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.
Contributed By: Reid Folsom