Long hot summer days inevitably mean thunderstorms. When the black clouds roll in and the thunder rumbles, you might wonder what the best course of action is for your horse. What if you get caught in a storm while you’re out riding? If you’re at home, do you leave your horse outside, or should you bring them in? What do you do if you don’t have a barn to bring them to?
The right answer depends on your horse’s experience and the severity of the storm. Sometimes it means making the best of the situation with the resources and shelter that you have.
Tips for Calming Your Horse in a Thunderstorm at Home
1. Know Your Horse
Horses that live outside 24/7 are usually used to weathering storms and can be left outside without worry. In fact, a cool rain shower can be a welcome respite from the heat and bugs. Don’t be surprised to find your horses standing out in the rain even with shelter available.
If you’re worried about your horse being hit by lightning, know that the risk is extremely low. Still, it’s important to make sure your herd has a run-in shelter to weather the storm. Their natural instincts are good, and they tend to know when it’s time to seek shelter and when it’s safe to stand in the rain.
2. Give Them a Buddy Horse
If your horse gets anxious during thunderstorms, it’s best not to actively try to soothe them while the storm rages. Your goal is to ensure that they’re in a safe space where they can’t hurt themselves or others. A calm buddy nearby often helps them become less reactive during stormy weather.
The more “good” storms your horse experiences, the less likely they are to react over time. Pair older experienced horses with younger ones to teach them.
As natural herd animals, horses naturally develop leaders and followers. Younger horses model their behavior after older ones. Let their instincts do the work. Sometimes it’s better if they are left to ride out the storm on their own.
3. Bring Them Inside
While many horse owners find that horses cope best with thunderstorms in the pasture, where they can run free with their herd mates, particularly severe storms may require bringing them inside.
If you have the option to stable your horses during a bad storm, it’s okay to do so. Leaving the lights on or playing music inside the barn can help create a calmer environment. Lightning flashes can be scary for horses in the dark, so make sure they are in secure stalls with mats so they can’t hurt themselves.
Tips for Calming Your Horse During a Thunderstorm on the Trail
4. Plan Ahead
Most riders already know to plan for unexpected weather when they set on a trail ride, but all of us have been caught at some point or another. Whether you were just taking a quick ride across the field or you ended up out longer than expected, keep your eyes on the sky.
When black clouds start rolling in, head back home, so you’re not caught in a thunderstorm. If the forecast is calling for storms, keep your rides close to home so you can get back quickly.
5. Dismount Your Horse
Lead your horse from the ground. When lightning strikes, you don’t want to be at the highest point on the trail.
6. Take Shelter
Avoid heavily wooded areas if you can. Trees get knocked down during storms and cause danger to anyone underneath them. If a sturdy building is nearby to take shelter, that’s your best choice.
If there is hail, you need to get you and your horse underneath something to avoid the pelting ice. Even if it’s scrub brush, get under it. Be aware if your horse is reactive, so they don’t accidentally hurt you.
Avoid water and riverbeds during a thunderstorm. Stormy weather can cause flash floods and water conducts electricity.
7. Free Your Horse
If you’re caught in a storm, you have to separate yourself from your horse. Being outdoors gives your horse a good chance of being able to escape from strong winds or hail. A pasture with a low-lying area, away from water and fences, is ideal.
If you’re caught in a tornado or severe wind storm, your only option is to let your horse’s instincts take care of them while you keep yourself safe. Low-lying areas like a ditch or coulee are best. In a tornado, crawling into a culvert is safer. Know that your horse is smart enough to get down and evade flying objects if they are able to do so.
Things to consider during a thunderstorm:
8. Know the 30-Minute Rule
Your instinct is going to be to hop back in the saddle as soon as the storm starts to move out. Do not do that. The thunder may be moving off in the distance, but that doesn’t mean the lightning strikes are over. Walking your horse back from the ground is the safest bet, but you should wait 30 minutes after the storm has passed to leave your shelter.
In a thunderstorm, the best place for your horse to be is usually in the pasture with their herd mates. While it’s hard for us to understand, horses instinctually shelter themselves from the weather and are usually safer in a place where they can freely move around. It’s best to keep an eye on the weather when heading out for a ride and avoid being caught in a storm altogether. If you are caught in a thunderstorm, use these tips to keep you and your horse safe.
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