Let me start by saying I love a good thunderstorm. I like the excitement of watching the clouds roll in, listening to the thunder rumble, and trying to predict how much rain we'll get.
This impending thunderstorm scared all horses and riders back to the barns during a recent show.
Photo: Alexandra Beckstett
Watching black clouds form when I'm wearing my white breeches and freshly laundered hunt coat and getting ready to go into the ring, however, is a different story. No one--including my leather saddle--likes to show in a downpour.
Such was the case a few weekends ago when the Kentucky Horse Park was treated to line after line of storms during a big hunter/jumper show. I got all dressed up, groomed and tacked my horse, made the trek from the barns to the hunter ring, warmed up to show, and BOOM. Thunder and lightning means everyone off their horses and back to the barns until at least 30 minutes have passed since the last lightning strike--horse show rules.
I repeated this "get ready to go in the show ring" drill three times before finally completing my rounds hours later. A huge annoyance, but for good reason. Severe weather and riding don't mix.
Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue and author of The Horse 911 blog, has some tips for staying safe when you and your horse are away from home at a show or other gathering.
Rebecca recalls the time she found herself 20 miles from civilization and 5 miles from the nearest road at the end of a hunt with a large storm brewing. She says four horses, four people, and 16 dogs packed into the back of their six-horse stock trailer for half an hour while the weather passed. Fortunately no one got hurt!
My horse and I were lucky enough to have a permanent barn to trot back to in the face of an impending storm, but that's not always the case when you're, say, on the trail or in the middle of cross-country.
First of all, says Rebecca, monitoring weather patterns and making sure riders stay safe should be the event management's responsibility. There are plenty of free weather apps out there nowadays to help with this effort.
But if you do find yourself out of shelter's reach at a horse show, forget about trying to stay dry and worry more about lightning risks. Rebecca recommends finding a stand of trees for protection. She's even heard stories of horses and riders taking cover in large cross-country jumps!
There's also power in numbers, she says, as horses stay calmer with company.
On that note, if the storm is making your horse anxious, Rebecca says you should try to stay relaxed and encourage the horse to lower his head (practice this before you actually need it), which in turn helps lower the heart rate and can have a calming effect. Your horse--particularly if we're talking about a fit performance horse--might become more agitated than usual due to the excitement of the event, strange surroundings, and weather.
Once the storm passes, wait for the horse show announcer or manager to give you the green light to resume riding. This individual should be responsible for coordinating horse and human activities safely.
So stay safe (and dry!) the rest of this show season, and share your severe weather experiences in the comments.