool outer-sock.  This provides wicking, insulation, and cushion.  Choose boots that fit well but are not the least bit tight.  Even slight pressure will cut off circulation and result in cold feet.  Good winter riding boots have an inner layer of perspiration-wicking material.  Often the insole is removable to allow drying.  The middle layer should act as a mediator between perspiration and the snow and slush.  The outer layer should be durable yet breathable. 
       If your toes get especially cold, you can use tapaderos which are stirrup covers.

  • Hands.  If your riding doesn’t require intricate rein aids, use fluffy, lightweight polyester-filled gloves.  If you ride with precise contact, use a pair of thin glove liners under a pair of slightly over-sized leather riding gloves.  For temperatures around thirty degrees Fahrenheit, cross-country ski gloves, often a blend of warm fabrics and leather, provide grip and warmth. 

  • Head.  Don't be negligent in your choice of headgear  you can lose a great deal of precious body heat through your head.  And always ride with a protective helmet  the winter ground is especially hard!  When the weather is below freezing, and especially if there is wind, choose an insulated hat/helmet with a tight outer cover to deter heat loss from convection by the wind.  A hat with ear and forehead flaps will save you if the weather changes for the worse mid-ride.   
       During storms, a western hat's brim protects you from freezing rain or snow, but leaves your ears unprotected.  Improvise with a hood/neck gaiter, a ski balaclava, or specialized western hat ear flaps.   
       Protect yourself from Ultra-Violet rays.  If you don’t you may be get an increased dose from the glare off the snow.  Brimmed hats provide some protection for your face but you still need to use sunscreen during the winter.  Also, take care of your eyes by wearing sun glasses that provide at least 98 % protection from UV rays.  Tinted lenses without UV protection may be worse than no sunglasses at all because the dark lenses encourage the pupils to dilate, thus letting in more harmful glare.

  • Neck.  Clothing around your neck should be adjustable or removable so you can vent body heat and perspiration.  Choose jackets with zip collars, zip turtlenecks, neck gaiters and silk scarves. 

  • Legs.  For very cold weather, choose insulated pants specially designed for riding.  If you wear jeans or breeches, have a roomy pair for winter and use lightweight silk or polyester drawers under them.  To keep the bottoms of your pants dry and your boot from filling up with snow (especially if you will be leading your horse) use gaiters over your pants and boots. 

  • Upper Body.  Since your trunk rarely gets cold (due to heat of circulation, respiration, digestion), be sure you layer your upper body.  Try a silk underlayer, a down middle layer, and a nylon waterproof breathable shell.  Some jackets perform the functions of the middle and outer layers.  During temperatures in the thirties and forties, when a jacket is not be necessary, a good combination is a silk turtleneck, wool sweater, and tightly woven riding vest.

   Choose outer garments that unzip or unsnap from both the top and the bottom and have rear gussets which unsnap to cover the cantle.  Be sure your riding jacket allows freedom of movement in the shoulder and arm area. 
Now you're geared up for winter riding

               Cherry Hill

  2004 Cherry Hill



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