I grew up in a place where, during the holidays, we and our beverages would sweat rings onto the patio in muggy backyards, and Christmas morning was occasionally marked by a dip in the pool. So imagine my surprise when I traveled just 300 miles north for college and found there were seasons to contend with. Seasons so frigid my eyes streamed tears as we trotted around at a particularly cold IHSA show. I sat in my dorm that night under three blankets, heating pad on my feet, accepting I would never be warm again. And that was the coldest I had ever been, until I moved to Atlanta and witnessed frozen horse spit broken off of a bit.
Layers for your top half. You need thin ones, and you need many. Like the insane people you see running in shorts in 30-degree weather, we riders know that when you work hard, you get hot. While you may start in two long-sleeved shirts, a quarter-zip, and a down vest, by your second canter departure, you’re going to be in your base layer with the sleeves rolled up, wishing you were naked. Under Armor, 32 Degrees, and other base layers made for running/skiing work great for this!
Layers for your bottom half. If you haven’t yet invested in legit long base layer pants (like me), stop procrastinating and do it. But if you drag your feet on this point because the rest of the year your state sets the standard for sweaty misery, might I recommend an out-of-commission, 2007-era pair of yoga pants? A knee-length pair under my breeches is my particular jam, because it keeps my thighs warm (which tend to bear the brunt of the wind chill) but avoids the excess bulk under your boots that can make you feel like a little winter sausage.
Hand/foot warmers. My toes tend to go numb in the stirrups in the cold, and these allow me to ride in weather that I previously thought ridiculous. There are several versions, some for hands and some for feet (even some that adhere to the bottoms of your socks). Having warm toes and fingers can really change your attitude. If you’re desperate, you can cram slim hand warmers into your gloves. But you can also tuck them into your pockets and hold them during breaks.
Thermacare/similar pads. Think of these as body warmers—slap them onto the parts that really tend to freeze when you’re riding (*cough* the tops of your thighs). They come in different sizes and can really bring relief. But be forewarned, you may get toasty!
Be kind—warm the bit first. If you don’t have a bit warmer (and who does?), my favorite trick is to hold the bridle on my shoulder and tuck the bit into my pocket as I go about my business. For quicker work, I’ll hold it between my thighs for a moment to take the chill off (just embrace this weird step as only horse people would). And voilà. A bit of reasonable temperature.
Take advantage of the warm snaps. Resist the urge to be lazy. Bathe your horse on every single warm day you get. You never know when it might be the last day things are clean for months!
Take it slow. Warm up properly—not just your horse, but yourself. Cold muscles are easy to hurt, so limber up.
Rehydrate. Just because you aren’t soaked in sweat doesn’t mean you aren’t sweating, and it doesn’t mean you don’t need to replace what you’ve lost. Don’t forget to rehydrate post-ride.
Snuggle with your pal for some horsey warmth. Great advice for any season, isn’t it? But definitely cash in on some extra snuggle heat by draping fleece cooler over both you and your horse on the way to/from the ring. Ahhhhhh.
Congrats! You’re ready to face a mild chill! And if all else fails, tuck your frosty little paws behind your horse’s toasty elbow and defrost.
Emily Bogenschutz lives in Texas and is a freelance writer,
recent hunter-turned-jumper, and professional sneaker of saddle pads
into the washing machine. Follow her on Twitter: @EJBog.