The danger of windy days
A windy day always puts horses on their toes, but that's not because they're silly. It's because they don't feel safe. In the wild, a strong wind blows away the scent and sounds of approaching predators so extra alertness can stop a horse ending up as dinner. Even our modern, domesticated environment seems more dangerous to a horse when the wind whistles round the telephone wires and sends plastic bags whirling across the road.
A few years ago, I learned that horses are right to be worried. The wind was blowing hard when I was due to have a group lesson at a riding school, but the instructor was sure everything would be fine so the lesson went ahead. At first, everything went well. The horses were all more skittish than usual, but this was an advanced class so their riders could easily cope with their bouncy behaviour.
There were no problems until we were taking it in turns to work on extended trot. One rider was practising while the rest of us waited in line round the edge of the arena. Suddenly a loud crack rang out and all the horses raised their heads in perfect unison, their muscles tense and ready for danger.
The sound was a tree breaking in half and it was followed almost immediately by the crash of it falling to the ground. And as it did so, every horse in the lesson bolted. None of us riders could stop them - the combination of herd instinct and fear was stronger than any restraining hand and all the horses cared about was getting away from the source of their terror.
It was one of the most frightening experiences I've ever had while riding. As my horse pounded across the arena, I feared he would try to jump the fence at the end. But he didn't. The horses calmed down and stopped once they reached the other end of the arena and allowed us to stop them.
That's when we realised our riding instructor had been knocked over in panic. She'd been standing in the middle of the arena when the tree fell and had jumped out of the way of one bolting horse, only to collide with another. Fortunately her injuries weren't too serious, but it was an object lesson in the need to be careful around horses on windy days.