Riding under a harvest moon on a crisp autumn night is a memorable experience and one many equestrians have on their riding bucket list. Here are some safety tips to make sure your moonlit trail ride is the best it can be.
- Always wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet at all times when on horseback is always preferable, but considering the added unpredictability of the trail at night, helmets should be worm by all riders.
- Prep your horse. Make sure your horse is comfortable and confident on trails in daylight before venturing out at night. A horse’s eyesight is remarkably good in the dark but with shadows and rustling leaves, your horse might be spookier the first time or two out after dusk.
- Don’t go alone. There is safety in numbers and riding with a group at night is safer than riding by yourself, in case you need help.
- Number the newbies. If you ride in a group at night, try not to take more than one green horse out at a time. As prey animals with a strong herd instinct, a group of young horses may all spook if one begins to misbehave. Having plenty of stoic, trail-smart horses in the group can help calm a nervous green horse on his first night ride.
- Go slow. Although it’s tempting to gallop through a crisp, clear night with only the moon to light your way, it’s much safer to take it slowly. Holes, low spots, and obstacles such as tree branches can be difficult to see in the shadows. Likewise, your horse may see something that you don’t and catch you off guard with a jump or sideways leap.
- Carry a kit. A good idea for any trail ride, having a first aid kit with a flashlight can be a lifesaver at night. You might also consider a headlamp. These lights have elastic bands that can fit over a helmet.
- Reflective gear. You absolutely want to be visible at night. The more light-colored reflective gear both on you and your horse, the better. Remember not to cover up your reflective gear with a coat.
- Communication is key. Make sure someone at home or at the barn knows where you are going and when to expect you back.
- No exploring. Stick to well-known trails when riding at night so you can reasonably know what to expect around each corner. This also reduces the risk of getting lost. If possible, try to ride a trail that is mostly out in the open. This will help with visibility and help you avoid pesky tree branches.
- Stay together. If you have a pokey horse, stick him in the middle, not at the end. Horses can get panicky if left behind in the dark. Don’t allow anyone to get behind on the trail.
- Stay off the roads. Cars are not expecting a horse on the road at night and by the time they see you in their headlights, they are already far too close to safely slow down and move over.
- Plan ahead. Have a rain date if it looks like there’s a good chance of precipitation, or if the wind is too gusty. But perhaps more importantly, make sure you have enough cocoa or cider to share with everyone once you are all back at the barn!
Anna O’Brien, DVM, is a large animal veterinarian in Maryland and a frequent contributor to Horse Illustrated magazine and HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @annaobriendvm