Winter has arrived here in WI. My horses are fluffy with their winter hair, there is snow on the ground, and a chill in the air.
Some riders pack up their riding tack, and turn their horses out for the winter.
Others get gritty. They have big horse dreams, and they know if they want to achieve them, they need to at a minimum keep their horse legged up over the winter.
Yet the second most common reason I hear from riders as to why they don't go out and work with their horse over the winter is that they get too cold. And much of the time this is because they do not have the right gear! After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just improper clothing!
To help you be prepared for riding in cold, snowy weather, I've put together this list of the products I use to stay warm while riding in the winter in Wisconsin. As an Amazon Associate, these are affiliate links and I do earn from qualifying purchases.
For your Feet
A good pair of boots that are warm yet can fit into a stirrup and have a heel are hard to find. My husband bought me a pair of Kenetrek Cowgirl Insulated Pac boots a few years ago, and they quickly have become my favorite winter riding boots!
Also necessary is a boot dryer. Having a dry pair of boots everyday keeps your feet warmer! I really like this PEET boot dryer because it also has the gloves attachment.
And of course, good socks! I borrowed a pair of Minus 33 wool socks from my husband. They are warm without being bulky.
for your head
A good hat to keep your head warm is key!
I really like my TrailHeads hat. It has a ponytail hole in the back, the traditional baseball hat brim, and fleece fold down ear flaps. On super cold days, I put a beanie on over top of it.
I bought my husband a Stormy Kromer Trapper hat last year. He wears it all the time in the winter, and says it is really warm.
It can be hard to keep your ears warm when wearing a helmet, and trying to wear a winter hat under a riding helmet isn't safe as it affects the proper fit. I bought this helmet cover years ago, it stretches over the helmet, with fleece ear flaps that velcro under your chin.
For Your Hands
Honestly, I still haven't found the perfect winter riding glove that is warm and allows precise finger movement for handling reins. These are what I use. On cold days I keep a packet of hot hands in my pocket to warm up my fingers.
I love my Hot Chilis base layers!
For Your Horse
Sometimes our horses get sweaty during winter rides.
Having a cooler on hand to make sure your horse is completely dry before you turn them out so they don't catch a chill is necessary.
On really cold and windy days I'll use a quarter sheet to keep my horse warmer while we ride.
Coat Defense Powder also works to help absorb moisture and dry your horse quicker if your horse gets sweaty.
What are some of your favorite cold weather must have items? I'd love to hear from you-please share in the comments!
P.S. For those of you who are curious, the most common reason for not getting out and riding in the winter is a lack of motivation. It is hard to psych yourself up to going out and working with your horse when the weather is crummy! If you want some motivation, inspiration, and accountability to keep riding over the winter, then my get gritty winter horsemanship challenge is for you!
Here is the thing about Negative Thoughts. You cannot get rid of them.
Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative. That is how our cave woman ancestors survived. They noticed the scary saber-toothed tiger, they experienced emotions of fear, they certainly had negative thoughts about the situation, and if they were lucky their fight-flight-freeze response kicked in and they were able to run, fight off the saber-tooth tiger, or freeze and hide until it went away.
Now, today we have very few situations where our lives are truly in danger. However, these negative thoughts still occur. See, we still have this inner cave woman who notices all of the negative things, and she is really good at bringing them to our attention, so that we can do something about it and survive another day.
So, when you try to get rid of negative thoughts, your inner cave woman thinks that you are ignoring her. When you ignore her, she gets more scared, and the more scared she gets, the louder she gets, and the more those negative thoughts keep on appearing.
We need to address the negative thoughts by showing our inner cave woman that there isn't any actual danger, or addressing the fear with action.
Speaking of fear/danger, there are two types of fear: Situational Fear and Psychological Fear.
Situational Fear is the fear we experience as a response to a real and present danger.
Psychological Fear is fear with no concrete, immediate cause. It can be fear of what might happen, fear of what other people think, fear of failing, etc.
Now, our bodies respond with the fight-flight-freeze response whether the fear is situational or psychological.
We get a surge of adrenaline, our heart rate increases, our breathing gets faster, our muscles tense, etc. Our body is making sure that we have the ability to take action, to fight the danger, run away from the danger, or freeze and hide until the danger goes away. This reaction to fear is normal and is deeply embedded in our biology-this is the response that ensured that our cave woman ancestors didn't get eaten by saber tooth tigers.
This fight-flight-freeze response might be helpful when getting ready to run away from saber tooth tigers, but it generally isn't helpful when we are working with our horses. As prey animals, horses are very sensitive to the emotions and body language of others in their environment. So when our thoughts shift to the what ifs, and we start to feel afraid, our brain sends signals to our body, and we get tense, we might crouch forward into the fetal position, we might get fast with our hands on the reins, etc. Our horse senses that we are afraid, and it triggers our horses' fight-flight-freeze response, and our horse reacts, which further makes our thoughts more afraid, and the cycle continues, until either the danger passes or we break the cycle.
Psychological Fear can become Situational Fear:
Let’s say something scary happens, like your horse is walking calmly down the trail, then all of sudden he stops and shakes. In the moment you grab the saddle horn and hang on. After he stops shaking, and you realize that you stayed on, you probably have a thought like “Whew-that was close!” and you take a few deep breaths, confirming that you really are ok now, before continuing on your ride.
The key here is that after an incident of situational fear, once the cause of the danger is gone, you realize that “I’m OK now,” and your body returns to its normal heartbeat and respiration rate, your muscles relax, and you go on about your day.
Now, with psychological fear, because there isn’t an actual real and present danger that we can overcome, we might not get to the point of “Whew-I’m ok now.” So our psychological fears accumulate, and we stay in this state of anxiety. And our horse may pick up on our psychological fears, and their response might even transform into situational fears.
For example, let's say you are tacking up your horse, and you are thinking about the how he crow hopped the last time you rode him. You start worrying that he is going to crow hop again, and you start feeling anxious. Even though your horse isn’t acting up at this moment, you are worried about the “what ifs” that might happen. Your thoughts start affecting your body-your breathing, your heart rate, your muscles, your posture. Pretty soon your horse will start picking up on your fear, and he will likely respond by getting nervous himself, and he might start misbehaving. This is how psychological fear can become situational fear.
Break the Fear/Anxiety Cycle, and don't allow psychological fear to become situational fear. If you feel afraid that your horse might crop hop, then spend some extra time doing groundwork before you ride. Or maybe go on that trail ride with a friend instead of alone until you and your horse feel more confident. Remember, that inner voice of worry is just your inner cave woman, trying to keep you safe! Sometimes she worries needlessly, but sometimes not-so listen up! Ignoring her will just make her more worried and louder anyways, so listen to that voice!
Awareness is the first step, then once you are aware of the fears of your inner cave woman, you can take action to prevent your psychological fears from actually occurring.
Hi there Mom. I see you. I see you struggling to juggle all of the demands in your life. From taking care of your kids, to the demands of your job, trying to keep up on the endless pile of laundry and dishes, making time to ride can see impossible. So when you finally do get the time to ride, feeling afraid in the saddle can quickly take all of the fun out of an activity that you used to enjoy-spending time with your horse! I understand your struggle. Riding after having kids is not the same. Because YOU are not the same. The physical changes are obvious. Our bodies are not the same after having kids! It takes time (and work!) to regain our core strength, to adjust to changes in balance and strength.
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