Dear Jessica, this isn't really about training, but I figured you would know the answer. I live in Michigan and we have tough winters, and I like to ride out of doors as much as I can. The cold isn't as bad as the wind most of the time, so I'm looking for something that will cut the wind. I have all kinds of polarfleece stuff for underneath, but I need a long coat that won't let the cold air blow up my back when I'm riding. Also my thighs get really cold! So I've been looking in my boyfriend's Western catalogs (I ride hunters, he rides reiners) and I'm pretty impressed with the look of those "Aussie" coats. Are they really as good as the catalogs say? Is there a best brand to buy? I've seen some for $300 and some for under $100, so what kinds are good? Are they really waterproof and windproof? And how do the leg straps work? And are they noisy? My boyfriend got me a long nylon slicker-type coat last year, and it looks cool for street wear but the rustly noise it makes freaks out my horse so I can't ride in it. Are the Aussie coats quieter? Well I guess that's all the questions I have for now. Thanks.
Linda (I'll probably write to you with more questions later)
Hi Linda! As it happens, I can answer those questions. Everyone in the USA wanted one of these coats as soon as "The Man From Snowy River" came out! The coats are still selling, in various forms and lengths, both as riding wear, sportswear, and streetwear. They are generally referred to as "Aussie" coats, whether they hail from Australia or are made elsewhere! And yes, those "Aussie" coats are great for winter riding. You do need to be a little bit careful about what you buy, because these coats have been very trendy in the US for the last few years, and there are some very good brands (Driz-A-Bone is excellent) and some not-so-good knockoffs. Look for wide seam allowances, good-quality, solid zips, deep pockets, and strong snaps on coat flaps and leg straps. Look for a shoulder cape that covers the coat's shoulder stiching (you don't want leaks), and a rear flap that will cover the saddle when you are mounted, and a flap that covers the front zip and keeps the wind and rain out. Some coats come a half-lining, some have optional linings made from flannel or fleece.
If the coat is well-made and fits you, don't worry too much about whose label is in it. There are some very good-quality, long-wearing knockoffs of "Aussie coats" just as there are some good-quality, long-wearing knockoffs of Barbours. I still have an old Barbour knockoff that was made in Ireland and sold for a fraction of the cost of a real Barbour; I bought it years ago, to find out whether the style and feel would suit me for teaching. I thought it might last a year, perhaps, and I would know whether I wanted to invest real money in a real coat. I did like it, and I did eventually buy a posh coat, but the old one is still useful! ;-)
For winter riding in Michigan, you'll want real protection. An "Aussie coat" will keep the wind off your body, but for real warmth, you're wise to wear polarfleece underneath.
Leg straps are convenient in a breeze or if you are galloping, and absolutely essential if you live/ride in a high wind area. They fasten around your legs -- usually with snap fasteners -- and keep the long panels of your coat from flapping up, getting in your way, and exposing your legs to the wind.
Most of these coats are made from waxed or oiled cloth, so they are actually very quiet, unlike nylon or plastic slickers. My coat has never frightened a horse yet -- even on cold and windy days when most horses would appreciate an excuse to buck a little. ;-) When you buy the coat, you can also buy a tin of the recommended product to re-oil or re-wax (re-waterproof) the coat when it needs it, which it WILL eventually if you wear it all the time.
Have fun with your coat! One last suggestion: if you plan to climb ladders (to the hayloft?) or stairs when you wear this coat, and especially if you plan to do these things with your hands full, you might prefer the 3/4 length to the full-length version. Full-length coats are like long skirts, it's easy to step on a hem and trip. ;-)
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