Finally, we have a proper cold spell, and about time too. It’s a relief after months of unrelenting damp and mud. Here are my top tips for avoiding the discomfort that being outdoors with horses for hours in icy weather can bring! Obviously a top quality warm, windproof, breathable and ideally waterproof jacket is a must. As well as known reliable horsey makes such as Toggi, check out ski-wear (great for bright colours for visibility when hacking), and don’t forget that TKMaxx has some real bargains at times.
- Make sure your core is absolutely toasty, this really is the key to helping prevent your extremities from becoming icy cold and ending up being very painful. A thermal vest, a really good bodywarmer, fleecy neck-warmers (I swear by the Turtlefur ones, they last forever and stay soft and very cosy), all make a difference. Hiking, climbing and ski outfitters are have great gear designed for staying comfortable while being physically active in this sort of weather.
- Really good gloves. Sealskinz are my answer. Coincidentally, they have a Winter Sale on right now. The “Winter Gloves” are half price at £20, and all the Cycling Gloves are great for riding too. They keep hands dry no matter what. You could always add silk ski-glove liners for extra warmth, especially on long hacks out, if you needed them. Their woven gloves are great for yard duties too, very flexible and still totally waterproof.
- Really warm socks! Ski socks, for me. Toasty toes in not-tight boots, to allow a bit of air, are the answer. There’s not much worse than hacking out for an hour or two and returning with frozen toes that feel like numb little pebbles in your boots, and which hurt a lot as they warm up again!
- Truly waterproof Overtrousers for the really vile wet, cold days. I have Ornella Prosperi ones and they are a revelation (my previous two pairs by other manufacturers were NOT waterproof, although they claimed to be. Anything that turns into an icy sponge after half an hour of driving rain goes in the bin now!)
- A cosy snug hat, ideally fleece-lined. The only thing to remember is to swap it for a crash hat when you get on… I have headed out for a hack before and got 1/2 a mile up the road on a very fresh horse before realising that I still have my wooly hat on, oops!
- Helmet Ears. They keep your ears and the back of your neck insulated, which makes a big difference in driving sleet or hail (says the voice of bitter experience!)
- Storm-chase wristbands. These cover the gap between gloves and jacket. Not allowing the cold and wet in anywhere is a big deal. If the only bit of me facing the elements is my face, I’m happy!
The most dreaded… Chilblains. You can get chilblains just about anywhere. I get them on my thighs, friends have had them on fingers, ears, and toes. Basically, anywhere exposed and chilled is vulnerable. But just because you’ve had them in the past, doesn’t mean they have to recur every winter. I first got them decades ago, but have managed to avoid them ever since (apart from when I forgot to take my winter-weight breeches away with me once, big mistake!) So here’s the low-down on Successful Chilblain Avoidance:
- You need really really warm winter breeches. I don’t bother with thermals underneath, or silk leggings, or tights, as they make me too hot doing yard work, and I don’t like the feeling of snug breeches over another layer. Proper winter fleece-lined breeches, windproof and water-resistant, are a thing of wonder. There’s no going back once you have felt the difference! (See below for my favourites.)
- When you come in from the yard, either to a car or a house, do NOT warm up too fast, although the temptation is strong. Don’t blast the heating on, or climb into a hot bath or shower. This is what causes the chilblains. Be patient, rub your legs or wherever feels like a frozen slab of meat, and let the skin have time to warm up slowly. I usually put on a dressing gown and sit around for half an hour, and then, and only then, have a hot shower or bath. I can’t stress this enough. It’s the fast change of temperature that causes the chilblains. If you let yourself warm up slowly, you will keep them at bay.
- If you’ve already got them, the Snowfire stick (from Chemists) helps to get rid of them, then follow the recommendations above.
If you’ve never had them, good for you! They are infuriatingly itchy, and sore, and look like huge unsightly bruises… definitely to be avoided if at all possible!
My absolute favourite winter breeches are Kerrits Sit Tight and Warm. They are fleece-lined, windproof and water-repellent. Also, they are really secure sticky-bums, ideal for those freshly-clipped event horse spooky dramas. They are warm enough for winters in Canada, for example, which make UK temperatures seem like a weak joke: 40 below, anyone? Kerrits has a great range of winter breeches. You can buy direct from the website (although you have to run the gauntlet of the UK Import Charges lottery) or direct from Three Lows Equestrian, the only UK stockist of Kerrits, as far as I know. I have tried other winter breeches, but they weren’t as warm or as comfortable as the Kerrits. They aren’t ridiculously expensive, last for years, and really do keep you warm and dry, which is the most important thing!
Final tips for icy weather: really good moisturiser, and, never kick a frozen horse poo.
If anyone has any other great tips, please comment.