How Cold is Too Cold to Ride?

horseback riding in snow

We are expecting frigid temperatures here in New England for the next few days. Overnight lows will be in the single digits (if we’re lucky) and the highs will be in the low teens.

Personally, I don’t ride if it’s lower than 20° F. Any lower than that and my toes and fingers are just too cold. Also, since I ride outside year round, I am careful about riding when the conditions are icy.

I guess it’s all relative. From what I’ve read on bulletin boards, folks in Canada don’t blanch at riding when the temps fall below zero while those in the south start cringing when the temps dip below 50°.

Horses don’t seem to mind the cold weather as much as we do and while there are concerns that riding in very cold temperatures might predispose horses to respiratory issues, there’s little agreement on how cold “very cold” must be to cause a problem.

So, how do intrepid cold weather riders stay warm? Here are some tips (mine and some gleaned from horse forums):

  • Winter breeches are great. I wear polar fleece breeches and love them.
  • Full chaps add warmth and a wind-proof layer.
  • Nylon tights under everything add a layer of warmth.
  • Under Armour gets many thumbs up for really holding heat in.
  • Wear lots of light layers but don’t wear cotton next to your skin as it will make you cold if you perspire.
  • Spray your feet with antiperspirant spray before you put your sock liners on. It keeps your feet from sweating. Dry feet = warmer feet. Wet sweaty feet = cold feet!
  • I like SSG lined Rancher gloves
  • Fleece lined breeches
  • Many layers-no one cares if you look like a blimp!!!
  • I have had very good luck with Mountain Horse boots
  • Definitely get those little carbon, air activated hand and foot warmers. TOE warmers work really well inside SSG winter training gloves
  • The secret (shhhh) is THIN layers. Either silk or polypropeline works great as the base layer – very thin. For the feet – polypropolene sock liners (keeps the heat in but moves the sweat to the next layer) the thin cotton socks and then wool outer socks works great. Legs – silk long underwear and breeches. The core is silk undershirt, thin cotton turtleneck and then a fleece type jacket. The best place to shop for winter riding layers is at Ski shops and runners shops – my current favorite is Mountain Co-op. The biggest thing to remember is to switch to dry clothes as soon as you are finished riding

8 thoughts on “How Cold is Too Cold to Ride?

  1. The coldest weather I’ve ridden in was years ago and I was trying to get a horse legged up…One night it was 27 below when I went out to ride. I rode in the dark, but there was plenty of moonlight so I could see well. We went about a mile. I do not ride when it is that cold anymore.
    I have used thinsulate lined ski bibs, ski masks, thinsulate caps, and lots of layering. The under armour product is great, too. I have ridden in heavy packs, although I never liked to (no riding colts in packs) and regular snow boots. Multiple layers of socks, also, and I am becoming fond of Smart Wool socks.


  2. You are much hardier than I ! Today is was -8 when I fed the horses and even though it’s warmed up considerably, riding holds no appeal right now.

  3. Wow, winter riding holds no appeal for me unless it’s at least 45 degrees out…I live in a depressingly gray, gloomy and clold climate in northwest Montana where there is plenty of winter and zero sunshine…difficult to get motivated most of the time. This is a test of perseverance, for sure. I have ridden when it was zero degrees out, but wouldn’t think of doing that again…

  4. Those of us in the sunshine states are humbled by your hardiness.

    I returned to my barn after Sept in Montanta: 18 degrees at 8am. The Montana pasture horses all still had their summer coats and looked completely relaxed and happy. No huddling, no frozen looks.

    I couldn’t help but laugh and think…if only the horses in MY barn could see this. They expect heavy winter blankets at 35 degrees, and protest it’s too COLD to be ridden at 30.
    We get huge rain & lightening storms we ride through (covered but not enclosed arena), figuring it’s part of sacking out, but I have to admit we all shrivel up at the thought of anything below 20, especially if snow is involved!
    Would love to hear from someone in Hawaii.

  5. The relative temp theory works for me. I don’t worry about the cold as much as I do a sharp downswing in temperature from one day to the next.

    Hope the NE cold snap doesn’t last too long!

  6. I live in Minnesota where 10 degrees is probably the average in the winter. I still have to ride to keep my horse in shape. I do not ride if it is lower then -5 below outside. Otherwise, I love riding in the winter. You don’t get super hot and if you do you can just take some layers off.

  7. I also love to ride in the winter. Yesterday and today we had temps in the 20s which for me is about perfect. Lots of soft snow, no bugs, and excellent footing!

  8. I dont belive in riding when its under 12 degrees. come on no horsie wants to go jump around in an indoor when its that cold. We usually have wind and lots of it. Like today its 11 degrees but its -6 and dropping. With snow on the ground. Plus the indoor is not heated. Be careful of your horse’s lungs.

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