5 top tips on staying safe when hacking with your horse this winter
As the unpredictable changes of Scottish winter begin to arrive with us, here are some helpful tips on staying safe when going out hacking with your horse.
1. Be visible on the road
It is essential to be visible to others on the road, especially at this time of year. Make sure you have high-visibility clothing on - there are lots of trendy designs and colours out there in the market to suit all tastes and budgets.
As well as high visibility jackets/vests and helmet accessories, don’t forget that your horse needs to be visible too.
Think about ear and neck strap covers, and also fluorescent leg wraps which are one of the most effective ways of your horse being seen.
2. Look after your horse
This may sound obvious and a given to all horse owners, but you do need to ensure your horse is ready and equipped for the potential perils involved on a winter hack.
That might mean lunging outside the stable or field if your horse is fresh before going out onto the winter roads; and also making sure that your horse is sufficiently traffic aware by exposure to sights and sounds in a gradual and controlled manner before contemplating extended road hacks.
Avoid riding on tarmac roads where icy conditions will increase the risk of your horse slipping and avoid snowy conditions which can cause hoof balling.
If icy/snowy roads are unavoidable as part of your route, consider getting off your horse and leading them on icy sections (their balance will be improved without you on top) or asking your blacksmith about winter studs. Use Vaseline on hooves to prevent snowballing.
3. Plan your route
New routes can be exciting but it is good to plan and time new routes in advance of setting out so you don’t get caught short and face riding in darkness.
A useful guide with timings of rides in your local area can be found at the British Horse Society's RideMaps website.
Avoid peak traffic times such as school runs where possible and also take account of planned roadworks and the local weather forecast.
Ride with another rider if possible or if you have to go alone let someone else know where you are going and roughly when you plan to return.
4. Be prepared for the worst
Most rides pass without incident but you should be prepared for the possibility of being involved in an accident.
Take your mobile phone (in silent mode) to summon help in the event of an accident where you or your horse are injured and require assistance.
If you are involved in a collision with a vehicle, get the number plate and full details of the driver. Note also the full details of the names and contact details of any witnesses.
Consider calling the police to attend. Experience tells us that as in any road collision, a driver who is willing to admit fault at the scene may change his position at a later stage and in the absence of witnesses, it can be more difficult to prove fault.
If finances allow, consider investing in a helmet cam which can record incidents as they occur - there are now some very good; lightweight and inexpensive models on the market which can help demonstrate fault in these situations.
5. Stay warm
Make sure you stay warm for the duration of your winter hack by investing in and wearing suitable warm and waterproof winter riding gear.
Keep your hands warm with good quality riding gloves to ensure that your hands can maintain adequate grip of your reins in cold weather conditions.
Consider rubber grip reigns for wet weather. In very cold conditions make sure your horse stays warm (and settled) too by investing in a suitable exercise rug.
Finally enjoy your hack and stay safe!
Partner and lead Solicitor of Digby Brown Horse Accident Team