Fall is one of the best times of the year to go for long trail rides, with beautiful foliage and cool breezes, but the weather can be unpredictable. You may find yourself riding through cold, wind, rain, fog, and, in elevation, even ice and snow.
Your enjoyment of each ride will last only as long as the warmth and protection provided by your riding wear.
Here, we’ll give you a rundown of riding wear designed to help you stay warm and comfortable during your fall rides, along with trusted sources. We’ll also provide layering tips and bonus outerwear-shopping guidelines.
Jackets, coats, and vests for fall rides should be cut generously and fit comfortably. Your priorities should be warmth, breathability, and freedom of movement.
Layer your outerwear over a warm, comfortable shirt. If it’s especially cold, add an insulating vest between your shirt and outerwear.
Tight clothing won’t allow the airspace that’s needed to hold your body heat, so in cold conditions, avoid snug, form-fitting outerwear. That said, jackets designed for riding can be comfortable and still look trim.
Look for long backs, gussets, adjustable back vents, and practical pockets. Adjustable cuffs on jacket sleeves are convenient, and two-way zippers will allow you to adjust vests and jackets from both the top and the bottom.
Some jackets are multipurpose and designed for quick-change versatility, with a waterproof shell, a full liner, a vest, and convertible sleeves. Some models feature a hood designed to fit over a helmet. Look for a detachable hood you can remove in windy conditions. If you’re riding among trees, be aware that hoods can catch on branches.
Nylon is windproof, but it can be noisy. Some horses are spooked by, or simply dislike, the sound of nylon rubbing on nylon. Treated nylon is much quieter.
Western riders: Vests and coats with snaps can be safer than ones with zippers. If you dismount by sliding down your horse’s side, your vest could catch on the saddle horn. Snaps will pop open and free you, but
zippers may hold fast.
When bundled up, take precautions: Before you dismount, check to see that nothing is caught on the horn, then push yourself a little away from the horse’s side as you slide down.
Trusted sources: Carhartt, Inc.; Cashel Company; Chick’s Discount Saddlery; Cowgirl Tuff Company; Cripple Creek div. of Sidran, Inc.; David Morgan; Kerrits, Inc.; Miller International; Mountain Horse USA; Noble Outfitters; Panhandle Slim; Partrade Trading Company, LLC; Rod’s Western Palace; Roper Apparel & Footwear div. of Karman
Inc.; Rusty Spur Couture; Schaefer Outfitter; SmartPak Equine; StS Ranch Wear; Toklat Originals, Inc.; Walls; White Sierra; Wrangler Western.
Dusters & Oilskins
If your idea of an all-over, all-weather barrier against wind, rain, and snow is a plastic poncho, it’s time for you to try an Australian duster. Made from oilskin, waxed oilskin, or cotton canvas, dusters are designed for all-day riding under a variety of weather conditions.
You’ll appreciate the duster’s little details designed to keep riders dry and comfortable, such as leg straps, snaps, and capes that cover the seams to keep water from soaking your back and shoulders.
You’ll also find that the duster is long enough and wide enough to protect your saddle as well as yourself. And oilskin isn’t just for dusters. You can find oilskin jackets, vests, and chaps.
You can clean oilskin by simply hosing it down with cold water. When you eventually need to re-wax your duster, you’ll find it’s a simple and inexpensive process. Most firms supplying dusters also sell proprietary rewaxing/re-oiling products.
And finally, every rider looks good in a duster.
Trusted sources: Cariboo Outback Saddles & Supplies; Cashel Company; Downunder Saddle Supply; Driza-Bone; Kakadu Trad-ers Australia; Kix ’N’ Bux; Outback Trading Company; Out West Saddlery; Rod’s Western Palace; Rocky Mountain Clothing Company; Roper Apparel & Footwear div. of Karman Inc.; Rusty Spur Couture; SmartPak Equine; Walkabout Down Under Enterprises.
Equestrian raingear now comes in all sizes and colors, from jackets and slickers to trousers, gaiters, and boots.
When shopping, pay close attention to the hangtags (and website descriptions) to see whether an item is water-resistant, waterproof, or, best of all, breathable waterproof.
If your late-season rides are long and sometimes wet, these distinctions will matter, and you’ll be glad you spent time looking for items with just the right characteristics.
Raingear can make all the difference between comfort and extreme discomfort. It’s hard to believe, but wet cold is more of a risk than dry cold. Don’t be fooled by the temperature gauge; it doesn’t tell the whole story. The combination of 40 degrees and drizzle will actually chill you faster than 15 degrees and snow.
Trusted sources: Carhartt, Inc; Cashel Company; Chick’s Discount Saddlery; Equestrian Collections; Mountain Horse USA; Muddy
Creek Rain Gear; The Old Frontier Clothing Company; Outback Trading Company; SmartPak Equine; White Sierra.
It’s the airspace between your socks and boots that holds the warmth, so you may want your cold-weather boots to be a size larger. Even if you don’t change boot size, insulated winter boots tend to be wider.
Your cold-weather socks may be thicker than your warm-weather socks, and you might even wear more than one pair. Fleece- lined breeches and jeans will also take up extra space, so definitely consider larger boots for cold weather. Narrower boots may be sleeker and more stylish, but in colder weather, warmth rules.
Bigger boots often require a larger pair of stirrups for the colder months. For safety’s sake, you’ll need at least one inch of space between your boot and your stirrups (half an inch on each side of each foot). You must be able to quickly slip your feet out of your stirrups in case of emergency. Think of larger stirrups as an investment in your safety.
Out of the saddle, you’ll be especially comfortable wearing insulated boots. Since these tend to be wider, you can wear them with extra-thick, moisture-wicking socks.
Invest in mud boots if you’ll be cleaning stalls, or tying hay nets and filling water tanks in muddy pastures. Large boots are warmer but tight boots will be more likely to stay on your feet when you’re doing chores. Unfortunately, “boot-sucking mud” is an accurate term.
Trusted sources: Ariat International, Inc.; Bag Man, LLC; Cavender’s; Chick’s Discount Saddlery; Equestrian Collections; Equus Unlimited; Justin Boot Company; Mountain Horse; Noble Outfitters; The Original Muck Boot Company; Outback Trading Company; Rocky Boots; Roper Apparel & Footwear div. of Karman Inc.; Rod’s Western Palace; SmartPak Equine; State Line Tack.
These riding accessories will also enhance your comfort on cool fall rides.
• Handy headwear. The ventilated helmet that was so comfortable in summer can become a source of misery on cold, wet days. A simple fleece ear-warmer headband under your helmet or hat may feel good on
a crisp fall day. Later in the fall, a waterproof helmet or hat cover may be all you need. Still later, with winter approaching, a warm helmet cover or a winter-weight helmet liner will let your head and neck retain warmth.
Trusted sources: Chick’s Discount Saddlery; Equus Unlimited; Hat Cozy div. of Gambado Garment Company; Partrade Trading Company, LLC; State Line Tack; Troxel, LLC.
• Snug socks. Silk, fleece, and polypropylene can all help your foot comfort. If you wear more than one pair of socks, the ones next to your skin should be made from a material that wicks moisture away from your feet. Fleece socks, whether short or tall, can add comfort and warmth to a ride. Test your combination of socks and boots before you embark on a long trail ride on a chilly day, because if the extra (or extra-thick) sock cause your boots to fit too snugly, the end result will be colder feet instead of warmer ones.
In cold wind, your feet might get cold in spite of insulation and heavy socks. If this happens to you, consider adding tapaderos (leather stirrup covers) or Cozy Toes to your stirrups to cut the wind. Cozy Toes (available from Cashel Company) not only cover the stirrup, they’re also made to hold Hot Hands warming packets.
Trusted sources: Ariat International, Inc.; CEP Compression Riding Socks; Equestrian Collections; Equus Unlimited; Hot to Trot Socks; Justin Boot Company; Noble Outfitters; Pendleton Woolen Mills; Riding Warehouse; Toklat Originals, Inc.
• Warm gloves. Even thin gloves can keep your hands comfortable in milder fall weather; heavier insulated riding gloves will let you deal with weather extremes. Warmth, flexibility, and grip all matter.
If you ride out on a lovely cool day and come back through a windy, chilly drizzle, you should be able to adjust your tack and clothing without removing your gloves.
Some gloves have room — even purpose-made pockets — to slip in Hot
Hands warming packets to use on really cold days. Wrist cuffs don’t just keep your wrists warm, they also help keep your fingers warm and flexible. Whatever your choice, you’ll be happiest if your gloves aren’t too tight.
Trusted sources: Ariat International, Inc.; Carhartt, Inc.; Cashel Company; Chick’s Discount Saddlery; Equus Unlimited; Heritage Performance Riding Gloves; Kakadu Traders Australia; Kerritts, Inc.; Mountain Horse USA; Noble Outfitters; Rod’s Western Palace; SmartPak Equine; SSG Riding Gloves.
There’s an art to layering. You want to be able to adjust your clothing to help you warm up, cool off, stay dry, and stay comfortable regardless of any weather changes. Proper layering maximizes outerwear’s efficiency, letting you adjust to a variable climate.
• Base layer. Your base layer should be soft, comfortable, breathable, and absorbent. Look for wicking fabrics (such as those available at www.wicking.com). In extreme cold, invest in polypropylene or Thermax (thermal underwear from Du Pont). Washable silks and Patagonia’s Capilene polyester are also excellent choices. Like riding breeches and jeans, underwear designed for riding will typically feature seams that are few, flat, and designed to avoid chafing.
• Mid-layer. Your next layer should be your riding pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Most experts recommend cotton for this mid-layer, because natural fabric breathes better than any synthetic. However, cotton does hold moisture, so check into hightech materials, too. For your riding pants, fleece-lined breeches work well for trail riding.
• Insulation. In cold weather, add a layer of insulation on top of the mid-layer. You can wear your insulating layer separately from your outerwear, as a filler sewn inside an outerwear shell, or as the outerwear itself. Insulated riding pants and insulated boots can provide essential protection in cold, wet weather. Some materials, such as Polarfleece, remain warm even when wet.
• Wind protection. In windy conditions, one layer should be a breathable nylon, such as Cordura or taffeta. Beware of nonbreathable materials! If even one layer isn’t breathable, you’ve stifled all the other layers. If it’s not cold enough for a coat, wear a wind-resistant vest.
• Outerwear. The final layer is your outerwear. Besides a coat or a jacket, you might also need leg protection, such as smooth leather or oilskin chaps.
Jessica Jahiel, PhD (www.jessicajahiel.com), is an internationally recognized clinician and lecturer, and an award-winning author of books on horses, riding, and training. Her e-mail newsletter (www.horse-sense.org) is a popular worldwide resource.
Follow these guidelines to make wise outerwear choices.
• Check quality. Test a down jacket by squeezing it; true down has no hard quills or shafts. Pull on seams and buttons to test stitching strength. Blow through unlined garments to test breathability. Check the dye job on leather garments; poorquality dye jobs show white around the edges. Ask about any results from lab or field tests of function and durability.
• Check fit. Try on the garment with what you intend to wear beneath it. To test freedom of movement, touch your toes and windmill your arms. Don’t rely on size labels — sizes can vary widely, even among “identical” items from the same manufacturer. Material is generally cut in stacks, and jeans (for example) may vary by a size or more, depending on whether a pair was at the top or the bottom of the stack when the material was cut. Whenever possible, try on the specific garment you’re thinking of buying.
• Read hangtags. Federal Trade Commission standards, and some state laws, govern truth in outerwear labeling. For instance, if a garment is labeled “down,” it must be down. Hangtags and website descriptions also often contain valuable care information.
• Ask for care advice. Your outerwear will probably take a beating, and extremely soiled garments sometimes lose their effectiveness. Ask especially about caring for any treatments, finishes, dyes, or leather products. If you’re into low maintenance, invest in an oilskin duster or jacket — all it’ll need is a good hosing down.
• Think safety. Fall is hunting season, so if you’ll be riding in areas where hunting is allowed, add bright orange to your ensemble. A bright-orange vest and helmet cover will help make you more visible to hunters; a bright-orange quarter sheet will help your horse look less like a deer. If your dog accompanies you on trail rides, keep him close to you, and outfit him with a neon-orange vest or coat. For visibility, ride in broad daylight, not at dawn or dusk. (For more tips on huntingseason safety, go to www.trailridermag.com/article/hunting-season-safety-guide.)