There’s a growing trend for trail riding in the moonlight, there’s something about being close to nature, and knowing that there’s unlikely to be many other people around that really appeals to a lot of people, me included. While doing this does have the obvious disadvantage of not being able to see as well is there anything else that you should be aware of?
And what about if you have to ride in traffic in the dark? In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be riding on the roads in the dark but this isn’t always possible to do and many people have to no option except to do this. As with trail riding in the dark, the lack of light does pose some problems but with careful planning, they can easily be overcome.
Is it safe to ride at night?
As with riding during the day, riding at night is as safe as you are, if you don’t pay attention and ride dangerously then it’s not going to be safe no matter how much light there is. While I would certainly say that riding in the dark is safe I would add that it can be more hazardous, just because of the simple fact that you can’t see as clearly. If you’re trail riding then you won’t have as much warning of obstacles on your path. Natural predators are also more likely to be out hunting during the night which means, depending on where you’re riding, that you’ll also have to be on the lookout for them.
Can horses see well in the dark?
Horses in the wild have a lot of predators so, as you would expect, being able to see them is very important and obviously the better your eyesight is in the dark the more likely you are to see them before they see you. Just saying that horses do have good night vision doesn’t really do their eyesight justice. Their eyes are amongst the biggest of all land mammals and they have excellent night vision. In fact, their vision is so good that they can still recognize different shapes in a dark moonless area surrounded by trees. Try doing that yourself and you’ll appreciate just how good their eyesight is. That said though while their vision is very good in all light conditions it’s not so good when it comes to quickly adapting from light to dark and vice versa.
Can I still be safe while riding on the road at night?
There are more and more roads these days and while there’s plenty of countryside suitable for riding it’s not always easy to get to it without crossing or riding along roads. If you can’t avoid roads then it’s important to make sure you’re clearly visible to drivers so that they can see you from as far away as possible. Make sure both you and your horse are wearing reflective clothing, things such as a reflective vest for you and rein covers, brushing boots and an exercise blanket for your horse are great, they’ll catch the headlights of the cars so you’ll be clearly visible. Wearing lights is also really important, you should have a red light facing backwards and a white light facing forwards. This will not only help drivers to see you but will also let them know which direction you’re traveling in. While you obviously don’t want to look like a Christmas tree the more light you can emit the better when you’re riding in traffic.
You should also stick to walking while riding on the roads and only trot if you need to cross a road or junction quickly. Never canter or gallop on the road, not only is it not safe to do so with fast-moving vehicles around but if your horse has been shod then he could slip on the road surface too.
When riding on the ride, regardless of whether it’s in daylight or in the dark it’s crucial that you obey the rules of the road. Never ride against the traffic and always be courteous and respectful to over road users. In most countries, horses have the legal right to be on the road but they (or the riders at least) still have to respect other vehicles and the laws of their country.
How can I stay safe while trail riding at night?
If you intend to trail ride at night then it’s always far better to go with other people rather than just on your own. Horses like the company of other horses, especially in the dark, so being with other horses will make them feel safer. Riding with other people is also beneficial to you as well, not only will you have somebody to talk to but the more eyes there are looking out for obstacles and hazards the better. If you had a fall then riding with other people means that there’ll be somebody who can get some help if necessary.
Stay at a walk and only trot if you’re 100% sure the path in front of you is clear. At a walk you’ll be able to see any low hanging branches or dips in the ground that could cause your horse to stumble. Even if you’re riding in the moonlight it can still be difficult to see very far in front of you.
Depending on where you live you may also need to watch out for predators, they’re more active at night so ride with caution and be prepared in case your horse spooks. Most horses won’t take the time to assess if something could be a predator or not and, will understandably, want to get away from the perceived threat as quickly as possible. The Icelandic is the except to that though, in their native Iceland, they don’t have any natural predators but do have quicksand. This means that instead of running from something they’ll stop and assess it in case it is quicksand.
What equipment do I need to safely ride my horse at night?
When riding in the dark the two most important things are to be able to see and to be seen regardless of whether you’re riding on the roads or on a trail. If you can’t see where you’re going you won’t be able to see any hazards and if people can’t see you then you run the risk of becoming a hazard yourself.
Equipment for trail riding at night
On a night trail ride, it’s more important to cast your own light rather than to reflect the light of others. Wearing reflective clothes won’t help because, other than the moon, there’s less likely to be things to cast list. Instead, you want to be your own light source, this will not only help you to see where you’re going but will also help others on the trail to see you too. That said though I would still advocate wearing a reflective vest or jacket.
- Reflective jacket – While there aren’t any vehicle lights the jacket can reflect it can be very helpful if you’re riding during the hunting season. It won’t help you to see better but it will certainly help you to be seen.
- Glow sticks – Far better than using a head torch, these stick aren’t overly bright so won’t ruin your night vision but will give you enough light to not only help you to be seen but also to light your way. Some light sticks can be joined together at the ends but if yours can’t then you can use tape to secure them to your tack as well as around your arms.
- Flashlight – You should carry a flashlight with you for emergencies, if you need to quickly repair your tack or hear a strange noise coming from the undergrowth you’ll be thankful you’ve got one with you. Don’t use the light all of the time though because it’ll ruin both your’s and your horse’s night vision but when you do use it though be careful to not startle your horse.
- First Aid kit – As with trail riding during the day you should always carry a first aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll never need it but it’s better to carry it and not need it than it is to need it but not have it. Make sure you have a hoof pick in your first aid kit too.
- Multipurpose tool – You never know when you’ll come across a branch that’s blocking your path, while you won’t be able to remove big branches it will help you with most other obstacles.
- Food and water – Depending on how long you’re intending to ride for you should make sure you’ve got enough food and water for both you and your horses. This is obviously not necessary if you’re going for a short ride.
Equipment for riding on the road at night
Night riding on the road is the opposite of trail riding in terms of the light. The vehicles around you will be shining their headlights so you can make use of that and reflect the light back to them to make yourself visible.
- Reflective jacket – Whether it’s a full vest or just a strap it’s important that you’re wearing reflective clothing. It’ll help drivers to see that you’re riding a horse rather than just walking on the road.
- Reflective exercise blanket – Just like any other exercise blanket they can fit under the saddle and cover your horse’s back and tail. They let drivers know that a horse is on the road. Some exercise blankets also have tail covers too, these add even more visibility.
- Reflective brushing boots – It never hurts to reflect as much light as possible and boots will give that extra bit of awareness.
- Reflective rein covers – Not essential if your horse is wearing boots but they do catch the lights of oncoming traffic more than and emphasis the shape of the horse too.
- Red and white lights – These lights can either be attached to your boots or to your back and front. They work in the same way as vehicle lights in that they not only let the traffic know that you’re moving but whether you’re moving towards them or away from them.
What should you know before you ride your horse at night?
Riding at night is perfectly safe if you’re sensible but there are a few guidelines you should follow.
- Stay on the path – If you’re trail riding don’t deviate off of the designated path or ride in an area you’re not familiar with. You can always explore during daylight but it’s not safe in the dark, especially if you live in an area with natural predators.
- Make sure you can be seen – Whether you’re trailer riding or riding in traffic you want to make sure you can be seen. At the very least you should be wearing some kind of reflective top, whether it’s a vest or just a strap that goes over your shoulder and around your waste.
- Stick to walking – It might sound boring but it’s far safer to do so, that way you are far better placed to avoid hazards in your path.
- Natural light – You should use natural light to your advantage, if you can ride while the moon is out do so. You should also try and avoid riding through dark enclosed wooded area if possible. They’ll only make it much harder for you to see your surroundings.
- Be careful of your horse’s eyes – While horses have very good night vision they can find it difficult to adapt to sudden changes in light. Car headlights shining in your horse’s eyes can distract and dazzle them and temporarily disrupt the eyesight so be mindful of that.
- Ride with friends – It’ll be good company for both you and your horse but it’s also safer, you’ll both be on the lookout for hazards.
- Follow the rules – Whether you’re riding on the road or on a trail you should stick to the rules and guidelines.
Budget alternatives to equipment
If you’re on a bit of a tight budget and can’t really afford to go and buy a lot of new kit just so that you can safely ride at night don’t worry because there’s a number of cheaper alternatives that will not only save you money but are just as effective.
- Reflective tape – Available in most tack stores as well as online it can easily be stuck to a range of materials and is very hardwearing. It works in exactly the same way as reflective clothing so it can be used around the edge of your exercise blanket, riding boots and even on brushing boots and the reins.
- Pocket flashlight – Instead of buying specialist lights for riding on the road why not use pocket flashlights instead. Depending on the flashlight itself you can either tie it to your boots or tape it to them. Cover the flashlight facing the back with some red cellophane, usually found wrapped around candy, to create the red light. You can then use a rubber band to keep it in place.
Above all have fun!
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