By Jerry Tardif
You've likely heard this from other riders, or you've wondered yourself and talked about it with others:
"What should we do if we're out riding far from the barn and it starts to rain hard?
Should we look for shelter?
Should we gallop back?"
While galloping back may initially seem like a good idea, it's really not.
If you're far from the barn, your horse wouldn't be able to gallop all the way back.
And you're likely going to get thoroughly drenched anyway.
So, you don't want to add to your problems by going fast far from home on ground that will quickly be getting wet, muddy, and slippery.
Instead, evaluate your situation and options first.
Hopefully, you ALWAYS check the weather forecast BEFORE going out on long rides far from your barn or trailer.
If you do, you'll rarely ever find yourself in this kind of situation.
It is possible to get caught even if you're prepared because you're riding in an area of quickly changing and less-predictable weather.
But that's pretty rare
(Don't use "quickly changing weather" as an excuse for not being prepared — you'll be taking unnecessary risks.)
If you do get caught in heavy rain for any reason, including that you left in a hurry and were not prepared, here are some things to consider as you make command decisions about how you'll proceed.
Is it lightening near your location?
If so, you need to find low ground and shelter FAST!
Getting hit is a sure bet for getting seriously hurt or killed — you can't ignore the risk!
At minimum, get off your horse and walk so you're combined profile is lower.
If you see a thunderstorm coming and feel you have the time to make it back to the barn before the storm comes overhead, then you may want to consider a quick dash to the barn.
But, remember that we're talking about being far from the barn — you can't gallop your horse many miles back, non-stop.
Possibly, you can dash for a distance (1/2 - 3/4 mile) to avoid immediate weather and then slow down for the remainder of the trip.
But don't depend on outrunning fast-moving and large storms.
What is the temperature like?
If it's in the 80s or 90s and not lightening, getting soaked will be uncomfortable, but at least it shouldn't be dangerous just because you're getting wet — it may even be refreshing.
If the temperature is lower, you've hopefully planned adequately and have rain gear along with you.
The risk of getting wet in cooler temperatures is primarily that of hypothermia.
If you can stay dry while getting rained upon, you have less danger.
Your horse has more mass, so he'll keep adequate heat longer than you.
Terrain and Footing
Regardless of the lightening and hypothermia risks, you can't ignore the terrain and footing.
If slipping is of high risk, you need to go slowly enough that both you and your horse don't fall.
An injury will likely assure that you're both going to be exposed to the weather and its inherent risks for a much longer period of time raising the chances you won't make it back.
So keep calm and make rational decisions.
In and of itself, getting wet is no big deal.
It's the surrounding circumstances that you need to consider.
Lightening around you doesn't mean you'll get hit.
But it does mean you've got to get into a safe area as quickly as possible and avoid high ground and isolated trees and structures while doing so.
And being unprepared without rain gear and a coat in cold weather doesn't mean you and your horse will get hypothermic.
You may be able to sit out the storm and dry out in a barn or garage in the area in which you find yourself.
Or, you may be able to call a friend or associate that can drive to where you are with a trailer and bring you and your horse back safely.
It's also ok to ask for assistance from strangers.
Thinking first and making good decisions will almost always be better than lack of adequate pre-ride preparation and then attempting to find a safe solution under pressure and heavy rain.
Racing back in a panic is one of your worst choices.
Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com.
He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.
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