If you live in the South East, you know Winter riding can be tough. Unlike our Northern friends, our winters are short, making it hard for most farms to financially justify the expense of an indoor or covered riding arena. Just because our winters are short, does not mean it makes riding through the season any easier. So we’ve put together some tips on how to beat the cold and still get those winter rides in.
I’m a layering kind of girl and despise feeling like Randy in “A Christmas Story”. Cue the “I can’t put my arms down!” scene. You’ll often find me with the Ariat Lowell 2.0 or the Kerrits fleece-lined quarter-zip as my base layer followed by a short sleeve tee shirt, then a sweater or a hoodie. If it’s windy or bitter cold, I will add a vest or a jacket. Generally, by the time I start barn chores, I end up losing the vest or jacket which doubles as a comfy barn cat bed when I forget to hang it up.
Fleece-lined breeches are a no brainer in any winter climate. To be honest, I’m not sure how I survived northern winters without them as a kid! Kerrits & Ariat both make amazing styles of winter fleece-lined riding breeches that also do a great job of blocking the wind and repelling clingy things like hay, shavings and your usual array of equine debris.
Don’t shy away from the fleece lining; I know I did. I thought for sure I would put them on and that soft warm fleece would have me feeling all loosey-goosey like I was riding in a pair of gym sweatpants. Nope, these riding pants stay put with no sliding around in the tack. Plus you have your choice of knee patch or full seat. Both brands also come with cell phone pockets & are available in a variety of colors to suit your mood. These are a MUST HAVE item in your winter riding wardrobe.
Smartwool socks are my go-to in the wintertime; they provide lots of warmth but are breathable. As you get active in the barn and your feet warm-up, the socks breathe and allow heat to escape, helping to keep your feet warm and dry. There’s nothing worse than having cold, wet feet.
In this same vein, warm hands are also essential for cold weather riding & barn chores. I recently purchased a pair of the Roeckl Winchester winter gloves. I have been super impressed with how lightweight these gloves are for how warm they are. There is nothing worse than trying to hold on to your pitchfork through a bulky winter glove. These gloves are warm, not bulky & are tech-friendly, with touchpads on the thumb and pointer finger to make texting a breeze. The best feature is, just like your favorite knee patch breeches, these gloves have a logo silicone grip pattern on the fingers and palm so they have a lot of grip. 10/10 I highly recommend these gloves!
Around the barn, I’m a huge fan of the CC Messy Bun Beanie Tail winter hats, a genius design for those of us with long hair. These beanies have an elastic scrunchie hole built into the top of the cap, for a low bulk look with your winter beanie. Just pull your bun or ponytail right out the top. Your beanie and your hair stay right where you want them. Your hair is out of the way and your beanie keeps your head and ears warm without it constantly riding up exposing your ears. Yes, I know you can easily do a low ponytail and slap a beanie on but, this girl has A LOT of hair and standard winter hats always ride up my head while doing barn chores. Making the CC bun beanie my top pick.
For riding, Samshield makes an amazing winter helmet liner that covers your ears, which is a great design feature for when you’re schooling on your own. If you don’t have a Samshield helmet, another good idea is to get a thin winter headband like this one by Joey Young, designed for competitive cyclists to wear under their bike helmets; they also fit well with horseback riding helmets. Be sure to check your helmet fit with the earwarmer in place before going for a ride, safety first!
When it’s wicked cold and skipping a ride or not lunging is a hard pass, I will grab a scarf or baklava and try to make that work out as quick and efficient as possible. Pretty much the only thing peeking out is my eyes and my boys are usually good sports about also wanting to just get worked and head back to the barn.
If it’s in your budget for a pair of ‘Winter riding boots’ I highly recommend the Ariat Bromont Waterproof Insulated Tall Boots. This zip-up tall boot is waterproof and insulated to keep you warm. The interior is finished with a fun, feminine plaid interior lining. Additionally, the inside leg of the boots offers a suede exterior against the horse for extra grip. It almost feels like a suede half chap on the inside of your boots. I have tromped around in mine for several Winters, and these are by far one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Plus, they clean up great and have all the same great features of your good tall boots.
Now that we’ve got you prepped and ready to brave the elements what about your equine partner?
If you prefer not to body clip in winter, be sure to give yourself plenty of time after your ride to make sure your horse is walked cool and dried off before putting him up afterward. Putting a sheet or blanket on a damp horse can lead to skin conditions like fungus which is no fun to treat in the wintertime. Additionally, it may cause him to get chilled which can lead to illness like an upper respiratory infection.
If you do body clip your horse, regardless of clip style, there are some things to consider. A horse with a full clip will likely thank you for putting on an exercise sheet on him while riding on those frigid cold days. I like the Horseware Amigo Waterproof Competition Sheet as it has the option to also cover the rider, be sure to pull your horse's tail over the tail cord. Nothing adds excitement to a ride more than a gust of wind, grabbing hold of your exercise sheet and snapping it up over his back like a flag in a hurricane.
With traditional screenings and crushed stone, winter can make your riding ring a sloppy mess, that no amount of dragging will correct without some sun and wind. Yes, this time of year we all crave a heated indoor or at the very least fancy all-weather footing. You may not be able to give your horse a full work out or a lunge when your ring is soup, but there’s still plenty to do in the irons.
You can hone in on your flatwork skills at the walk. Did you know that schooling haunches in, haunches out and turn on the haunches can help a horse with a sticky lead change? Practice working walks into and out of a halt to sharpen up attention skills. Drop your irons and tighten up that lower leg by posting at the walk. Work on leg yielding on and off of the rail, making sure he doesn’t drop his outside shoulder. Regardless of what discipline you ride these skills can always come in handy later in the year.
Your horse green horse is spooking? Bring his focus back by asking him to leg yield, or give you haunches in. Your horse with that late lead change behind? Practice some simple changes, but instead of just walking, practice three strides of haunches in and three strides of haunches out at the walk before asking for the new lead. This can help with hind end fitness and engagement while encouraging your horse to set up for an easy swap.
Of course, there will be those miserable cold wet nasty days when riding is just not in the cards. These will pass and they are great days to pull manes, trim tails, clean tack and wash that barn laundry you’ve been putting off.
Spring will be here soon enough until then, know that the Farm House Family is struggling right along with you.
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