All horse owners know that horses can be unpredictable creatures and a horse’s behaviour should never be taken for granted. Even the most placid and reliable of horses can occasionally do something out of character. This is why whether you are riding or handling horses, whether you are a beginner or an experienced horse owner, it pays to observe common sense safety tips at all times.
Wear the Proper Gear
Personal protective equipment is not just for people who work in heavy industry. It is essential for anyone involved in high risk activities and one of these is horse riding. In fact, simply being near horses can be dangerous and this is why you should always be wearing protective clothing and observing all necessary safety precautions. Any yard worth its reputation will insist on this for everyone, whether you are in the saddle or on the ground.
Anyone who has been stepped on by a horse or pony knows how painful this can be so always wear sturdy boots, with steel toe caps if necessary. These will help to protect your feet from all kinds of hazards around the yard as well as from a horse’s misplaced foot. Gloves are essential too as burns from a rope can be painful whether you are leading a horse or carrying heavy or awkward loads. Safety gloves are useful when working in the yard but when riding, a softer glove that allows you to feel the reins offers control as well as protection. Before you ride out or lead a horse out it pays to check the condition of your tack, head collars and lead ropes. Any that are worn or damaged should be replaced immediately both for your own safety and for the horse’s comfort.
The clothing you wear while riding must have multiple uses. Obviously it should be comfortable and warm during the colder weather but its primary use should be to minimise injury should you suffer a fall. It goes without saying that a protective hat is the most essential piece of kit that you should never ride without. Even the mildest of falls can result in debilitating head injury so always wear a correctly-fitted hat from a reputable supplier. Body protectors and air jackets are increasingly worn by horse riders and these can make the difference between serious or slight injury in a fall. An air jacket is attached to the saddle by a lanyard and in the event of a fall the lanyard detaches from the jacket and activates a pressurised canister which contains co². Before the rider even hits the floor the jacket inflates cushioning the impact and helping to avoid serious injury.
One final point on clothing – avoid wearing lots of flashy or dangly jewellery around horses. Aside from the fact that a horse could be easily spooked by something like this, you could easily catch a ring, piercing or earring on something and sustain an injury.
Safety When Riding and Around the Yard
Injuries often occur through carelessness or improper use of equipment so it pays to observe rules and safety precautions at all times when working around horses. If you are using lead ropes, lunge lines or reins never tie any of these around your body if they are attached to a horse and never walk underneath a tied lead rope. If a horse should become spooked or try to move away you could suffer severe injury. If you tie a horse always use a quick release knot in case you need to release him in an emergency and always tie directly to baling twine. If he panics and tries to move away this will snap and allow him to move without injuring himself or you.
A ride out will be much more enjoyable if you follow a few basic rules. As we’ve said earlier, wearing the right safety clothing and footwear, correctly supplied and fitted to the latest safety standards, is essential. If you ride on public roads make sure you wear reflective clothing at all times but especially in bad weather or low light. It’s advisable not to go out at all in poor visibility. Don’t assume other road users have seen you and ride with consideration of this fact. Ride in an appropriate environment for your and your mount’s skill level and always let people at the yard know your route and time of expected return. Ride with confidence but don’t exceed your skills for your own safety and that of your horse and keep both hands on the reins except when signalling a change of direction. Stay in control at all times. If you ride in a yard or ménage do so when others are around. When out on the road take a fully-charged mobile phone in case of emergencies.
In all situations ensuring your horse understands basic commands and is taught to stand quietly when tied will help to avoid a multitude of preventable accidents.
Understand Your Horse
When riding or working with horses one important thing to remember is this – be confident around him. A confident handler inspires confidence in a horse and if you establish a set of fair and consistent rules with him he will understand what you want from him and will be much easier to handle. Take time to observe your horse and learn about his personality; once you know how he reacts in any situation you are better placed to handle it before he becomes alarmed. Plan ahead, be alert to any dangers and pitfalls and be ready to take positive action where necessary. Whatever you do don’t get complacent and over confident because this can lead to unnecessary accidents. No matter how experienced and confident you are around horses there’s always something new to learn; some new situation or reaction that you may not expect. Be prepared to seek help and guidance from others. And because anything could happen in the world of horses make sure you have adequate insurance in place including public liability insurance in case of accidents out on the road or in the yard.
Being around horses can be life-affirming but dangerous if safety precautions are ignored. Follow these basic rules and you won’t go far wrong.