Staying safe when out and about with your horse

If you’re the owner of a horse, then you might want to occasionally take it out for a ride outside the paddock. It’ll give your horse the opportunity to stretch its legs, and give it some mental stimulation – after all, staring at the same stretch of land, even if it’s a very spacious stretch of land, is likely to get boring after a while. A change of scenery might therefore be welcome.

Of course, there’s a problem here; taking your horse out and about – especially if you’re taking it out onto the road – carries with it several safety risks. In this article, let’s consider some of them – and see how they might be minimised.

Be punctual

You’ll want to avoid going out with your horse at completely random intervals. While spontaneity might be great for keeping things interesting, it’s probably not good for your horse’s stress levels. Take it out only at certain, regular times of day – that way your horse will know what to expect. Whenever you’re going out, tell someone trustworthy exactly when, and how long you expect to be. That way, if you encounter difficulty, your absence will be noted.

Be seen

You should only take your horse out when you’ll be able to see where you’re going. Horses aren’t famed for their excellent night-vision – and more importantly, other people need to be able to see you. Limit your activities to the daylight hours, and invest in a high-visibility jacket.

The British Horse Society recommends that a high-vis jacket be worn in all weather conditions and times of day. It’s particularly important when you venture out onto the road, as it can provide motorists with as much as three seconds of extra reaction time. When you’re driving at thirty miles per hour, these three seconds can be an extremely long time – and so this simple change can easily make the difference between a serious accident and no accident at all. In short: don’t ever go out without your high-vis jacket, and mandate that anyone who accompanies you take the same precaution. That way you’ll give yourself the best possible protection against danger.

Don’t go exploring

When you’re on horseback, it’s best to stick to the routes you know. While it’s all very well seeking out new paths, and taking the road less travelled, it’s probably unwise to do so when you’ve got your horse with you. A better approach is to explore new routes before taking your horse out, and sticking the familiar ones afterwards.

Don’t go during bad weather

By the same token, you won’t want to be stranded out in a rainstorm with your horse in tow. You’ll want, therefore, to be sure that you’ve checked the weather forecast before setting out. If the weather looks as though it might be unwelcoming, then it’s best to delay the trip to another opportune moment.

Bad weather, of course, doesn’t just mean rain, sleet and snow. During the early morning, fog may reduce visibility. If you know it’ll clear up in just a few hours, you may be tempted to forgo caution and head out into the mist. But it’s probably best to take a more cautious approach, and wait for fog to clear before setting out.

Carry a phone

A mobile phone is an excellent invention – and it’s at its most excellent in those situations you never want to end up in. If you get into trouble, you’ll want to be able to summon help – and you’ll want others to be able to get in touch with you, too. Since you don’t want to spook your horse whenever you receive a call, be sure to keep your phone on silent. Be sure also that you have certain emergency numbers saved onto your phone – as well as the contact details for your yard.

Keep roadwork to a minimum

Cars and horses are not a great match. The loud engine revving of the former is almost certain to startle, or even terrify, the latter. While most motorists will be courteous, and slow down as they pass horses, a minority will not. Sometimes, taking a horse out onto a road is unavoidable. But you’ll still want to take steps to minimise your horse’s exposure to traffic – particularly if you’re taking younger, less experienced riders along with you.

The British Horse Society has, in recent years, launched a campaign called ‘Dead Slow’, which encourages drivers to slow to just fifteen miles per hour when passing horses.

Inspect tack

In order to control a horse, and be comfortable during your ride, you’ll need tack that’s up to the job. To be sure that your tack is such, carry out a brief inspection before saddling out. If it looks as though it’s about to fall to bits, or it’s not fitted correctly, then you can either find a replacement or make the appropriate adjustments.

Naturally, tack doesn’t simply disintegrate overnight; it takes a while to go from sparkling new to fit-for-the-scrapheap. Be sure, therefore, to keep track of this deterioration, and get a replacement available when required. The last thing you want to happen is for your tack to fall to pieces when you’re in the middle of a busy road.

In conclusion

Taking your horse out for a ride is a rewarding and healthy part of owning one. But it’s also an activity that carries risk. The BHS’s risk-reporting survey has logged more than 2,000 reports of road incidents over five years, 181 of which have resulted in the horse dying, and 36 of which have resulted in the rider dying. Of course, these figures are self-reported, and therefore shouldn’t be taken as an accurate reflection of the danger – the many thousands of uneventful rides which take place each year aren’t reported in this way. The chances of an accident occurring are small; but with the right precautions, their likelihood and potential seriousness can be much reduced.

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