Riding your horse at night is something even the keenest of equestrians may have never even considered. Whether the idea fills you with excitement or trepidation, there might be times when it’s necessary to ride your equine after dark.
However, there are some top tips you need to follow before heading out after the sun has set. This Equesure article walks you through some of the ways you can make riding your horse at night a safe experience.
In general, you should avoid riding a horse in the dark if at all possible. Rule 51 of the Highway Code that relates to horses says that it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility.
As the BHS reminds us: “If you do, make sure you wear reflective clothing and your horse has reflective bands above the fetlock joints. A light, which shows white to the front and red to the rear, should be fitted with a band to the rider’s right arm and/or leg/riding boot.”
Similarly, they suggest that if you have to lead a horse on the road at night you should carry a light in your right hand, showing white to the front and red to the rear. You should also wear reflective clothing so you can be seen by any traffic and your horse should wear a fluorescent tail guard to make them stand out, too.
After a long day’s ride, you may need to load your horse after dark. Any horse owner will want to do everything to ensure a safe and happy trip for their precious cargo at any time of day or night. Just make sure you’ve the right horse trailer insurance in place first!
Shedding light on your horse’s night vision
A common concern when heading out on a hack later in the day or in the dark, winter months, is whether you’ll make it home before night falls. And it’s easy to see why; after all, if humans can’t see well in low light, what chance does a horse have?
In fact, with equine eyes being an incredible eight times larger than a human’s, their vision is better than ours in many ways. Eye experts say horses have much better night vision than ours. They have more rod photoreceptor cells than humans and a higher proportion of rods to cones, as well as the tapetum lucidum - a reflective membrane in the retina which increases the amount of light available to the photoreceptors. It also gives them that cool glow when the light catches them in the dark!
Their better night vision allows them to continue to graze, interact, and move about at night. It also gives them better vision on overcast days. That’s why you may well have seen your horse running at full gallop over rough terrain with only starlight to guide them.
The large eye of the horse is also invaluable in low-light conditions when looking out for predators in the wild. However, horses are less able to adjust to sudden changes in light levels. Such as when moving from a sunny field to a dark trailer.
This is an important point to consider when training a horse to load into a trailer. It may frighten a horse simply because it can’t see properly yet. It’s also important to remember when out riding, as quickly moving from light to dark or vice versa will make it difficult for them to see.
The equine eye is a particularly delicate structure which doesn’t tolerate injury or disease at all well. As well as damage to the eye, common problems include corneal ulcers, equine recurrent uveitis and conjunctivitis. It’s, therefore, very important to speak to your vet as quickly as possible if any eye problem develops.
That’s one of the many reasons why it’s good to have up-to-date insurance for your horse as well as your horse trailer. It means you can get the professional help your trusty steed deserves as soon as they need it.
Top tips for a safe night-time hack
As summer ends and the clocks turn back an hour, if you normally ride after work or school, chances are you’ll be riding in reduced light levels for the next few months. Here are some top tips to ensure you and your horse stay safe.
Wear a helmet
Fairly obvious we know, but night riding isn’t the right time to compromise on your safety. Wearing a properly fitting helmet will keep you comfortable and safe. The British Horse Society (BHS) recommends you get your hat fitted at a reputable tack shop by somebody who has been properly trained. Also remember to keep your hat fastened at all times when you’re around horses. And don’t be tempted to buy one that’s second-hand. You might not be able to tell if it’s previously been damaged.
If you’d really like to take a step further in terms of safety-wear, invest in a body protector and an air jacket. Although be sure you remember to unclip it before dismounting!
Know your horse
Every horse will have its own quirks and foibles you’ll want to know before attempting any night-time riding. If you can, choose a solid horse you trust, rather than one that’s liable to spook at the slightest thing. You want a truly reliable equine partner to guide you through safely.
If you need further guidance on how to train a spooky horse then look no further than our recent article on that very issue. If you think your horse is a little anxious, then don’t despair, it’s never too late to start training. Any work you do towards reducing the amount or intensity of spooking will help you feel more confident, less nervous and more prepared than ever.
Choose your route wisely
The UK is criss-crossed by thousands of miles of brilliant hacking routes. But not all of them will match your abilities and confidence, particularly at night. If you’re just starting out, get recommendations from more experienced riders. And try to stick to a wide path or track for your first few rides. That way, if your horse does spook, you’ll both have plenty of room to move and stay calm.
Prepare your vehicle and trailer
Depending on what route you choose, you might need to travel a fair distance for your hack. Before you set out with your horse in tow, you need to get your trailer and towing vehicle ready. By applying reflective decals to the back and sides of your trailer, your trailer will be easy to spot in even the worst conditions. Also be sure to check your horse trailer insurance is up to date and suitable for the journey you’re making.
Check the weather forecast
Heading out for a night time hack is risky enough without adding bad weather into the equation, too! Never put the safety of you and your horse at risk by getting caught out in a storm in the dark. You can always delay your adventure by a couple of days or rearrange to when the weather has cleared. That said, sometimes the forecasts can be very wrong and you might still get caught out by bad weather. If you want to know how to ride safely in bad weather then we’ve got useful advice on that, too!
Check your route in the day time
You really shouldn’t ride on an unfamiliar track when riding at night. Make sure you’ve ridden it in the daylight first so you’re both familiar with it. Your horse will be much happier riding a route they know already. Remember, while your horse can see well at night, you can’t. So, make a note of any potential hazards such as low branches that might catch you out later.
Ride in the open
While riding through a forest might be unavoidable, it’s better to stay out in the open where you both can see best. Riding through an open, safe field is perfect for a relaxing moonlight ride.
Get your horse used to torches and other bright light sources
Even if you don’t carry one, a headlamp or torch carried by another rider or night time traveller could upset your horse if they’ve never seen one before. A good idea is to start using a torch while it’s not quite dark yet, to get them comfortable with the light shining over them. Next, try using it while you’re in the saddle, gradually doing this later and later until they’re relaxed with a bright light in the pitch dark.
Take a friend
Many horses (and riders) dislike riding alone, and even more so in the dark. Whether you’re riding alone or in a group, always tell someone back home where you are going and what time you plan to be back. Downloading an app like Horse Rider SOS onto your smartphone is a useful way to take care of safety.
Carry a torch
Whether you want to check out a weird sound, see if the path ahead is safe, or make a quick tack repair, a torch is very useful. That said, don’t use one to light your path. Doing so will actually make it more difficult for you both to see clearly.
Pack a glow stick or LED lighting
You might feel like you’re both going off to a nightclub, but LED lights and glow sticks are great ways to provide a little extra light that won’t interfere with your horse’s night vision (or your own). The BHS advises riders to wear LED lights wherever possible. Ideally, they should be worn in a pattern that highlights their width. For example, by displaying lights on their shoulders and along the sides of their horse.
Be seen, be safe
As we’ve already seen above, the BHS recommends riders should wear high-vis and reflective clothing. Don’t forget to dress your horse in some reflective gear, too! When choosing what colour to wear, remember you’re not looking to make a fashion statement. Think about the environment where you’ll be riding. You really don’t want to blend into the background or hedgerow, you want to stand out.
And it’s not just drivers you want to be seen by. It also means that if you’re thrown from your horse in open countryside, you’ll be spotted much sooner and hopefully get emergency help before any injuries become serious.
When you’re starting out it’s probably best not to bite off more than you can chew. Try a short circular path that’s close to home, and build up from there.
Control your speed
Yes, your horse’s eyesight is much better than yours, but hurtling around at speed in the dark is unlikely to result in a relaxing ride. Even if you know the route well, a lot can change in the dark.
Watch out for animals
You’re unlikely to come across any large predators in the UK countryside. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any wildlife hazards to be on the lookout for. From cattle, sheep and pigs to llamas and alpacas, ostriches, emus and even water buffaloes there are some mighty unusual animals out there in our fields! Also, beware of loose dogs. Be sure to follow our safety tips for dogs and horses if you come across one of our faithful four-legged friends.
Remember to take it easy on your horse. Riding at night is a new experience and will take some getting used to.
If you haven’t done so already then consider taking part in the BHS Ride Safe Award. Completing the Ride Safe award will give you the confidence to ride in a variety of environments, keeping you and your horse safe.
Get horse trailer insurance from Equesure
Whatever time of the day or night you find yourself riding, you need specialist cover to protect you in the event of an accident. Our specialist team can find the right horse trailer insurance cover for your needs.
With over 60 years of experience in the equine insurance market, we can find cover for all makes and models of trailers.
Call today for a quick quote for horse trailer insurance.