ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Horseback Riding in Inclement Weather

Updated on April 1, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

Watching the Morning Weather Report


When talking about weather conditions and horseback riding, it's the unexpected that gets our attention. It takes more than tying a rain slicker to the back of your saddle to protect yourself and your horse from the whims of Mother Nature.

Even watching the morning weather report is no guarantee you won't be caught far from home, whether riding an endurance race, participating in a show or pleasure riding, when a storm hits. Besides leaving you cold and wet this unexpected event can even prove dangerous to you and your mount. Extreme hot and cold weather, mud, ice and snow, and electric storms all present special problems to the rider and horse, but with knowledge and planning the risks of riding in all weather conditions can be minimized.

Safest position if caught in open during lightning storm
Safest position if caught in open during lightning storm



Lightning is probably the most frightening and dangerous situation encountered when riding. It is responsible for more deaths than any other weather hazard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in a 35-year study (1956-94) 90 deaths and about 225 reported injuries attributed to lightning strikes per year. These are human casualties, not including the number of horses struck by lightning every year.

They found the most likely times to be struck are in the summer months between two and four o'clock in the afternoon.

The National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) recommends that you plan in advance your evacuation and safety measures when participating in any outdoor activity.

As soon as you hear thunder, activate your plan. The NLSI says don't wait until it starts to rain, because lightning often hits before it rains. If you feel your hair standing on end, and/or hear a crackling noise you are already in lightning's field and must take immediate action.

If you are riding and a storm threatens get away from water, high ground and open spaces. Also avoid all metal objects including fences, machinery, power lines and towers, and motors. Open sheds like picnic and rain shelters or under a lone tree will keep you from getting wet, but will not protect you from lightning.

The NLSI says old caves or abandoned mines are not safe havens, but can be deadly shelters, attracting lightning. Also keep in mind that jagged outcrops of rock are more likely to be hit than smooth surfaces.

If possible find shelter in a substantial building or if you are at a show put your horse in his stall and wait in your car for the storm to blow over. If those shelters are not available move to lower ground, preferably near a group of low trees.

If you have time to secure your horse the best bet is to tie it to low growing brush. But, when a sudden storm catches you unaware the best thing to do is move away from your horse.

Immediately remove metal objects from your person, place your feet together, duck your head and crouch down low, in a baseball catcher's stance, with your hands on your knees.

If you are in a group stay at least fifteen feet away from each other to avoid multiple causalities. Wait thirty minutes until after the last sound of thunder to come out of your shelter.


Riding in muddy conditions may seem dangerous, but most horses learn to handle it. Sometimes it depends on the activity.

In competition over hilly or slippery terrain, of course, most eventers use studs in the horse's shoes. In everyday riding, take care to avoid straining a horse's legs on really greasy terrain. Stick to hacking in thick grass fields or all-weather footing arenas. When faced with sticky mud, slow down and let the horse negotiate his way along.


Horses are tolerant of extreme cold, but riding in snow and ice presents a bigger problem. Although not many are showing in this weather, it can slip up on exhibitors. This happened during an early March show in Raleigh, North Carolina several years ago. Late in the last day of the Morgan Arab Classic snow turned the air white and the roads icy. The show went on and footing wasn't a problem since the arenas were covered, but hauling the horses had to be delayed until the roads were cleared of ice and snow.

Riders and horses alike stood draped in blankets while they waited at the end gate for their class. Most of the horses were body clipped for this early spring show, so they definitely felt the cold. Trainers were quick the cover the sweaty horses as soon as they emerged from the show ring.

Body clipped horses will need to be blanketed on cold days. If they haven't been clipped nature has equipped horses to withstand winter weather.

Heat and Humidity

When riding under hot and humid conditions the highest risks to the horse are dehydration, heat stress, and heat stroke. Heat production increases as much as 50% during exercise. The heat increases sweating.

Knowing the signs of heat stress and reacting before it becomes heat stroke is very important. Weakness, rapid respiration, elevated body temperature, and even muscle tremors are signs of heat stress.

When these signs appear the horse should be moved into the shade and ideally a location where fans can be directed at the horse, give the horse water to drink, and sponge him down. The idea is to get the body temperature down.

The horse is suffering heat stroke when the breathing is rapid and deep, and he collapses. The body temperature can be up to 115 degrees. This is a life-threatening situation. The horse will require veterinarian attention immediately.

Caution Riding in Snow and Ice

The Unexpected

Perhaps one of the most bizarre foul weather conditions I have encountered affected the 1996 N.C. 4-H State Championship Horse Show in Raleigh, NC. Storm clouds threatened all day, but the classes were running smoothly and 4-Hers were managing to get into and out of their events without getting drenched in the sporadic downpours.

It was early afternoon when things took a turn for the worst. A sudden wind blew over the show grounds, and weather reports warned a tornado had just skimmed the area. It was close enough to have torn the roof off one barn and deposit a tree on top of a pickup truck. The children and horses were hustled into the large indoor, subterranean arena where they waited until the weather station announced the all clear. Miraculously, there were no injuries to horses or humans, just a lot of very frightened young people and parents. It is one show they will never forget.

Whether out for a morning trail ride or on the show grounds the ideal weather conditions are mild temperatures, low humidity and blue skies, with maybe a light breeze thrown in for good measure. Most horseback riders can only pray they're not stuck in the office on a day like that.

But, chances are pretty good that sometime in their riding career that ideal day will turn nasty, with horse and rider far from home. When that time comes the best defense is paying attention to the weather forecasts, keeping an eye on the sky, and following the recommended safety precautions.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • kathyjones1952@at profile image


      7 years ago from Jasper, Alabama

      This is a great article! I learned a lot of things I didn't know. I was taught not to ride in below 50 degreee weather, myself, because horses can be very frisky when it's this cold and I've been hurt several times in the past! It was my daddy who taught me this and since I was hurt so many times, I always tried to listen to him when it came to horses. I got caught one time in the rain and I certainly wasn't prepared! There was not lightning involved at least!

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      I would head straight for a cave for safety. I never would have thought of that. Thank for you the educaiton.

    • ridendurance profile image


      11 years ago

      Thanks Donna. Looks like this information could just be a life saver!

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      I was surprised to learn that in my research, too. It would be my first instinct if one was available.

    • donnaleemason profile image


      11 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      Excellent. Especially on the lightning. I knew that horses seem to get hit more often but I didn't know that you couldn't use mines or caves to hide in.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)