05 May 26 Horse Safety Tips for Beginners
Seeing a horse up close for the first time is a breathtaking experience. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re also one of the largest creatures we get to interact with on a regular basis. Because they are so large and powerful, there are important safety tips that everyone should know before approaching or riding a horse.
So, how can you stay safe around horses? Here are our top safety tips.
One of the best horse safety tips is to stay alert when you’re around them. As you’re around horses more and more, you’ll be able to sense when something isn’t quite right. But even if you’re a beginner, your instincts can be a helpful indicator as to when a situation isn’t safe. If you feel like a situation isn’t safe, remove yourself from the situation and get the assistance of someone with more experience.
Avoid going near horses when your senses aren’t at 100 percent, either due to sleep deprivation, medication, or alcohol. When you’re in any of these states, you won’t be able to recognize or respond to potentially dangerous situations as well as you would otherwise.
Staying alert not only to the horse but also your surroundings will help you to see potential situations that your horse may react to. Whether its something that may cause your horse to spook, like a bag blowing in the breeze or a noisy truck coming down the road, or something that may distract your horse like lush grass or horses in a neighboring field, being alert to what’s going on around you will help you maintain control of your horse.
Make Your Presence Known
Horses are, by nature, flight animals. That means that they are instinctively ready to flee at any given time. If you’re not making your presence known and manage to surprise a horse, it could be potentially dangerous for you and the horse.
One of the worst things you can do to a horse is sneak up on it. Make your presence known by speaking in your regular tone as you approach. You should also make sure that the horse sees you coming. A horse that knows that you are approaching it is far less likely to kick, bite, or run away in fright.
As you spend time with your horse, they will become accustomed to your presence. But you should always make sure that they know it’s you coming, and not a rival horse trying to steal their favorite patch of grass!
Avoid Danger Areas
Many beginners are tentative around horses and pull away from a horse whenever there is any sign of danger. But what many don’t know is that the safest place to be is directly beside a horse’s front shoulder rather than a few feet away from them. Standing several feet away from a horse puts you in a good position for a full powered horse kick. When you stand just beside their front shoulder, they aren’t able to gather the same amount of momentum to carry out a powerful kick.
The worst possible places to stand near a horse are directly in front of it, where you can be trampled if they bolt forwards, or behind it, where they can easily deliver a powerful kick.
It’s good to note that horses actually have a blind spot directly in front of them. If you happen to be in that blind spot when they get spooked, it could be a bad situation. Horses also have a blind spot directly behind them, making approaching them from behind particularly dangerous. If you do ever need to cross behind a horse, the safest way to do so is to stay close to their body, keeping one hand on them as you move around so that they know where you’re located.
The rule to remember here is to always stand beside their front shoulder or far enough away that you’re out of reach for a kick.
Approach the Horse from the Side
The safest way to approach a horse is at an angle from the side where they can clearly see you. Because of the blind spots that horses have directly in front of them and behind them, avoid approaching from either of these angles. When you do so, they might not know you’re coming until the last second. Speak calmly as you approach to help ensure that they are well aware of your presence.
Watch for Warning Signs
Horses give warning signs when they’re about to do something unusual like kicking or biting. Knowing these signs will help you stay safe in otherwise hazardous situations. Horses kick or bite when they feel afraid or defensive. One of the clearest signs that a horse is upset is when they lay their ears flat on their head. This is known as pinning their ears. If a horse you’re around does this, exercise extreme caution as they might be about to kick or bite.
Other signs of an uncomfortable horse include rapidly swiveling ears, as though they are trying to listen to noises all around them, excessive tail swishing, and a slightly lowered head that is moved from side to side.
A great way to tell what a horse is feeling is to notice the expression in their eyes. If a horse is nervous, they’ll be wide-eyed. If a horse is calm and relaxed, their eyes will be half- closed and they may chew their teeth contently.
While surprises might be fun for us, horses are a bit less fond of them. Things that we might not even think twice about can really startle a horse. A few examples are running, loud or strange noises, foreign objects like plastic bags, unexpected physical contact, things that resemble snakes, and the wind.
Like mentioned above, horses are creatures of flight. If they are surprised by something, they’ll naturally want to run away. If you don’t know how to handle a horse when they’re spooked or surprised, this could be a potentially dangerous situation.
Chances are, no matter how hard you try to avoid surprises, your horse is bound to run into them at one point or another. That said, it’s good to perform desensitization training to help them react properly in unexpected situations.
Ask Permission Before Going Near Someone’s Horse
You should always ask permission before approaching someone’s horse. For one, this is the polite thing to do. But secondly, you don’t know what condition the horse is in. If the horse is a rescue from an abusive situation, they might respond negatively to physical contact from anyone that they haven’t established trust with yet.
The horse could also be dealing with other physical or psychological issues that you’re not aware of. It’s always best to exercise caution by asking the horse’s owner before approaching.
If you’ve heard anything about horses, you’ve likely heard that horses can pick up on your emotions when you’re around them, and this is certainly true.
Horses can sense when a beginner rider is in the saddle, and if that rider is tentative or fearful. Horses tend to mirror the emotions they pick up on, so if you’re nervous or anxious, the horse may become nervous and anxious. Likewise, if you’re frustrated, the horse will probably become frustrated. Staying calm and utilizing clear and definitive commands will help you stay safe and maintain control of your horse.
If you’re concerned that you won’t be calm around your horse, a good technique is to go slowly and take deep breaths. The more you ride, the more your confidence and abilities will improve.
Feed Treats Carefully
It’s no secret, horses love treats! But a word of caution. Treats and fingers look a whole lot alike to a hungry horse. If you aren’t careful, you could end up with a nasty bite. The safest way to give a treat to a horse is with the treat flat on your palm with your fingers together.
Avoid Bringing Special Food Into a Field
If you’re feeding your horse something special out in the field, other horses will quickly take notice of it. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly end up with an unwanted audience of hungry and pushy horses.
You should always take your horse out of the field when you are feeding them something special. They’ll be able to enjoy their treat in peace, and you won’t have to worry about being surrounded.
Stay Away During Feeding Time
Horses, like other animals, can be defensive when they’re eating. If there are multiple horses in the same area during feeding time, it’s important to stay away. Horses can get aggressive towards each other when its time to eat, and it would be no fun to get caught in between two horses battling it out over a food bucket.
Hold Your Lead Rope, Don’t Wrap It
Whenever you’re leading your horse with a halter, you should never wrap or attach the lead rope to any part of your body. If the horse were to take off while you have the lead rope wrapped around your arm, this could result in you being dragged. This rule applies for any type of horse gear. If it’s attached to your horse, make sure that it’s not attached to you.
Wear the Right Clothing
If you want to stay safe around horses, the type of clothing you wear will play an important role. Before getting on a horse or working an untrained or temperamental horse, you should always be wearing a certified riding helmet. Some helmets are just for show and aren’t actually safety certified, so make sure that yours is. You should also ensure that the helmet fits your head correctly, and is fastened firmly underneath your chin.
In addition to a good helmet, you will need a good pair of riding boots. Riding boots are made to protect your feet in the event that you’ve been stepped on by a horse, they protect your legs from uncomfortable rubbing from certain types of stirrups, and the keep your feet from sliding through the stirrups by means of a one to one and a half inch heel.
As for the rest of your clothing, the main thing to make sure of is that you’re not wearing anything baggy or loose that can get caught anywhere in your riding equipment. We go into a lot more detail about exactly what type of gear and clothing your need for horseback riding in an article you can find by clicking here.
Turn Horses Loose With Caution
After a nice long ride, you might be in a hurry to get home. But you should use caution as you’re returning your horse to the field or stable. Always turn the horse so that it is facing you and the gate you need to exit through. Back away until you’re through the gate, and then release your horse.
This is good to do because many horses have a tendency to immediately bolt off towards their friends, and if you’re standing between them and the other horses, you could be trampled. Other horses might kick in the same situation. So it’s best to minimize risk and keeping them facing you as you exit through the gate.
Exercise Caution Around Ropes
Ropes play an important role with horses, but they can also be dangerous in certain situations. If your horse is tied off, you should never step under or over the rope that is securing them. You should also be mindful of where and what you secure your horse to.
Securing them to something that isn’t secure could result in injury for the horse or anyone around them if they pull back suddenly against the rope and send the object flying. You should always make certain that whatever you tie them off to is secure. Another good safety precaution is to use a quick release knot whenever you tie them off so that they can easily be freed in an emergency.
Avoid Sitting Down Around Horses
When grooming your horse or doing work on their feet, it might be tempting to sit. But this is never a good idea. You should always squat rather than sit or kneel.
In a squatted position you are able to move and react far more quickly than if you were sitting or kneeling. Horses, like any animal, are never one hundred percent predictable, so you need to be ready to respond to any situation that might occur.
Stay Out of Tight Spaces
Horses are incredibly strong. So strong that they can potentially injure you by accident by pressing you against the wall of a trailer, stall, riding ring, or any other immovable object. You should always avoid putting yourself between a horse and a hard place.
If you have to be in a stall with a horse, always make sure you are closer to the door. If you let the horse get in between you and the stall door, you may not be able to make a quick exit if you need to.
If you have to load a horse on a trailer, you can teach your horse to self-load, This means that they’ll walk onto the trailer without you having to lead them. If your horse doesn’t self-load, then always use caution and be aware of the location of escape doors.
Close Gates Behind You
An easy mistake to make is forgetting to close and secure gates all the way, but this is something that should be avoided at all costs. If a gate is left open, horses will be able to make their way to places that aren’t safe, like busy roads and neighborhoods.
It’s good to form the habit of double checking that gates are securely closed whenever you’re entering or leaving an area.
Get Help Mounting and Dismounting a New Horse
If you’re mounting a horse that you’re not familiar with for the first time, you don’t know how they’ll respond to suddenly having a lot of extra weight placed on them. Some horses might bolt forwards or move backward, which can be a dangerous situation if you only have one foot in a stirrup.
Having someone on hand to hold the horse steady as your mount is the safest way to go until you’re confident that the horse is comfortable with the action.
Check Your Gear
Before each and every ride, you should inspect all of your riding gear for any signs of damage, or anything that could potentially cause discomfort to the horse. Make sure that the gear is the correct size and that it is all positioned correctly. If you’re not certain about an issue pertaining to your gear, ask for assistance from someone on hand that has more experience.
Damaged, misplaced, and wrongly sized gear can all place you and your horse in danger, so do your due diligence before you ride to make sure there won’t be any gear related issues.
Don’t Ride Out Alone
While it can be an inconvenience to wait around for a trail partner, it’s always safest to ride out with someone else. If you or your horse were to become injured, there wouldn’t be anyone around to go get help.
Not only should you never ride out alone, but it’s also important to make sure that either you or your riding buddy has a working cellphone on them during the ride. In case of an emergency, you and your friend would not have to separate so one of you could go get help.
Match Your Speed to the Terrian
When you ride into a wide-open field, it might be tempting to immediately take off as fast as you can. But this isn’t recommended. Even ground that appears flat can actually be littered with holes and rocks.
Make sure you inspect the area you’re riding before you pick up your pace. Forcing your horse to move too fast over rough terrain can result in injuries for you both.
Maintain Proper Following Distance
Some horses don’t take kindly to another horse coming up behind them. If you’re out riding, take extra care to avoid getting too close behind another horse. If you do, your horse can easily be kicked.
A popular instruction is to keep your horse two-horse spaces behind another horse. What this means is you should allow a space where two more horses could fit between you and the horse in front of you. This ensures that if the horse ahead kicks out, they won’t be able to get you.
Always be sure to make your presence known if you’re coming up behind another horse and rider. If you need to pass, you can say “left, please,” or “right, please” so they know where you’re coming from and where they need to move over to give you space.
If you’re trail riding with a large group you should also make sure that you don’t lag so far behind that you have to increase your speed to catch up. When you reach your group, your horse might not slow down exactly when it needs to, putting it back in the kicking zone.
If you happen to be on one of those horses who might kick another behind it, you can tie a red ribbon in your horse’s tail. This is the universal sign throughout the horse world that this horse kicks. Riders will understand what this means and they’ll be sure to respect you and your horse’s space.
Tie Off Correctly and with a Safety Release Knot
Horses should be tied to an immovable object that is the height of the base of their neck. You should never use their reins to tie them off. If you tie off with reins, the horse could severely injure their mouth since the reins are attached to the bit. Rather, the best thing to use is your halter and lead rope.
The length of the rope between where it is attached to the horse and where it’s tied off should be no longer than your arm. As mentioned previously, the best way to tie off your horse is with a quick release knot that can easily be undone in the event of an emergency.
Even better than utilizing a quick release knot alone is to tie the quick release knot to a panic snap. A panic snap is a piece of string that is strong enough to hold the horse in normal circumstances but will break free if they pull away forcefully and suddenly. Twine is a great tool to use as a panic strap.
Maintain Contact While Grooming
Whenever you’re grooming your horse, you should place your hand on their hindquarters or shoulder, depending on the area you’re working on. Placing your hand on the horse gives them a clear idea of where you are located at all times, thus preventing the likelihood that they will get spooked.
In addition to alerting the horse of where you’re at, maintaining contact with the horse can help alert you to dangerous situations. A horse that is about to kick will feel tense, so you’ll know that you should move to a safe location.
Don’t Put Too Much Weight on a Horse
Placing to much weight on a horse can not only injure them, but it can also cause them to react in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t, the generally accepted rule is that a healthy horse can comfortably carry up to 20 percent of their body weight without any issues. Make sure you crunch some numbers before mounting up to ensure the load won’t be too heavy for your horse.
If you’d like to know more about how much weight a horse can carry, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Horseback Riding Considered So Dangerous?
Horseback riding is considered dangerous because not only are you working with a very large animal that greatly outweighs you but as with any animal, there’s always a certain measure of unpredictability involved. Horses are flight creatures, so you will always train and ride with that aspect in mind.
While horseback riding may be considered more dangerous than other sports, being properly trained by a trustworthy riding instructor can help minimize unnecessary risk. Once you understand how horses think and react, you will feel much safer around them. Nonetheless, there is always risk involved in dealing with these creatures.
Is There a Way to Keep a Horse From Kicking?
Some horses may be more apt to kick out than others. With proper training and desensitizing, you can usually correct the problem; however, there are a few cases where a horse may still kick out.
While this can seem like a scary situation, it’s important to exercise caution and stay calm. If you are a beginner, you should never be asked to work with a horse that does this. If you’re someone who has experience with horses and has potentially purchased a horse with this problem or you’re working with a horse that kicks out due to pain, here’s what you can do:
Make a fist with your hand and place the fist into the muscle of the horse’s shoulder or the muscle right above the horse’s stifle. Make sure you keep the pressure on the muscle with your fist. Your fist will keep the horse’s muscle from contracting, which it needs to do in order to kick out.
While this may not be ideal for every situation, it can work if you’re brushing the horse or having to put medication on their legs.
Another thing you can do with a horse that kicks is to make them disengage their hind-end away from you. This means that when you apply pressure to the lead rope asking them to turn their nose in, they should step their hind legs away from you.
Thanks for checking out these horse safety tips! Interested in learning more about horses? You can check out more great articles by clicking here.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.