Generally trail riding at night is a bad idea. Your horse can see better than you can, but that doesn’t mean it will see all the possible hazards that could be on trail—like a low branch that could sweep you off. And, other trail users and road users if you must ride along or cross roads won’t be able to see you as well either. But sometimes you get caught out on trail after the sun goes down or you just can't resist a ride under a full moon.
Sometimes, your schedule just doesn’t let you get out during the daylight hours. Here are a few suggestions that may increase your safety when trail riding at night.
- Review trail safety rules. These basic guidelines will help you stay safe (and have fun) night or day.
- Carry a flashlight. Headlamps (Buy It Now) can be worn on helmets. Sometimes headlamps and flashlights make it harder to see at night, rather that easier. After a short time, your eyes will adjust to the light and you’ll be able to see better. Flashlights can interfere with this. Use your judgment, especially if you have to find trail markers, or check if the footing is safe.
- Stick to known trails. Night time isn’t the safest time to explore new territory.
- If you know you’ll be out after dark, there are all sorts of clip on LED lights that can be worn by either you or the horse. These aren’t expensive, and they certainly make you more visible.
- Avoid riding on roadsides. The bright headlights of cars can be blinding and upsetting for horses. And, in reduced visibility, drivers may not be able to see you as easily.
- Wear brightly colored and reflective clothing. At least wear light colored clothing. A lot of riding gear and clothing is being made with highly reflective strips sewn on. Or, try a reflective vest, which may also come in handy when trail riding during hunting season .
- Walk. At a faster pace, hazards such as bad footing can come up faster and low tree branches may not be visible. Certainly along roadsides walk, and if you’re in a tricky spot don’t hesitate to dismount. Remember that wild creatures will be more active at night, and you might have an encounter that would be rare during daylight hours. Your horse probably won’t take the time to determine whether that animal crossing the trail is a harmless deer or horse-eating cougar, so be aware that your horse could spook if this occurs.
- Stay in the open where the light is best. Sometimes riding through a forest trail is unavoidable, but if you can, stay out in the open where you and your horse can see best. Out in an open, safe field is the best place for a moonlight ride.
- Don't ride alone. A buddy can help everyone stay more secure and provide extra eyes when the light is poor. Follow the rules for riding in the group and ride to the abilities of the greenest horse or rider.
- Stay together. Many horses dislike being on trail alone. Alone in the dark can be even scarier.
- Stay on known trails. Night time is not the time to go exploring. Stay where you know the footing and the hazards and are least likely to run into 'surprises'.