BY ALLIE CARLSON
Being from Connecticut, I am no stranger to chilly winter rides. But in the northeast that meant layering up, putting a quarter sheet on my body clipped horse if it was really chilly, and riding in an indoor arena. Now that I live in Alaska, my budget for board doesn’t stretch quite as far, and having an indoor arena to ride in everyday, unfortunately is not an option. So, for my fellow winter outdoor adventurers, here are my top tricks for staying warm, and enjoying outside (even in the snow!) without the luxury of an indoor.
Embrace the Snow.
That’s right, I said it. Snow is usually a four-letter word for equestrians, but it also creates your best footing for riding. Hard, frozen ground is not a great surface for horses. It can be rutted, and the hard surface put a lot of concussion on joints. One of the best things you can do this time of year is clear your arena of any jumps or obstacles and drag it. Once it freezes like this, you have a great surface for walk work, and a safe, soft area for snow riding when the flakes start falling.
Thin layers over bulk.
When I first began my winter riding life, I got the biggest puffiest, warmest options I could find. While great in theory, I felt like the Stay Puff Marshmallow man! I couldn’t move quickly, smoothly or with any grace. Since riding is about moving with your horse, the puff simply wasn’t working for me. I took a step back and looked in to more technical fabrics and options instead. Winter running gear is fantastic for riding. It is breathable without bulk. I also top off my riding gear with my Redignote flight suit. It is a fantastically light weight, but super warm option—perfect for a bareback ride through the snow. If tech fabrics that can be pricey aren’t an option, fleece lined leggings are warm, stretchy and comfortable. You can find them often less than $10 a pair at places like Walmart or Ocean State Job Lot.
I only own one hair dryer, but I’ve never used it on myself. It is for my horse. My gelding doesn’t grow a big coat, and doesn’t get locked in a stall until the temps drop into the single digits. He also HATES being cold, so we don’t body clip. On the rare days he gets sweaty, we finish our ride with my aforementioned blow-dryer. It is a great way to quickly dry a sweaty horse in the winter, and also warm both of you up! Equine vacuum systems often have a setting that works for blow drying too, and can be a great addition to winter grooming practices.
First a blow dryer, now cooking spray? Believe me! Cooking spray like Pam is fantastic for reducing snow build up in your horse’s feet. To ride in the snow at all, you need a good farrier and setup for snow, but some days the best snow pads still don’t cut it. A spray with Pam before your ride or turnout will help keep your horse’s feet from unsafe snow build up.
A tiered approach.
Know your limits in the cold, and plan around them. Just like we all have an idea of what blankets work for our horse at various temperatures, I do the same for my rides. For myself and my horse, I find that from 40*F to about 25*F, a quarter sheet works great to keep him happy and warm while working. From 25*F to 15*F, I will ride walk trot and canter bareback in his blanket. From 15*-0*F, I will hop on and just go for a walk bareback in his blankets. Below 0* I tell him he’s pretty, feed him some mints and that’s about it.
Invest in good socks and gloves.
For my first few Connecticut winters spent working in a barn, I would put on multiple pairs of socks and gloves, call it good, and spend the day with chilly fingers and toes. But for really cold weather, $5 snow gloves from Walmart are not going to cut it. Make the investment in a good pair or two of winter gloves. You will wear them every day, and in the end, your fingers will thank you. As for socks, for many years I refused to believe that all socks are not created equal, but I was wrong. At a friend’s suggestion, I tried alpaca wool socks. They made a huge difference in my winter life. I’m not going to lie and tell you they fixed my chilly toe problems altogether, but they did make a huge difference. The comfort level of wearing only one pair of socks was huge. They are thick, but breathable and very warm. A good winter sock will truly help your toes from getting too frosty.
Hand and Toe Warmers.
When it’s just too cold and the best gloves and socks can’t help you, hand and toe warmers can save the day. Relatively inexpensive when bought in bulk, these little heat packs fit easily into pockets or gloves, and are thin enough to fit into your shoes with socks. They aren’t super bulky, and offer an unmatched warmth on chilly days.
Riding in freezing temperatures isn’t easy, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit until Spring!