gear · product review · winter

STABILicers Ice Cleat: My New Favorite Winter Gear

Vermont is currently covered in a thick sheet of ice, as I whined about and as Lila Gendal showed on Eventing Nation. Sections of interstate highway were closed down as multiple plow trucks went off the road trying to get sand down. I had to be out and about for about an hour and a half as I re-arranged work details between our two buildings to accommodate the hazardous travel conditions.

This is a very long way of saying that Saturday, for the first time, I tried out a Christmas gift from my parents: STABILicers Ice Cleats. They are like studding your winter boots up for XC. I have been thinking about something like them for a while, since I walk to work on the average day, and of course spend a fair bit of time outside at the barn.

I could not possibly be more impressed with them. They were straightforward and quick to get on – required a bit of muscle to stretch the rubber, but not too much. It added perhaps 2-3 minutes to my morning routine. Then I walked outside…and didn’t slip. Not once. I want to stress that our driveway is a solid sheet, several inches thick, of ice. I stood while chipping ice off my car and was completely stable. I walked down sidewalks, up fairly steep hills, and across roads that were similarly thick sheets of ice without the slightest hint of slipping. In fact, I walked up a sidewalk perfectly normally and a few minutes later watched two men take tiny minute slipping steps down that sidewalk and still fall a few times.

I could instantly feel the grip of the cleats in the ice, and the added traction was amazing. I almost forgot about the ice entirely, and just walked normally. The rubber didn’t threaten to slip off my boots at all. I did take them off on coming back inside – I’m fairly sure that they were sturdy and sharp enough that they would have dug into our hardwood floors!

So two thumbs way, way up – these were a relatively inexpensive and absolutely clutch addition to my winter gear.


A funeral for riding boots?

If you are into organization or de-cluttering at all, you are probably already following the Unclutterer blog.

If you’re not, and you’re interested in such things, go check it out.

How is this horse-related? A brilliant post last week about saying goodbye to important objects featured a much-loved pair of riding boots. It’s particularly apropos for me because I have a pair of boots that have been with me through many years and many milestones that I will have to throw away very soon. The zipper broke well over a year ago, and I’ve had them in the corner since then. It might be time.

A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.

Go read the whole post. It’s insightful, and if you’ve had a piece of well-loved equipment that is past its useful life, it might be just what you need to hear.

gear · winter

Winter Gear: Experimentation

As far as I’m concerned at least one or two pieces of my winter gear need tweaking each year. Here are a few things I’m experimenting with right now, or will be experimenting with soon.

Part 3: Experimentation

Quarter Sheet

I’m honestly not entirely sure why I am feeling like I want to experiment with a quarter sheet this year. Maybe because it’s been almost five years since we’ve lived somewhere with true winter weather. Maybe it’s that this winter will be about legging up. Maybe it’s that I really want to commit to more hacking this year – which will mean more time in exposed weather.

Either way: I’ll start the experimentation with some borrowed sheets from the barn, and if all goes well I’ll be pondering something like this Amigo sheet from Smartpak, that I have my eye on. Ideally, I want something waterproof on the top, so he can have an extra layer if it’s snowing.

Cashel Cozy Toes 

I’m not sure I would be experimenting with these if I hadn’t bought some on a whim several years ago. After a long hack on Friday left my toes completely numb, I pulled these out of storage and for today’s hack put them on my jumping saddle, which is my trail riding/hacking saddle. So far so good. It was quite windy today and my feet were fine on a longer ride than on Saturday. On the other hand – I was also wearing better socks and my winter boots, so any improvement might be due to them instead.

Here’s what they look like on the saddle.

They were easy to put on, and I didn’t even notice they were there once I was riding. I couldn’t run my stirrups up like I usually do when I was done, but that’s not the end of the world. I will leave them on and try to evaluate their effectiveness over the longterm.

Darn Tough Socks

I know, I know, I just got done writing a love letter to Smartwool. But these are a) local, b) reportedly just as warm and c) come with a lifetime guarantee. No matter how much I baby them, my Smartwool socks wear through in a far shorter time period than $20 socks ought to. So I’ll be investing in a pair of these next month and testing them out.

chores · gear · winter

Winter Gear: Barn Chores

In Part 1, I covered a few items that have worked well for me while actually riding my horse. Today, I’ve got a few tips for the rest of the time, ie barn chores and before getting on.

My biggest tip here is that in chore clothes and gear you can be much bulkier and hence much warmer than when riding. I therefore wait until the last possible minute to transition from barn clothes to riding clothes, and I do it in a warm space. Often, I bring down my helmet, riding gloves, and riding boots to the heated part of the tack room and leave them there, then leave him in the crossties to go change into my riding stuff, then get right on.
Part 2: Barn Chores

Women’s Wildcat Boots from L.L. Bean: The first thing you should know about my love affair with L. L. Bean is that half my family is from Maine, and L. L. Bean has played a major part in every family Christmas as long as I can remember, even if it’s just re-wrapping an old box and thus getting everyone all out of proportion excited before they actually open the box. I love, love, love L. L. Bean.
Ahem. Anyway. These boots, you guys. They are the very, very best. In fact, these are not actually my barn boots; I wear a lesser knock off of these boots every day. These are my shoveling the driveway, walking to work boots. These boots kept my feet warm in -18 on my walk to work. True story. As soon as they are no longer publicly acceptable they will be my new barn boots. They are warm, comfortable, sturdy, and they are backed up by that glorious L. L. Bean guarantee. Lose one in the mud? Pop off a rivet? Gash it open on a stall door? No worries. Send ’em back and they’ll replace them with brand new ones.
Smartwool: Yep, here too. Usually wear regular socks, then Smartwool ski socks over them, and wear them for both barn chores and riding. The key for barn chores even more than riding is to have the long, knee-high, extra padded ski socks, because if there’s a sensation worse than cold snow down inside your boot and against your bare leg, then I can’t think of it right now.
Flannel and Fleece Lined Jeans from L. L. Bean: See above re L. L. Bean. Then go buy these jeans. I will warn you: they fit like your grandmother’s jeans. They don’t have a ton of give and they are not fashionable. But those factors are far, far outweighed by the fact that these are the warmest and most durable jeans you will ever own. I promise. I usually start off the season in the flannel lined and in the depths of January transition to the fleece lined. Sizing tip: they run small, and if you have any height to you at all I’d recommend getting the Medium Tall or Tall. (I’m 5’9″ and not especially leggy for my height, and I need the Medium Tall.)
Gloves: again, this is a hole in my gear. I usually wear mittens over gloves if I’m actually doing chores, not tacking up, but I have no special brand, just some leftovers from skiing days.
Neck Warmer: Same as riding.
Hat: No special recommendation here. I usually wear one I like, which means I’m alternating between my Middlebury ski hat and my Old Sturbridge Village wool hat. The key here is to wear one, because a significant percentage of the body’s heat escapes through the head, and to make sure it goes down over your ears. (Also, to remember to remove it and put your helmet on. Don’t be like me and get halfway down the aisle every time before realizing that thing on your head is too warm to be a helmet.)
Part 3 next: Experimentation, with a few things I’m adding in to the mix this year but am not yet sold on.
gear · winter

Winter Gear: Riding

There are some great guides out there to winter riding and winter barn chores – see also Cob Jockey’s excellent product reviews – but I thought I’d go over what works for me. All of my horse-owning years have been in New England, and half of them in Vermont, so I know from cold weather horsekeeping.

For reference: my rule of thumb is that I will school down to 15 degrees, and will sometimes go out and just walk around bareback from 10-15 degrees. Colder than that (and we had three straight days last year of below 0 temperatures) and I will go out to check on him if I’m feeling very motivated but mostly I am holed up at home under blankets.

Part 1: Riding

Devon-Aire Power Stretch Full Seat Breeches – Love, love, love. I’ve had other winter breeches, but too often they feel more like wearing diapers than wearing insulated breeches. (These Tuff Riders are a particularly bad offender.) These are warm, flexible, and relatively sturdy: they’ve held up pretty darn well for several years now. They are also the only full seat breeches I wear on a regular basis, for whatever reason.

Not my boots, but very similar to them – Ariat Brossards

Ariat Winter Tall Boots – My much-beloved winter tall boots are no longer made by Ariat; the year after I bought them, they updated the line. They are closest to the Ariat Brossards: somewhere between a “true” tall boot and an insulated barn boot. They are warm and comfy and not too thick and my only, only complaint is that they are pull-ons and the only way to pull them up is by the velcro tabs at the top and I am perpetually terrified that I will break the tab.

Smartwool – I don’t leave the house in the winter without something from Smartwool. Most often it’s socks – over the years I’ve invested a small fortune in work and casual and ski socks and I am fanatical about taking care of them. I have a few other things and this year I’m planning on some underlayer investment as well.

Turtle Fur Neck Warmer – Actually, I lost this a year ago but until then it was an absolutely required part of my winter gear. Makes a huge difference, especially when moving at speed while riding. This is on the top of my list of things to replace this year before it starts to get really cold.

Down Ski Jacket – Haven’t the foggiest what brand it is, but I retired my ski jacket to be my barn/riding jacket when I retired from skiing. (I am really, really bad at skiing and after messing my my right knee in a fall a few years ago, I decided that if I was going to wreck my body I’d rather do it riding than skiing.) The key here is the down: it keeps the jacket light and comfortable and warm.

Here’s where I admit the major hole in my winter riding gear: gloves. I have these SSG Winter Training Gloves but I’m just not wild about them. I need to re-examine and update this soon. For now, I’m getting by with those and some other fleece ones, but pretty soon they won’t cut it anymore.

Part 2: Barn Chores coming tomorrow.