Many of my riding students really know how to really layer for the weather and it makes me proud. This is the product of years and years of lecturing, commanding and even bribing them to dress correctly for the weather. For some reason (I blame the commercial horseback riding industry and it’s skinny-legged models showing off the “latest thing” in equestrian fashion) whenever I get a new student they are absolutely convinced that they need to look the part year-round. The latest fashion and leather riding boots don’t do much to keep out the chill!
It will be a chilly 28ºF and inevitably a new student will show up in a single pair of stretchy leggings and maybe a hooded sweatshirt and a vest. Congratulations! You look great! You look like the damnable models in all of the catalogues. However, you’re not going to last five minutes in the cold, let alone the hour and thirty minutes required to complete a horseback riding lesson and put your horse back in the field.
This year I have picked up lots of new students. In fact, I’m not sure what’s going on with the economy (maybe people are just stir crazy) but this is the first winter, ever, that I’ve had so many new faces. I usually lose students for the winter because of the cold, but I decided with the influx of newbies I would find incentive for them to layer up and stay warm, which in turn keeps them riding through the most frigid months. Howso?
Good ol’ fashioned bribery!
I have started a contest with my students to see who can wear more layers than I do on a daily basis. If my students out-do me, they win five horse treats for their horses. On the most base level, this convinces my students to wear lots and lots of layers, but what it seems to have actually done is encourage them to want to understand how layering keeps them warm. Once they understand how layering works, they wear as many layers as they can stand and they stop complaining (thus, continuing to ride through the coldest of months). I mean, come ON. When I layer up to go outside, it’s often to spend 8-10 hours in the cold at a time, so it takes some serious layers to make it through the day.
My daily layers often consist of some or all of the following…
On the top: A camisole tank top, a layer of under-armor if it’s really cold, a t-shirt or two, a fleece layer, two or three wool sweaters, a hooded sweatshirt, a wool jacket and down vest if I’m riding or a down shin-length coat if I’ll be standing around a lot, and two pairs of gloves – one on my hands and one tucked into my layers to warm up so I can switch them out (and handwarmers if it’s really bad out). I top my head off with a knit cap or two, and sometimes a scarf wrapped babushka-style over that.
On the bottom: fleece leggings, wool long underwear, winter riding breeches, summer riding breeches, and sometimes a pair of insulated bibs if it’s really bad. I then wear wool (and ONLY wool) socks and either rubber boots or insulated boots – both of which are big enough for me to wiggle my toes in because that movement allows for air-based insulation.
Layering isn’t about fashion… as made obvious by this photo.
A lot of times students will complain that they’re wearing three pairs of socks but their toes are still cold. This is generally because they only have one layer covering their legs. Honestly, the key to layering (without spending a gajillion dollars on the latest ski equipment) is creating space for air to get caught as it escapes your body. The more layers you are wearing, the more warm air will get trapped around your body. If you are layered around your core, this means your blood stays warm as it is pumped into your arms and legs. If you are layered around your arms and legs as well, this means your blood stays warm as it is pumped into your hands and feet. The goal should be to keep yourself insulated pretty much everywhere, so the blood doesn’t have time to cool as it travels around your body.
Of course, wind can be another challenge. If it’s windy I try to top everything off with a wind-proof layer. Wool is fantastic for rainy days as it continues to insulate even if it gets damp, but when the wind picks up it will blow right through even the tightest knit wool.
In my case, enter the BIG POOFY COAT. My big poofy down coat has a collar that I can pull up technically over my eyes. It has a huge overlap so the wind can’t sneak in at the zipper and, as long as I’m wearing a decent hat, it does an amazing job at topping off the layers so that I can go to the horse farm and feed my horses in sub-zero wind-chills. Plus, it’s pretty sweet to look at! (I often refer to it as wearing my bed to work.)
Honestly, none of these layers cost me a whole lot. Some of the wool sweaters are thift-store finds, and some are old sweaters that are too grody to wear out anymore. They’re specifically for layering so it doesn’t matter what they look like. One of my sweaters has a huge burn down the arm from where I underestimated the temperature of our woodstove one evening, but nobody (except you) will ever know it because it’s buried under four other layers. The poofy coat was an awesome find at an outlet store for $50 (I think Old Navy). I have found that the quantity of down doesn’t make a huge difference if you’re planning to layer up anyway; it’s the wind-resistance that makes the coat valuable as a top layer.
Do you spend much time out-of-doors in sub-freezing temperatures? If so, how do you cope with the cold?