Winter Wear

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When Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose, and your toes, and the rest of you this winter, throw open your closet doors and bring forth your arsenal of smart high-tech riding apparel to keep that crafty old guy at bay. As horseback riding continues to be perceived by “outsiders” as a serious performance sport, so too does our attire gain sophistication in fabrics, insulation, and treatments as designers apply state-of-the-art creativity and science that already pervades other sporting lines. Hey, isn’t it about time?

Cyclists, hikers, skiers and runners all know that just because you plan to participate in your sport on a given day doesn’t mean the weather will be your ally. Your armor must be made of stuff that deflects the blasting wind and provides insulation to keep you warm—without encumbering your movement. It should attract or wick troublesome moisture off your skin while preventing it from penetrating through your clothing to your body. Sound like an impossible list of wants? No way, says catalog buyer Amy Hamlet of Dover Saddlery, Inc.—and she oughta know.

So Many Choices

Hamlet’s job is to identify the very best brands and price points for Dover’s audience, with its exceptionally wide range of customer preferences and budgets. About climate: It obviously differs, too, whether we ride outside in extreme cold, inside where it’s also cold, or in warmer weather, where we’re so spoiled by higher temperatures that anything below 70 degrees gives us a chill.

Appropriately, we’ll start with Dover’s own Riding Sport private label, with nifty technical fabrics and riders’ amenities at a lower price point. Our main category will be breeches, for you know what they say: “No legs, no rider.”

Choose the Riding Sport “Best Buy” Power Stretch Tights with Polartec’s revolutionary Polar Fleece; the tights’ outer layer resists abrasion and barn debris, a soft inner layer cuddles you, and the item has a drawcord waist and gripper elastic at ankles. Another winner is Riding Sport’s Stretch (baby) Corduroy Full-Seat Breech, a traditional style with a soft touch.

Hamlet likes Devon-Aire’s “true winter” breeches in Polarfleece, with zipper front, belt loops, and the Power Stretch feature in both full seat and knee patch styles. “Everyone else seems to do the pull-on styles,” she says.

Moving slightly up in price, consider the popular TuffRider brand of distributor JPC Equestrian Inc., where company vice president Nina DePetris shares her favorite choice among her company’s immense inventory of products. “My favorite item is our Cyclone Jacket. I have both colors—Blue Ribbon and Chocolate—and even if I did not work here, I would pay retail for it! It is lightweight yet warm, perfect for in the saddle or street wear,” she says.

Cyclone is a waterproof and breathable ladies' active riding jacket. It comes with a stretch balaclava (which covers the head, allowing your face to peek out) storm skirt, internal knitted cuffs, hand warmer pockets and hood within the fleece-lined collar. It also features reflective piping, welded seams and waterproof zippers on the pockets, for the ultimate in protection from the elements.

DePetris is a trend spotter and she’s sure “vests and layering’ will continue to make news in this apparel category. “Our Breeze reversible vest is a huge seller,” she adds.

Kerrits, from the weathery Pacific Northwest, is high in Hamlet’s book for its “coordinating outfits, Power Stretch, Flow-Rise (lower in front, higher in back) waists, great colors and accessories.” Indeed, Kerrits Equestrian Apparel is just plain fun to wear and admire. Kerrits’ marketing manager Liz Hartmann gets excited just talking about fall inventory. Who says riding clothes must be dull?

“At Kerrits, we’ve designed an integrated layering system of riding clothing with flexibility in mind. Our new collection for fall 2007 features garments that fit whatever the day’s forecast may have in store, with soft next-to-skin breathable, moisture-wicking base layers, like our new Tattoo LJs (tops and bottoms), Ventilator jersey and Klassic Performance tights. From there you can add an insulation layer with our Bliss T-neck, Hoofprint sweater, Quilted K jacket or Kinetic jacket. Top it off with our new Precip jacket or our design-award-winning Coach’s Coat, with an outerwear layer that’s waterproof and breathable. Throw in hats and socks and we’ve got you covered from head to toe!” Hartmann says.

In a similar price category, Hamlet says don’t forget Irideon’s Polartec Wind-Pro 3-Season breeches—rain, snow, wind and mud-resistant—but still breathable, knee patch or full seat, gripper elastic at ankle. An Internet product opinion-surf reveals they rate high.

Weather “Fashioncast”

No discussion of winter riding clothing can be complete without including Mountain Horse USA, the Swedish manufacturer that’s moved apparel mountains here with its no-nonsense, good-looking product line that includes the original Rimfrost Paddock and Tall Boot line, and now its innovative Fusion Winter Riders in both tall and small. Brand manager Sharon Gladski says you’ll love Fusion for its Heat-Zone thermo technology that “reflects your body heat back to you in the footbed.” The boots cleverly marry leather and technological materials.

Hand it to the pros at Mountain Horse, they’re persistent. Gladski shares that “we’ve been trying to make a good waterproof, breathable winter riding glove for years, and so meet the Endurance Glove, with four layers, yet still thin enough to keep hands warm and dry in cold and wet conditions.” Distracted riders will appreciate the wrist attachment that counters “orphan glove” syndrome.

Mountain Horse’s All-Purpose Weather Protection System is revered, as is its comprehensive line—for kids too—of jackets, vests, hats, pants, scarves and anything else you need to motivate a “yes, I can” attitude on a less-than-perfect day. Look for the brand-new Zenith softshell jacket for fall, with Protech 4000 laminated fabric. “Riders are asking for three-season products,” says Gladski.

Finally, at the top of the scale, Tropical Rider weighs in with its hugely popular Toasties line. As the name suggests, the breech combines outstanding warmth with superior stretch through the use of both Polartec and Power Stretch. “Athletes can count on the fleece inside to wick moisture and keep the body dry as well as offer an excellent thermal comfort with outstanding stretch, no matter how hard they work,” says spokesperson Sinead Imbaro. She also cites the “no-pill fleece inside for a snuggly feeling against the skin and the antimicrobial finish that resists odors.” Toasties come in four colors and in deerskin or Clarino full seat or patch. The breeches are also now available in low-rise.

Goode Rider president and founder Lorna Goode returns to “muted colors for fall,” with chocolate, brown, olive and charcoal, and a line “that goes from barn to beyond. They’re designed to ride in, then look good when you’re done, with more of a fashion edge to the product.” Goode, who comes from Levi Strauss & Co., calls our attention to her Active jacket and its 100 percent waterproof stretch nylon with contrast fleece lining, attached hood and contoured sleeve, and to her parka—white goose down fill and faux suede details with removable faux fur hood.

A professor in the science of sports apparel, Barbara Stratigakes, owner of body chemistre, says her eye-catching chocolate and aqua adult collection did so well last season that she’s “bringing it back and adding to it.” Selling “casual apparel for horse enthusiasts,” her body chemistre line includes T-shirts—both short and long-sleeved—sweat shirts, turtlenecks, Polarfleece vests, yoga pants, V-neck tops, plaid flannel pants, and a Sprite Plaid horse’s quarter sheet to match. Fun? You bet.

You can dress for winter riding success, look good, feel good and stay on your game, knowing the elements don’t have a chance.