Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cold weather riding

Winter arrived in Virginia last Sunday.  We went from typical fall weather to full-on winter temps overnight.  There was no transition, and we pretty much skipped the month of December.  Winter temps in Virginia usually aren’t too bad.  January and February can be chilly, with temps ranging from the teens at night to mid-thirties during the day, but there are typically quite a few warmer days with highs in the 40s and 50s.  However, apparently a colder than usual winter has been predicted, and so far, that is true.

I admit that I wasn’t ready.  I saw the forecast, but I made plans to meet a friend to ride on Sunday anyway.  I guess I was in denial.  But being in denial doesn't mean the thing you're worried about won't happen.

Sunday dawned frigid and windy.  By frigid, I mean 26 degrees and by windy, I mean gusts of probably 30 mph.  The high was only supposed to be 36 degrees.  We had made plans to ride at the Phelps Wildlife Management Area on Sunday because there is normally hunting there, but Sundays are no hunting days.  Phelps used to be quite low on my list of places to ride because we could never find the trails.  The last time we rode there, though, we finally started to figure things out, after trying several times, parking in different lots, and wandering around a lot.  For those readers who might theoretically ride there, the Sumerduck lot, which is just past the entrance to the park ranger's house as you head south on Sumerduck road, is the best parking lot we've found so far, with respect to access to the trails/roads.  I love that we have to pay to ride there, but no one can be bothered to use the money to produce either a useful map or mark any trails.

I kept expecting my riding buddy to text me and back out of our ride, but she never did, so I was forced into hooking up the trailer and loading my tack and horse.  I figured it probably wouldn't be too bad once we got riding, but that wind gave me some post-traumatic stress flashbacks to my life in ND, where the minimum wind is 25 mph and it goes up from there.  Winters can be particularly brutal with -30 temps plus nasty winds that create wind chills in the -60 to -80 degree range.  And yes, I've ridden in that weather because I was an idiot, but also because if you don't ride in that weather, you may not ride for awhile.

Anyway, we arrived at the park, saddled up, and started riding.  Perhaps stupidly, we went a different way than we had the last time.  But we're smart women, right?  (Actually, I'm one of the most directionally challenged people in the world, but even I can remember if I turned left or right at an intersection...)  We actually had a really great ride.  There were leaves on the ground, crunching as the horses stepped on them, which is one of my very favorite sounds.  Ever since I was a kid, I have loved riding through dead leaves in the fall.  We did some trotting on the hills and even did 2 short canters up hills.  WhooHoo!  One of my goals with Nimo is to start legitimate canter work on our conditioning rides, so this was a great start.  In fact, I think Nimo might have even galloped a few strides on our second canter, so I'm excited to start doing more canter work with him.

However, as we were riding back to the trailers, we realized that we were not on the right trail.  After trying a couple of different options, we eventually turned the decision-making over to my friend's horse.  He is a very centered Irish Draught Horse and we figured he might be the one most likely to find the trailer.  (My horse is happy as long as he can find something to eat, so he isn't really that inspired to find the trailer.)  And kudos to this lovely animal, because he absolutely found the way back.  It was not the way that we came, but we ended up riding for almost 2 and a half hours, so I was pretty happy to get back to the trailer any way we could.  Next time, I'm definitely bringing some clothes pins with ribbons to mark the turns, so we can find our way back more effectively.

Despite getting lost and the cold wind, it was definitely a fun ride.  And it gave me a chance to evaluate my winter riding gear.  It is doubtful that I'll ride when it is much colder that it was on Sunday, so I now know that my gloves are pretty effective (Heritage extreme winter riding gloves), my breeches (Kerritts Power Stretch Tights) could use a little supplementation with maybe some silk tights, my jacket could use another layer on windy or especially cold days, I really need to remember to wear my half chaps (Tredstep Deluxe Leather Half Chaps), and I really need to find the special earmuffs I have for my helmet.

If anyone has any gear that works well for them during cold rides, please post a comment about it.  I love finding out what works for others, and because I still need to improve my own gear a little, I'd love to hear from you!

And Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Thanks for sharing the gloves. It's now on my list for Christmas.

    Carhatt for a jacket. Works awesome and you never get cold.

  2. I live in these in the winter:
    Or I wear my Muck boots - but its harder to ride in those!

    As for breeches, I know Saiph loves her Kerrits fleece breeches. I ought to get some. Maybe some of the windproof ones! But for now I just double up some SmartWool midweight tights or Patagonia Cap 4 Expedition weight tights underneath (put the tights in the other tights BEFORE you put them on!).

    Gloves...I usually double up a liner glove with a heavier glove - usually my Outdoor Research liner gloves with a fleece lined leather glove.

    Upper body...I layer all my ski gear with a barn-friendly jacket (because I refuse to wear my nice GoreTex jacket to the barn).

  3. I've always wondered if the let-horse-take-you-back-to-the-trailer thing really works for other people. Tucker likes bush-whacking too much...he just heads off in whatever direction looks like the most fun. :-p

    I love those Kerrits tights -- that's my winter go-to -- and I love a silk base layer even more. On really cold days I will be silk literally from toe to fingertip. Makes an INCREDIBLE difference. Thumbs up to Liz's recommendation for winter riding boots; mine are Ariats and they're fantastic, especially with SmartWool and a chemical heat pack inside.

    My main strategy is a golden oldie: keep the core warm and everything else should be more or less okay. So I tend to do lots of thin layers that have a good weight-to-warmth ratio: silk under Smartwool under wool sweater under down jacket or vest (or both) (under wind-stop layer if need be; I tend to use a good rain shell just because that's what I have). I am also a big fan of that shell having a hood that will fit over my helmet (although I am actually toying with the idea of getting a helmet that will fit properly over the thin hood on my Arc'teryx jacket).

    I am super-curious to see how the Arc'teryx works as a riding jacket. I went hiking this morning (11degF when I headed out) with silk base layer top and bottom, quick-dry totally non-warm pants, Smartwool socks under hiking boots, light wool sweater and hat, and my light zip-up Arc'teryx hooded jacket and I was a little _too_ warm and having to unzip things by the 30min mark. Incredible! Starting to think that coat really is magic. I will update on its riding-coat usefulness once I've tried it out.

    When all else fails, I recommend riding bareback and keeping the non-rein hand in your pocket. :-p

  4. Lily is great at remembering the way back. If I want to make a ride longer but have no idea where we are, I just make sure to go the opposite direction she wants to go! Haha... It's nice to know I can count on her to take us back to the barn when we're on our own, especially now that the trails have changed so much.

    I love my Power Stretch Kerrits. I need a second pair but ordered a pair of Tuffrider fleece lined tights as a backup because they are literally half the price...hopefully they at least last the season. When it's below 40, I wear a pair of silk-type long johns under the Kerrits and I'm good to go. I layer similar to Hannah and am rarely cold; still looking for a good waterproof shell for when it's sleeting/slushy snowing. I'm still having a problem with my hands and feet, despite glove liners and waterproof winter gloves (the SSG 10 Below gloves). Just ordered some fleece-lined hiking boots rated at -40 on clearance at Zappos, so hopefully that will take care of the foot problem.

    Riding in a saddle with a full fleece cover is a huge bonus when it comes to staying warm out on the trails. :)

    And man, riding in weather with a -80 windchill back when you lived in ND? You seriously get the Hard Core Award! :) I can't imagine. Brrrrr!

  5. Hahahaha, a couple years ago in Nevada I planned to meet my friend at Red Rocks one Saturday at 9 am. A cold snap hit, and it was about as cold as your ride, and I kept waiting for her to text me and back out, but she didn't. When we met up and started whining to each other, she admitted that she was waiting for me to back out, but we agreed that if we were there we might as well ride, LOL.

    You're probably decked out better than I was. I've gone soft in California and I've been shivering all day in the horrifying 50 degree cold snap. I think I wore: wool and silk base layers, tights, sweatpants, more wool top layers, a ski coat, and a handmade fleece neck/ear warmer - it goes under your helmet, around your head like an 80s sweatband til you're warm, then you slide it down your face around your neck once you're moving out and not so cold. And hand warmers! Don't forget hand warmers!

  6. Thanks for the great ideas, everyone!