Monday 12 December 2016

Dealing with the Cold

For the last week, the warmest temperature here has been -14C (7F), with lows down to -29C (-20F). This cold system is supposed to stick around for another week at least.

Some of you expressed dismay on my last post about how cold it gets here. I assure you that the majority of the residents here are also not thrilled about our winter weather, but we complain about it and then keep on with our regular activities. Everyone still goes to work, we still go buy groceries, we still go to the barn. It's really not that bad. Actually, I've had a few great rides in the last week.

It's been snowy too

The keys to successful winter rides are to dress warmly and to avoid sweat.

How to dress warmly:

1. Immediately throw out any notion about looking good or stylish. You will look like a mismatched homeless marshmallow, and the sooner you accept that the better. (Fun story, in university, my roommates once almost called campus 5-0 on me because they thought a homeless person was trying to get into the building, I was just coming home from the barn)
2. Raid your parent's closet or thrift store. Materials like down and wool are awesomely warm but they are both expensive and difficult to clean frequently. That means that if you are like me, you will be only able to afford one set of good layers which get used to go to work and other normal life activities. For my barn set I have some pieces that my mom was getting rid of. They are a bit too big and they are from the 80s so the colour combinations are pretty hideous, but they are warm.
3. Put on long underwear (wear your normal underwear under the long johns though). Any close fitting wicking layer will work, but CobJockey did a great review of Under Armour 4.0 and that stuff does not disappoint.
4. Put on sweat pants. Those thick ones with elastic bottoms that are a staple of university are great. The bigger the air gap you can get between your long underwear bottoms and your next layer of pants the better, so baggy sweatpants work a whole lot better than breeches. They're still also comfortable for riding and allow lots of range of movement.
5. Put on thick wool socks. Hiking socks are great for both height and thickness. Once you start wearing wool socks you won't be able to go back to normal socks for winter. Luckily, they last forever so after a few years of stocking up you'll have enough to wear daily.
6. Put on wool sweater. It's hard to beat wool for thermal properties. I have one purple one and one with pine trees on it that could qualify for an ugly christmas sweater contest (both from the 80s), but they are warm.
7. Put on a fleece sweater. This layer is more optional. I have an easy to wash fleece jacket that I put over the wool, partially to keep the wool cleaner for when I ditch my coat while grooming.
8. Put on a thick down coat. This coat has to be big enough to comfortably fit over all of your other layers. Layers of air are great insulation so tight is the enemy when it comes to cold. Mine is a combination of bright green and red and also from the 80s.
9. Put on Muck Boots. These boots are my favorite discovery from the last 5 years. They are completely waterproof, very warm, and you can ride in them. They come in different heights but the Brit Colt model is the best for actually riding as it's knee height, has smoother soles and a defined heel, and the foot part is cut in a way to allow for greater ankle movement. Pro-tip: If your calves are bigger, try the men's version. Make sure that you buy the boots in a size that accommodates you wearing thick wool socks.
10. Put on a scarf. I've got a wool Harry Potter one because I'm obviously that awesome.
11. Put on a toque, preferably one that is lined in thinsulate and is long enough to cover your ears. A lot of body heat gets lost from your head so a hat is hugely important to keep warm.
12. Put on lined gloves. I find that thinsulate lined leather gloves are the warmest and most durable, but choose whatever ones work best for you. Have a separate set of gloves to bring to the barn to switch into when you are actually riding or when doing tasks that require more fine motor control.

Now you are ready to go out and brave the elements. If you have dressed properly, you should be very comfortable outside (not feeling the need to rush to get inside, etc.), and you will likely need to shed a couple layers (like scarf and coat) when you start moving more such as while grooming.

I was at the (unheated) barn for three hours yesterday and came home just as warm as I left.

Avoiding sweat:

Sweat=wet=cold. Once sweat starts it is hard to reverse, so you should try your hardest to avoid it in the first place.

For you: take off layers whenever you feel too warm and put them back on as soon as you start cooling down. I strip down a bit for grooming and riding and then put my coat back on as soon as I dismount.

For your horse: First, consider the temperature of your barn and arena. Mine is completely unheated, which sometimes sucks (the giant chunks of ice that I took out of Kachina's feet last week are still there and just as frozen) but has the advantage that it's less of a shock to the horse's system when they come in from outside, and you can do a little more before they will start to get warm. Ideally you want the arena to be only 5-10 degrees warmer than outside. If yours is more heavily heated and you have an outdoor horse then you will have a harder time avoiding sweat, but at least you'll have a warm place for them to dry off afterwards. Second, unlayer them similarly to yourself. I take Kachina's blanket off as soon as she is inside, but she still has her winter hair to keep warm. If your horse is clipped then you might have additional steps. Third, do short rides with very limited amounts of trot and canter. My last ride was 20 minutes with only about 5 minutes of trot, but we still got some good work on bend and moving off the leg. Kachina was 100% dry after that. If you want to do more, make sure short stretches of trot/canter are broken up with long walk breaks so that your horse never heats up.

Fuzzy pony

If sweat does happen, have wicking layers ready. Your long underwear and wool sweater should wick the moisture away from your skin and keep you warm. For your horse, a cooler can perform this function. I find that wool is far superior for drying than fleece and I only buy wool coolers. I have one rectangular cooler to cover Kachina's neck, but I also have a fitted cooler with a belly strap so I can put it on under a winter blanket if I have to (but avoiding sweat is by far the better option).

I will leave you with two memes that have been circulating Facebook around here lately:

I would totally choose cold over scary bugs


  1. I feel like there is some middle ground between those two memes, because I am not ok with spiders that size.

    I love layers. They are the best!

    1. Shhh, to avoid winter depression we need to convince ourselves that there is something bad with warm locations haha

    2. In that case don't forget about the cockroaches that are not only huge but they also fly...

    3. Oh god! Yep, I'm definitely better with the cold!

  2. "Mismatched homeless marshmellow" made me laugh so hard I'n still crying. Mostly because it's so sad, and so true.

    1. Haha yep! That is one reason why I am glad that my barn is pretty quiet, not many people around to see my super stylish winter attire =P

  3. Oh good, I'm not the only one who gets mistaken for a homeless person on my way home from the barn. All the "equestrian style" winter guides just make me laugh. I look like a hobo, but I'm a warm hobo!

    1. My thoughts exactly! Most of the winter fashion is really more suitable for fall anyways.

  4. OMG, husband and I walked to the grocery store in our winter barn chore clothes (dirty Carhartt overalls and jacket for him, dirty ski pants + old jacket and ski cap for me). We had just finished with the horse chores and realized we needed something for dinner, so instead of changing we just headed to the store (it's only a 10 min walk). Everyone gave us a really wide berth while we did our shopping and we finally realized we looked like a couple of homeless people!

  5. I used to play polo in college in sub zero temperatures. I just wore tons of layers and was usually fine with it. Now I find myself convinced I'll freeze to death if it's below 60.

    1. I find it amazing how much humans can adapt to different temperatures and find something new "normal". One of my friends lived in Kuwait for two years and when she came back to Alberta she would at first put on a sweater whenever it was below 30C (86F)!

  6. I am often a mis-matched homeless marshmallow. I have these insulated work coveralls I wear to do barn chores when it's really cold- it keeps me warm but, man, it looks awful. I laughed at your friends calling the police on you.....

    1. I've got some of those too, mine are an old work pair so blue nomex with reflective striping. I haven't had to pull them out yet this year but I'm sure they'll look great with my green and red coat =P