Layers, correct materials, and core body warmth are the keys to staying warm in the winter.
The weather can sometimes change very quickly and with layers you’re guaranteed to be protected from whatever the elements bring. Your first layer is your most important layer. It should be made of material that wicks away your sweat. Cotton is not a good material for any layer as it takes forever to dry when it gets wet. Silk, polyester and other similar materials are best as your first layer. As you continue to build your layers, you’ll want something that traps in your core body heat. Fleece and polar fleece are excellent materials for trapping in core body heat; they also repel moisture. Your outer layer should be waterproof and windproof to protect you from the elements.
Now that your core is protected from the elements, you also need to protect your head, ears, neck and face. You can wear a stocking cap underneath your helmet, or purchase a helmet “cozy cover” that goes over your helmet and also protects your ears and neck. Simple ear cuffs work for warmer days to protect those sensitive ears. Scarves (tuck in the ends!) and neck warmers are also good options for keeping warm. Face masks work well to protect from bitter cold winds.
Hands and feet are probably the most challenging for people to keep warm. When our core needs warmth, the body pulls back the blood from the extremities to protect the vital organs of the body. Hand warmers and feet warmers can be used inside your gloves and boots. Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves but can be awkward holding your reins. Find gloves that fit your hands well and are insulated. Well insulated boots with Gortex waterproof material keep your feet warm and dry. The best sock material is wool; it wicks away any sweat and keeps your feet warm and dry.
Many retail products are available to keep you warm. Find a combination that works for you. Seek professional advice from an outdoor gear expert provider; many products meant for mountain climbers, ice fishermen, etc. can work for equestrians too.
Now that you are dressed appropriately, it’s also important to determine what temperature is just too cold for you to stay warm, and when the mercury drops below that temperature it’s probably best to ride when it warms up again as it’s not worth the risk of frostbite or hypothermia.
Fun tip: ride bareback! Not only will it improve your balance and seat, but the horse will help you stay warm and you’ll deepen your connection with your horse.
Kim Baker, KB Natural Horsemanship, www.kbnaturalhorsemanship.com
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(Photo by Mike Baker)