Riding horses should always be done safely. In clear dry weather this goal is usually easily achieved, but in the long, dark, wet winter months more care is required to ensure you,your horse and everyone else are safe.However it is not only the winter months that can be a danger. Spring brings its own issues as does summer and autumn. The following will hopefully bring up some lesser known or overlooked issues. SpringSpring is a lovely time of year, but if you have a new horse or one that you have not ridden in Spring you may get a bit of a shock. The Spring grass coming through gives horses a little sugar boost and some horses may be a bit more fresh. Aside from a fresh horse, there are other dangers in spring. Horses, like humans, can get hay-fever and other allergies such as sweet itch making them extremely uncomfortable. An uncomfortable horse will be even more unpredictable than usual and surely very grumpy. This will obviously make them more dangerous on the road, as a driver will not know that your horse has an ailment, they will just assume your horse is out of control. Always consult a vet if you have issues with your horse. Signs of pollen allergies or sweet-itch•Constant rubbing of the tail/mane•Head shaking or tossing•Kicking out with the hind legs•Tail swishing•Trying to scratch on anything in reach•Rolling (even with you on!)•Sneezing•Coughing•Snot Consult a veterinarian for treatment on allergies and sweet itch or visit www.sweet-itch.orgAnother issue in spring can be on public bridleways and in fields with livestock. Spring is the time for birthing and many animals especially cattle are very protective of their young. See Off Road Riding for more information on riding on bridle paths and in fields. SummerSummer comes with many of the same issues as spring but there it is more likely to be hotter and dryer (if you’re lucky!) which in itself brings dangers. If your horse relies on a fresh running river in the field, make sure it is still flowing as a dehydrated horse can easily collapse if exerted. The same goes for any riders. If you plan a long hack be sure to take a water bottle attached to the saddle or in a back pack and also don’t forget sun block. Be sure to put some on your horse if they have white areas e.g. ears or noses. The ground may also be very hard and riding on it may jar or hurt your horses legs so excessive galloping over a bridleway may be out of the question. Roads may also become slippery in extremely hot weather, making them almost as slippery as ice especially if your horse is shod. If you feel the road may be slippery try to stay to the sides where the is likely to be more debris which can help your horse to stop from slipping too much. Car tires can also be effected by this, so ensure drivers can see you and ask them to slow down when approaching you. If the weather is extremely hot many riders are tempted to ride with just light clothing but hi-viz is still essential for the roads. If you feel your horse may overheat in a hi-viz exercise sheet there are alternatives on the market which will keep your horse cool (See: Hi-Viz Suppliers)AutumnAutumn brings with it the change of colour on the trees, the leafy monsters that chase our horses, rain and the loss of the summer nights. When the rain starts it make the fields turn into bogs and the roads can easily flood. but it also decreases visibility. The photo shows how dull a horse and rider can look in the rain and against a hedge they could be even less visible. If you must ride in the rain, ensure you wear fluorescent and reflective clothing. MudRiding in fields and on bridleways becomes practically impossible when the ground is saturated. However if it is essential then being safe about it is key. Mud is obviously slippy so studs in a horses shoes will help to stop them sliding. Letting them find their own balance by dropping the reins will help if your horse does begin to slip. Do not force your horse to go any faster than a walk in very deep mud as they could pull a muscle or trip over. If your horse does become stuck in really deep mud or falls to its knees you will have to dismount. If it is safe and necessary to do so it will be easier and faster to get across the mud away from your horse on your stomach. Your horse may work itself free but if you need help you should call the Fire and Rescue service on 999. While waiting try to keep your horse calm and if it exhausts itself, make sure to keep its nose out of the mud.FloodsIf you are caught out in the rain or have had a lot of rain and a road you need to pass becomes flooded you must check it before you ride through it to ensure it is safe for your horse. When a flood happens the following dangers need to be considered: •Debris can be washed onto the road for example, bottles, logs, stones and metal, all of which can trip or injure your horses hooves. •Floods also cause some old or ill-cared for roads to collapse leaving large craters or washing away the edges of the road. •If the flood is cause by rain water surging from a drain, the drain cover may become dislodged leaving a hole on the road. Never walk over a gateway you don’t know there may be a cattle grid in place. Flooded roads may even be closed by the police as they are deemed dangerous to pass. It is not illegal to pass one of these signs so you may still ride through it, its possible the water is just too deep and cars may break down in it. But to be on the safe side follow these simple guidelines:•If possible, do the route by car first, get on your wellys or waders and bring a stick so you can walk through the flood (keeping to the middle) to assess any danger•Stick to roads you know. If you know a road was perfectly fine before a flood, it is likely to still be okay. New routes may have roads that already had issues which you can not see due to the water.•Stay in the middle. It is the most shallow part of the flood and the least likely to be effected by potholes or debris. •Wrap your mobile in plastic for example a sandwich bag. Should your horse trip, become injured or spook and you come off, it is very handy to have a dry phone!WinterAlong with the wet and the dark, the winter usually brings the cold. Ice and sometimes snow can halt the whole country, but horses still need to be cared for. Riding in these conditions brings with it probably the greatest of risks as drivers are less in control of their cars especially if they do not expect to see a horse on the road. IceIf you need to hack your horse in winter, the following tips will help you be better prepared on the roads if there is frost:•If you have shoes on your horse, look into getting road studs. They will give grip on the ice.•If the road is used regularly there might already be grit on the road which will help. Try to stay on the tracks of cars that have driven on the road as these areas will be less icy. If the road has not been used at all, try to stay close to the edge where there may be more gravel and debris which will give grip. If it is a farm lane with a grass centre, stay on the grass. •If you have a body protector wear it to hack out. You are much more likely to come off a horse if there is ice about.•Ensure you and your horse wear all the correct gear i.e. hat, saddle, bridle.•Keep it slow, if your horse is very forward and strides out well try to keep them collected. You should not trot or canter on ice unless you have specific ice nails in the shoes of your horse (Commonly used by competitors of ice rides on Icelandic ponies)•NEVER jump on ice•Should your horse slip a lot it would be safer to get off. Your horse will be able to balance better and you are less likely to get hurt by him falling. •Should your horse fall with you still on and you come off or get injured try to stay still. If you managed to stay on your horse, do not get off unless your horse is very unsettled or is hurt. You may have a broken bone that will be made worse by you moving to get off your horse. If you are off, try not to move and wait for help (if there are passers by) or call 999•Making sure you are seen with hi-viz can effect the speed drivers go, thus the speed they slow at. On ice all cars have the potential to slide if they are going fast enough and not slowing down gradually. SnowSnow can be beautiful and fun to ride in but it comes with the same dangers as ice but with the added danger of not being able to see the road or where the ice is. If the world is white, these guidelines should help you decide if you want to ride in it or not:•Visibility is extremely poor in snow, it is best to avoid roads altogether if it is snowing or about to snow. If the snow has fallen and the sky is blue, a short road hack is possible provided you follow the same guides for Floods and Ice •Again, never walk over a gateway you don’t know as there may be a hidden cattle grid.•The world is black and white in the snow as the picture opposite shows, but the sun reflective off the snow can hide yellow too. If you are riding out on a road, the best colour to wear is orange.•If you have a bridle path, make sure you know it like the back of your hand and preferably have used it within the past few days so that any changes or damage could be noted. Also ride only in fields you know, and on hilly/higher ground. Low ground may have puddles that have turned to ice which have then been covered in snow. •Snow balling in the hoof will cause the horse to become unbalanced and be unable to walk correctly, as if they were on stilts. To avoid snowballs forming in your horses hooves you can ride in either boots or using specific snow pads which a farrier can put on. If you have neither of these then the best prevention is to use Vaseline in copious amounts on the hoof and underneath. Avoid putting it on the shoes or very edges of the hoof where it may interfere with walking. Consider the type of snow too, soft fluffy snow i less likely to ball in the hoof whereas hard compact snow will. DarknessUnless you have a lit arena or have time in the day to ride, riding or leading in the dark can be unavoidable. The biggest issue is of course people not being able to see you until they are extremely close. Horses are prey animals and the most dangerous time for them (if they were in the wild) is night time. Horses generally have good eyesight in the dark but this can also be a disadvantage as something that we cannot even see may be terrifying to your horse. The following tips will help to increase your safety if you need to ride in the dark. •Reflective wear is a must when riding or leading in the dark. You should wear at least vest and hat strip on yourself and your horse should have at least a tail guard and martingale. You can get many more reflective items to wear. •Flashing lights are a good way of being seen before the car is close enough to see your reflectivity. You can get specific rider vests with flashing lights, tail guards and halters/nosebands too. The cheaper way is to get bi-cycle lights and attach them to your horse. Remember that red must go to the back and white to the front to signal to drivers which way you are facing. If possible you should carry an extra light to put on your hand so you may be seen when signalling to turn.