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Safe Horse Riding

when caught in a Storm

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Thunder Rolls... what to do when you're Caught Out
Reid Folsom

Every horseman dreads the sound of thunder when out riding.
Spring, summer and fall, storms can bring dangerous lightning,
hail and flash floods. Most often there is little or no warning,
except for the weatherman's "chance of afternoon storms."

There are many things you can do to lessen the risk to yourself
and the horses when caught out in a storm. The first is to be
aware of the building storm and take cover. If you are within 10
miles of the storm, you are at risk from lightning strikes, which
can reach out that far from the storm's center.

If you are caught in the open and there is lightning, get off the
high points quickly, but do not go into stream beds or low-lying
areas. The lower one-third of sloping land or hills is best. Get
off the horse. Tie the horse to a bush, not a tree, and move at
least 50 feet away. Do not lie down, but squat, balancing on your
feet. Curl into a ball and clasp your arms around your knees.
After the storm has passed for 15 minutes, you can ride again.

If high winds are part of the storm, get off the high points and
away from timber. Again, the lower one-third of sloping land or
hills is safest. Get behind rocks or boulders, but not trees. Get
inside a sturdy building, if possible.

If hail is a danger, get off the high point and seek overhead
shelter. If there is no shelter, dismount and hold your horse.
Worm your way into tall bushes and pull the horse with you, but
do not get under trees. Leave the saddle on and, if something
else is available, protect the horse's head. If nothing else,
encourage your horse to lower his head to the ground. Keep your
hat on and turn your back to the storm, just as horses do.

If there is heavy rain, rising water may be the risk, even if the
storm is distant. Again, the lower one-third to one-half of
slopes and hills are safest. Do not get into streams, dry
waterways, ditches or low ground. Stop, dismount and wait out the
storm. Many accidents happen when people keep moving when it is
wet and visibility is low.

If you are at an event and a storm comes up--and you cannot get
into a building--put your horses in the trailer and put the ramp
up. Be sure the safety chains are not touching the ground. Get in
the tow vehicle. The important thing is to be sure no part of the
tow vehicle or trailer is close to or touching the ground,
including, chairs, lead ropes and buckets.

More riders are lost in local thunderstorms than in hurricanes or
tornadoes. Plan ahead. Stay alert to the weather and take prompt
action when a storm is coming.

One strike, you're out
Death by lightening doesn't attract the nationwide attention of
hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, and statistics for livestock
deaths due to lightening are uncertain. Estimates vary, but it is
certain that lightening kills.

Ground current is one reason horses and cattle are especially
susceptible. Because they are four-footed, livestock are killed
by "step voltage," which occurs when lightning's ground current
radiates out from a struck object. While ground current only
affects the feet and legs of a standing person, it is a common
cause of death among horses and cattle whose vital organs are in
the current path.

Lightening kills most horses in barns, often due to fire. The
good news is that lightening rods can help prevent livestock
deaths, not only in the barn, but also if they are installed near
trees and troughs.

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