The Lost Art of Riding in the Dark

By Patty Wilber

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Henry David Thoreau
In late December, we  still had a foot of snow on the ground.

That’s because, La Nina, not living up to her promise of dry (thank goodness), was circumvented by FIVE storms in four weeks that forgot to read the long-term forecast, and dumped on us.

And it has been cold, so the snow is slow to go.

The 21st or the 2oth of Dec., I forget, was the shortest day of the year. Not as short here in the southwest as in the north, but abbreviated enough to leave me without enough daylight.  And since no one I know has won the lottery, I am still without that indoor (lighted) arena!

So, I sometimes ride in the dark.  On the trail.  In the snow.

After a fresh layering, the snow is still up in the trees, boughs bent under the weight, blocking the trail.  When we push through, it dumps over T, me and my saddle.

My hands and feet and nose usually end up pretty cold, but there’s just something about being out there alone in the night with a horse.

Back in the day of the cavalry, riding in the dark was not uncommon.  If a soldier had somewhere to go, the horse took him there.

Most horses apparently see well in the dark (they have many rods in their eyes, and rods are the cells that perceive light, as opposed to the cones that detect color).  In addition, a good trail horse has a sense of where its feet are, regardless of the sun’s position.

It might be the rider that has the night-time problem! Ride blindfolded?

It is possible to have a flashlight illuminating the way, but that is like riding in a mobile room.  The boundaries of the room keep moving forward, but the walls still press in.

If there is a moon, or starlight on the snow, or the long glimmer of the  setting summer sun that seems to hang in the sky for hours, it is possible to actually see in the gloom, at least somewhat.

Being out in the naked night is something many of us have given up in our mechanized, technologically advanced world.  We don’t really know what it’s like out there.  Our brains shape the shadows of the landscape into weirdnesses that morph and shift.

About two years ago, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t getting any younger.  In fact, I realized, I was actually getting older.  For the first time I started feeling as though my life was narrowing down to a point.  The point of death.  I don’t mean that like death was imminent and looming, but just the light bulb moment that my life is, most likely, more than half over.

That’s when I decided that I better get busy so that I did “not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Well, I might be 50, but I’m not dead yet.  I’m done marking time.  I’m riding into the night.





About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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6 Responses to The Lost Art of Riding in the Dark

  1. Doranna says:

    I love being out at night. I’ve ridden in the dark (and gotten rolled on as a result), but on the whole I do a lot of skulking around out there when the neighbors think everyone in the area is actually snugly inside…

    Mainly I find a flashlight just screws with your eyes if you’re going to be out for any amount of time. I do have a night vision bulb on my headlamp, though. I should play with that sometime!

  2. Patty says:

    Night vision bulb! Hmmm…

  3. Richard Hall says:

    She means the red light Patty which most of the head band lights have. I don’t like trying to get around outside in a really dark night but when its a full moon it provides a really special feeling.
    If you think 50 is bad try being a 35 year old stuck inside a fat decrepid 61 year old body wondering what the hell happened.

  4. BlogPatty says:

    Hi Richard! I have no idea the red light was a night vision bulb! I thought it might be useful to signal someone in a emergency!

    Hey at least you know your true age is 35!

  5. Nancy Searles says:

    Your blog reminded me of some awesome rides I’ve had at night. One in particular was in Colorado and we were coming late off a mountain. It was pitch black and I had to totally trust the horse, his vision and feet as we crept down a cliff. We ended up riding in a meadow with a little more light and a powerful feeling of wonder. How nice to remember that and to visulize you riding in the snow at night. Thanks

  6. BlogPatty says:

    Thanks Nancy! Your phrase “powerful feeling of wonder” really struck home!

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