While we as horse and mule riders may plan on being back at the trailhead before dusk quickly turns to inky darkness it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes a late start prompts a return to camp after dark, and sometimes, such as during the winter months, we just don’t have that many hours of light in the day.
A bit of equine physiology and a myth dispelled.
The horse doesn’t need our help to see at night. Horses are wonderfully equipped with “built in night vision”. The equine eye has a much higher proportion of rods (the ocular cells that are responsible for low light vision) to cones (the cells responsible for color vision) than we as humans do. Horses and mules also have an organ called the “tapetum lucidum” that reflects light back through the retina and unto the rods and cones, which further improves their vision in low light situations. All that boils down to that fact that your horse can navigate a trail quite well in conditions that would have you stumbling into trees, off cliffs, and maybe into the horse itself.
Since we’ve established that it is the human component that needs the reassurance of light while in the dark and that our equine partners are perfectly fine without any aids, let’s discuss what a rider can do to prevent hindering the horse.
While a horse can see much better in the dark than a human can an equine is hindered in that it is much slower to adjust to sudden changes in brightness than we are. This is sometimes illustrated when a horse becomes frightened during trailer loading. Moving from the bright daylight into a dimly lit trailer can make it temporarily difficult for the horse to see (one reason among many where a stock trailer is sometimes preferable to a traditional horse trailer). This inability of the horse to quickly adjust to changing light situations and the humans reliance on artificial light sources means that considerable effort must be taken when trail riding at night to prevent inadvertently causing our mount night blindness. What is desired is a light source that will cast a diffused glow around your horse, allowing you to see while not interfering with the horse’s vision.
Standard flashlights are reliable, traditional, and found in nearly everyone’s gear kit (we love the Mini Mag Light with the LED upgrade). They are also hard to hold and use while handling reins and have a tendency to shine in both your and your horses’ eyes, and also tend to go through batteries like a goose through a jet engine.
First up; incandescent versus LED. If you haven’t made the leap yet, do so, and leap into the 21st century with LEDs. They are cheap, common and in many cases you can switch out your old incandescent bulb for a LED. LED bulbs are remarkably sturdy, long lived, and use very little energy which greatly increases battery life.
Rather than a hand held light a better solution is an LED light that is attached to your head. By freeing your hands you increase your safety and by affixing the light to a hat or riding helmet you only have to turn your head to move the light. Of course with this setup you still must be careful to avoid pointing the light in the horse’s eyes.
In our search for dependable light sources we’ve found several that merit mentioning.
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