There is something special about riding at night. Maybe it's the fact that your eyes can't take in nearly as much information as they can during daytime. You are left to experience your surroundings with other senses that you may normally filter out during the day.
If you ride in an area that is far away from city lights, you'll be surprised to notice how bright the stars and moon really can be. The thousands of twinkling diamonds in the sky can make us feel like the tiny, insignificant creature that we are, and really bring home the awesomeness of endless space that surrounds us.
But aside from the moonlight, most of your vision is reduced to distinguishing between blobs of grey, darker grey and black. It's quite hard to identify objects until you get a close-up view.
The nocturnal sounds are amplified - your horse's breath, his footsteps and the creaks from your tack. The crickets and the frogs, the flutter of bat wings and the occasional rustling of undergrowth as a ground animals scurry about their business.
The most sensational part of nighttime riding is how it feels. The horse's gaits seem so much bigger, probably because you can't see how far each stride really goes. The breeze whisks past your cheeks in a way that makes you really feel each and every stride as you travel forward.
Night riding is a spectacular experience that appeals to many people, but there are certain precautions you should take if you want to embark on an adventure of your own. It isn't for everyone nor is it for every horse. Just one little problem can morph into a huge emergency.
Here are some ideas to take with you if you choose to ride at night.
Ride when there is moonlight.
The moon really does light your path. No matter how small the moon on a given night, it can cast a soft glow over the area closest to you. It helps highlight the larger objects and can even outline a path or riding space for you. If you can ever ride during a full moon, you'll notice in amazement how it illuminates the earth and casts long shadows underneath trees and forested overgrowth.
You will really feel the darkness if you go out on a moonless or cloudy night. Although your horse can still see better than you can, no light makes it even more difficult to negotiate hidden turns or lumpy, bumpy paths.
Know the area.
I wouldn't go on a trail at night without having ridden it repeatedly in daylight. You need to know where the obstacles are, if there are any holes in the ground and where the critters might be active.
It is very easy to be disoriented in the dark. You must know which way is home, and where each path takes you.
Even if you are riding in an outdoor ring, it helps to know where the deep spots and bumps are, and where the fence line begins and ends.
Ride with a friend.
It's always advisable to ride in groups. Aside from the obvious safety factor, it's a lot of fun to share the experience. Your horse will also appreciate having an equine friend along.
Pick a suitable horse.
If your horse is the nervous type, night riding might not be something you want to do until you have excellent communication with your horse. There is nothing scarier than a horse spooking randomly in the dark, for both the rider and the horse.
If you want to try this for the first time, stay in an outdoor ring, close to the barn and enclosed by a fence. Then see how your horse handles the situation, and work on developing your communication so that you can feel safe during an unexpected event.
Beware of critters!
One time, I was riding at night in the outdoor ring. The horse pastures border the riding area, and there are trees that surround the open space further away. I was enjoying a wonderfully rhythmical canter when suddenly... there was scurry of brightness not too far on the other side of the fence.
My mare caught a glimpse of an undefined glow and stopped in her tracks, focusing on the object. It turned out that a small herd of deer were crossing through the pasture, bounding through the tall grass and shining their white fluffy tails in the moonlight.
My mare's high-headed snort interrupted their progress and they stopped still, noses in the air, trying to determine what on earth would be frolicking around in the riding ring in the dark!
Once they recognized the horse, they resumed their lofty bounce through the grass, deftly hopped over the fence and headed on their way into the forest. My mare watched them the whole way until they were long gone, but kept her cool.
We watched as they disappeared into the darkness and resumed our ride. But we did keep an eye and an ear out toward the grassy area they had come from!
Always err on the side of caution, and slow your horse down if something seems unsure. The horse's survival instincts will give you fleet feet even from a standstill, but it's always safer to stay at a walk, or go back to the walk, if you don't know what's in front of you.
Only trot or canter on a flat surface that you know is free from bumps and divots. Always return to the walk on unsure footing.
Remember that the glories of night riding don't outweigh your safety. Think of your safety as well as your horse's. Done with due diligence, night riding can be a spectacular experience that memories are made of!
Can you think of any other precautions for night riding? Let us know in the comments below.
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