The basics of staying warm in cold weather
Winter is coming. And no, I am not talking about the Game of Thrones. Shoeing horses is probably one of the most physical jobs that one can do. Add the chill of winter and it can make for some hard days on your body. Those days are even more difficult if you don’t wear clothes that allow you to stay warm, yet remain flexible.
Being from Arizona, my winters growing up consisted of lows in the 30s and a day or two of snow. Rough stuff, I know. And then you have the farriers who are rolling their eyes while reading this in Minnesota and Michigan, shoeing in subzero temperatures.
With that in mind, this article will just touch on some of the best gear out there, designed to keep you working comfortably and prevent you from damaging your body by not staying warm.
Mechanix Style Gloves
Cotton Roper Gloves
Some of the hardest areas of the body to keep warm are the hands and feet. For farriers, these body parts are crucial to keep warm as we work with our hands and remain on our feet for hours during the day. For your hands, there are many options to keep them warm and able to work. I have had great success using the Mechanix style gloves, which give you warmth and are fitted tight to your fingers so you can still grab your tools easily. These cost around $15 to $30 depending on style.
If you’re a guy or gal who doesn’t like the feel of a full glove, fingerless gloves are another option. Another easy, economic choice are cotton roper gloves, which I have seen a lot of shoers wear in cold weather.
Others, myself included, often say that real farriers don’t wear gloves. I completely agree with this statement, except during the winter months. By working without gloves, your hands are out in the elements, which can lead to cracked skin, poor circulation, and even frostbite in the most severe cases. Your hands are one of the most important tools you have, don’t neglect them.
Using gloves can restrict your ability to feel for flares, dishes, and other distortions in the hoof, so ensure your gloves are lightweight and as thin as possible to allow for the use of your hands. And if you absolutely will not or cannot wear gloves, then you can wrap your tools in Vetrap, warm your tools with a blow torch or quickly run them in and out of your forge.
Merino Type Wool Socks
Now on to your feet. Two words, wool socks.
Wool is moisture wicking and extremely fast drying. These two benefits will help keep you warm and dry. Chilblains and frostbite are the two most serious hazards that can come from wearing inadequate socks in cold weather, so be sure you are covering your feet the right way. The cost of covering your feet with wool socks is a bit more expensive but they last longer, and will keep you warm. Merino type wool is a very popular and durable style (about $12 to $15 per pair).
Under Armour Base Layer
Outer Layer Jacket
For keeping your main body area warm, Ramsey, Minn., farrier Mark Thorkildson, AWCF, relies heavily on base layers. Using base layers means that you can make quick adjustments depending on your activity level and changes in the weather. Each layer serves a purpose. The base layer is against your skin and manages moisture, the insulating layer protects you from the cold, and the shell layer (outer layer) shields you from the wind, rain or snow. Mark says he usually likes the Under Armor style base layer shirts, which cost about $40. They are also available as pants as well.
Your base layer will help keep you dry and regulate your body temperature to avoid hypothermia. Again, wool is a popular choice, as well as polyester. Choose this material based on your activity level and the temperatures outside.
The insulating layer will trap the heat near your body. Goose down is a popular choice, as well as synthetics like Thinsulate and fleece. For days lined up with horses, a thinner layer may be a better choice as your body temperature will be higher. For especially cold days, a thicker weight may work better. North Face makes terrific fleece options that cost around $65 to $100, depending on style.
Finally, you need an outer shell. This layer is an important one, especially because it is often the most restrictive while working. Gore-Tex is a great choice as it is a wind-resistant material and waterproof. Columbia Outerwear makes great jackets for anywhere from $100 to $250. The downside to this is that it is very flammable. Use caution if you are making a lot of handmade shoes or hot shoeing. A lot of farriers that I have worked with wear Carharrt vests with a lot of success. They help keep out the elements, but allow your arms free movement while working. These go for about $80 online.
In summary, proper winter attire is critical during the colder months. Check the weather and dress accordingly to prevent losing work days because of getting a cold weather injury. To learn how to use base layers, watch this video.