I am sitting down to write this blog on the tail end of the Carolinas’ first winter “storm” – and while today it is a balmy 65 degrees down here in SC it is still easy for me to remember the days of below freezing temps we recently endured. Although I wasn’t happy about “northern” weather hitting the south I was well prepared for last weekend, and I’ve been around long enough to know that this weekend’s spring-like temps won’t last.  Having lived in the Carolinas now for seventeen years I’ve come to realize that we do get snow and ice, but as a native New Englander it stills amazes me how many people really don’t know how to dress properly to endure being outside with horses in freezing temps. (This is especially true with parents sending their kids out for riding lessons). So for the subject of this month’s blog I will share with you some “northern” secrets for dressing appropriately so that you can survive barn chores when the temps dip to the thirties and below.

Carolinas Equestrian Trisha Dingle Hillcrest FarmTrisha showing in the cold and rain at Hillcrest Farm, February 2016. PC: Erica Anne de Flamand

Layering is the key!

The biggest problem most people run into is getting dressed in the morning in a cold house, and then when they start moving around outside beginning to sweat, which leads to damp clothes and chills. So the key to success is wearing multiple layers that wick moisture away from the body while also blocking wind/rain/snow from getting down to the skin, and which can be removed and added easily as temps and activity levels change. Besides staying dry another key to staying warm is to trap pockets of warm air and body heat close to your body, which can also be done by using multiple layers of clothing.

Layer 1 – Moisture Wicking

My first layer – including my underwear! – is always some sort of lightweight, moisture wicking fabric. While the traditional cotton long underwear is great and will keep you warm, once it gets wet with sweat it traps the moisture against your skin, leading to chills. I prefer any of the silk liners or moisture wicking athletic wear to use as my first layer. This will give you a level of warmth, while pulling any sweat away from your skin and to the outer layers to prevent chills.  My preference for shirts is to wear something very lightweight with full arms, or a sports tank top that will serve the purpose without adding bulk, so that I can easily move my arms with multiple clothing on.  I also will do a layer of this fabric on my legs, and you can even get sock and glove liners that are lightweight but provide this initial layer. Polar fleece also works well for this purpose.

Layer 2 – The “Stuffing”

My second layer is usually my major “warmth” layer. When I’m working around the barn this will be my work jeans, or when riding my riding britches. Note: having a couple of larger pairs of jeans or britches laying around work great for winter riding – these will fit comfortably over your moisture wicking layer, without hindering your ability to move. When I lost weight I kept my “fat jeans” for this very purpose! For my upper body I’ll usually wear a warm sweater or polar fleece pullover.

Layer 3 – Wind and Water Resistance

My final layer will be protection from the elements – something wind and water-resistant. For my legs this will be either waterproof rain pants (in wet weather or if I’m doing a lot with water that day), or generic warm-up pants that can be bought in workout stores. These will keep your legs dry while adding an additional layer to trap warm air with, but can be easily removed as the day warms up or when you are very active. For wet weather I’ll also add a heavy water resistant rain or ski jacket – if its not super cold then just something waterproof will do, but in colder temps a jacket with goose feather lining can’t be beat! On cold dry days I’ll often just wear a windbreaker over my other warmer layers, which will block the wind from penetrating down to my skin.

One of my favorite pieces of clothing for riding in winter weather combines layers one, two, and three – fleece lined riding britches! They are super warm, soft, and comfortable, with a fleece lining and water/wind resistant outer layer. Often this is the only thing I’ll wear on my legs while riding, and in doing barn chores I may just add rain pants if needed. I have to be careful though – if temps are going to get above the forties I find these to be too warm and will end up sweating quite a bit they are so warm!

Keeping Extremities Warm

One of the biggest components to staying warm in frigid temps is to keep your extremities warm. This starts with your head – we lose the majority of our body heat through our heads, so a hat is definitely a must. Hoods (from jackets, sweatshirts, or fleeces) can help, but I personally don’t like the restriction and lower mobility from wearing a hood. My preference is a hat with earflaps that comes down low on my neck. Stuck doing nighttime chores? My mom found me the best Christmas gift this year – a toboggan (for us northerner’s I’m talking about what southerners call a knit hat, not the big sled we use in New England!) with LED lights in the front – for nighttime feeding I just switch on a little light and not only does my head stay warm but I can see where I’m going!

Carolinas Equestrian WH Bodacious Ice Storm HorseThe Arabian stallion, WH Bodacious, after a South Carolina ice storm, circa 2004

Socks are very important – too hot and your feet sweat and get cold, not thick enough and your toes freeze. I prefer Llama wool (not as itchy and hot as sheep wool) or Wool IQ (which you can get from Tractor Supply). Neither are super thick, and they seem to do a great job at keeping toes toasty without causing overheating. As for boots, you definitely want something waterproof in the winter, even on dry days – there’s nothing like being snuggly warm until you spill a bucket of ice water on your unprotected feet! They are a myriad of types of winter footwear available now for riding, its mostly personal preference. I’ve had an older pair of lined Ariat paddock boots that have served me well for a number of years when I’m riding, and for me the cheap short muck boots from TSC keep me warm doing barn chores (with good socks that is!).

After toes the next hardest thing to keep warm are fingers, so good gloves are a must. Like boots this is also personal preference, but I find that I have become a “glove hoarder” over the years. I have a different type and weight for every degree of temperature! For riding I have polar fleece gloves, thicker suede gloves, and even my old riding mittens from New England (although I found even in CT my hands would sweat in these). For working around the farm I have fallen in love with a leather work glove I found at TSC – they aren’t super thick so its fairly easy to open latches and work buckles while wearing them, and they are water resistant so stay dry through most contact with water. I also have a slightly thicker lined glove that are my “blizzard” gloves – more like ski gloves, they aren’t as easy to work buckles and latches with but they are super warm for extreme temps. I keep multiple pairs of each around the farm, so if one gets wet I have backup.

Trisha DingleWhile it looks ridiculous my zebra hat keeps me super warm in freezing weather!


Whoever invented the “Little Hotties” hand warmers was definitely a genius! I open a pair of these each cold morning and keep one in each pocket – anytime I’m not actively using my hands (walking back from a pasture, waiting on buckets to fill, etc) I remove my gloves and stick my hands in my pockets for a quick warm up (and they work even with most gloves on).

I don’t recommend scarves around horses, as it can be too easy for loose ends to get caught on things (or even stepped on when trying to clean out hooves). However infinity scarves (with no loose ends) or even some stretchy warm headbands/ear covers work great for covering up skin around the neck. Of course there are always turtlenecks, but on days when it’s thirty in the morning and sixty degrees by lunch you may get a little hot, so I prefer something easily removable.

Many people swear by full body coveralls, and I have been in situations where I wish I had a pair. However I find that different parts of my body get hot/cold depending on what I’m doing, and I prefer to have the option of removing or adding a layer to my upper or lower body without doing so to the other half. Also around horses I like having the least amount of restriction to my movement so I can react quickly (especially on cold windy days when horses are fresh), so for me I feel that coveralls can be too bulky. But again that is a personal preference, and for some people they are a lifesaver in cold weather.

Vests –I am a big vest person. As I’ve stated a few times I don’t like having my motion restricted, and the more layers you wear the more you may start to feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man! For me wearing a vest as one of my inner layers, or tossed on over an outer jacket, helps keep my core warm without hindering my ability to move my arms. They are easy to take on and off, and are definitely part of my daily layering system.

Unlike some areas of the country, weather in the Carolinas can be super unpredictable, especially the farther south you go. I keep extras of everything in a trunk at the barn – extra t-shirt, sweatshirt, polar fleece, jeans, britches, socks, wool socks, and plenty of gloves. This way if I am spending all day at the farm I am prepared for all temperatures – this is especially helpful on those odd days where its in the seventies all day and drops to freezing as soon as the sun sets. I’m also prepared for the event that I get splashed with water on cold days – by having extra clothes on hand I can change out of the wet ones and prevent chills later on.

In closing, there are “warm weather” people and “cold weather” people, and I am definitely the former! But unlike when I was a kid growing up in New England, there are tons of “smart” fabrics that can keep you warm and dry without hindering movement. And with just a little bit of research and preparation, it is possible to stay warm all winter long AND keep you horses cared for and in shape for riding come spring!