"Before we knew it a thick fog had descended and I couldn't see beyond the nose of my horse. It was dark and I suddenly felt very vulnerable on the roads"
For many horse owners, the approach of winter is a dreaded time of year. The weather is bleaker, the days are shorter, and everything seems to require that much more energy. You are spending longer at the stables and riding less, and the window of opportunity for getting things done is reduced along with daylight hours.
But for horse riders, the arrival of winter means there is less opportunity to get in the saddle, with darker days making mid-week hacking more of a challenge. The mornings can be dark and misty right up until midday, with only a few hours’ sunlight before the skies darken again around 4pm. Riding when visibility is poor is dangerous for both horse and rider so try to limit exercise to when lighting is good and you can both see what’s ahead of you.
As we all know, winter weather can be very unpredictable and, what began as a bright, clear morning can quickly descend into unstable, blizzard conditions. The light also diminishes very quickly at this time of year along with the temperature - factors that can affect your horse just as much as you. This will happen at a fast rate, often without you realising it, so, if you do happen to be hacking out, it is vital you have gone prepared. This includes having a mobile phone on your person (but not in your hand!), as well as a light (that flashes white to the front and red to the rear) and any other provisions that might be useful in an emergency situation.
While in summer it can be tempting to set out on a hack without knowing where you are heading or how long you will be gone for, the same carelessness isn't appropriate in winter. Planning your ride in advance is essential if you are to avoid running into difficulty. If you are only setting out by mid-afternoon, choosing a shorter route that will have you home before sundown is far safer than hacking out blindly and finding you are lost, the weather has turned, and what little light you had, has faded. In this situation your horse can quickly start to panic.
If you do happen to be hacking out in low light levels, it is imperative that you and your horse are seen. In fact, whatever the weather and time of year, being visible when out riding should be a top priority. Riding in busy urban areas isn't advised for a number of reasons - one being that car headlights can dazzle, upset and disorientate horses - but, if you do, it is important to wear your reflective clothing just as you would when riding in an unlit or rural area.
The Highway Code (Rule 51) advises riders that "it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility. Riders who must use the road in these conditions should ensure that the horse has reflective bands above the fetlock joints and carry a light, which shows white to the front and red to the rear."
The picture above, kindly supplied by the British Horse Society (www.bhs.org.uk), effectively demonstrates the importance of reflective clothing in conditions where visibility is poor. The picture actually looks as though it was taken during the day, which goes to show the difference reflective clothing can make, even when light levels are moderate. The horse and rider on the left can easily be seen against the backdrop of woodland thanks to the high visibility garments they are wearing. The horse and rider on the right, however, are hardly visible on the same bridleway as their dark colourings camoflauge them against the ground, fence and trees.
This winter, if you are going to be riding in poor light, make sure you do so safely. Not only will you be able to enjoy your hack without being harmed, but you will give peace of mind to other pedestrians and motorists who will be able to see you from afar and adjust their course accordingly. While the phrase 'less is more' can be applied to most things, when it comes to high visibility clothing, there is no limit to how visible you can make yourself.
Other factors to consider when hacking out in winter include staying on familiar trails; your horse will be more confident and you should encounter no nasty surprises. It is also important to stick to a walk or slow trot, avoid busy roads as traffic noise and bright lighting can upset horses, and ride in pairs rather than alone. Lastly, if you do go hacking this winter, make sure you tell someone of your planned route and give them an idea of when you'll be home so, should anything happen, you stand a better chance of being found.
For all reflective, high visibility clothes and items, why not check out the Hyviz range? Whether you are looking for yourself or your horse, it offers a visibility solution for everyone! Alternatively, we stock flashing LED arm bands for dog walkers and equestrians, boot lights, and highly effective LED tail guards for horses.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact our Equine Marketing Manager: [email protected]
VioVet Supported Rider Sarah Mortimer being safe and seen in the saddle.
Written by: Hannah Dyball