Take Cover from Thunder, Lightning on Trail

You're out riding when you see black clouds gather and hear the rumble of thunder. Should you worry?
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You're out riding when you see black clouds gather and hear the rumble of thunder. Should you worry?

Yes! Where there's thunder, there's lightning-hotter than the surface of the sun, traveling 90,000 miles per second, packing about 100 times the juice it takes to power your house. And it could strike you and your horse. Here's how to avoid getting hit.

Count the seconds from "flash" to "bang." That will tell you how close the storm is, and whether it's coming closer. Each 5 seconds between lightning and thunder equals a mile. If you count 60 seconds, the strike hit 12 miles away. If you count 50 seconds after the next strike, it's 10 miles. If you count 40 seconds, you're in trouble. Lightning strikes can occur 6 to 8 miles apart, so you could be at ground zero for the next bolt.

Seek a safe place. Don't wait for rain to start; lightning often strikes ahead of a storm. If you and your horse can get to a substantial shelter, do it.

Next best: Your truck and trailer. Load your horse, close up the trailer, get in the truck, and put up the windows. Keep your hands off metal objects. If lightning strikes, it'll travel around the metal shell of your rig, and you'll be safe inside.

Caught in the open? Get away from high ground and open fields. Go to a low-lying area, preferably a spot with brush or scrub for cover. Avoid dry stream beds that might flood in a storm, and steer clear of water, tall trees, and anything metal-wires, fences, pipes, etc. Metal acts like a conduit for lightning strikes, so puts you at risk.

Make yourself small. Get off your horse; together, you're one big lightning magnet. Tie or hobble him, and move at least 15 feet away. (If you're in a group, spread out with at least that distance between all horses and riders.) Crouch down with your feet together, so you contact as little ground as possible. (Don't lie down. If lightning strikes nearby, you'll get a jolt through the ground.)

Stay put. Wait in safety until the storm is gone. A good rule of thumb is to wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving your safety area. Note: If someone nearby is struck by lightning, use CPR to restore breathing and get emergency help. About 80 percent of lightning-strike victims survive.

Adapted from information provided by the National Lightning Safety Institute.