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Safety Tips:

Using Your Head Around Horse Can Save ALL Your Body Parts From Harm
Originally appeared in August/September 1995 HORSEPOWER Magazine for Young Horse Lovers

On The Ground:

  • Always wear proper clothing when handling horses. Loose clothing, dangly jewelry and bare feet or sandals are not appropriate. Even the quietest old pony can be startled and jump on your foot or snag your enormous hoop earring or oversize T on a halter buckle on the way out the gate or stall door.
  • Gloves are a good idea, as well. Sturdy work gloves or snug-fitting riding gloves will help prevent rope burns, splinters and blisters.
  • If you are working around an unpredictable horse -say a cranky mare, stallion or youngster- it is wise to wear your riding helmet to save your melon from unexpected kicks or even bites.
  • Never run around horses and train dogs not to nip at their heels, as the kick intended for that Jack Russell Terrorist might strike you.
  • Never wrap lead ropes or lead shanks around your hand
  • Loop them over your palm instead.
  • Lead from the left shoulder. Don't drag the horse behind you or let him charge ahead.
  • Never lead a horse by hanging onto his halter - use a shank.
  • Tie only to solid objects (fence posts rather than rails, no picnic tables or car mirrors). Use quick release knots or panic snaps.
  • Always crouch when working on the lower legs, instead of sitting or kneeling. In an emergency, you will be better able to leap out of the way.
  • Attend to cuts or scrapes you receive in the stable right away, no matter how minor they seem. Wash thoroughly with soap or mild disinfectant and water. Many horse owners get a regular tetanus booster to protect themselves from this terrible disease that lurks in stable dirt, manure, etc. Ask your family doctor.
  • Never approach a horse from behind without speaking quietly to him first and gently placing your hand on his rump as you move around to the front. Never slap a horse on the butt without warning!
  • Make sure your stable has an up-to-date first aid kit (available from tack and feed stores). It is up to you to know how to use everything it contains.

    In the Saddle:

  • Check all tack and equipment before every ride. Regular cleaning will help you spot any problems such as loose stitching, worn places, cracked leather, etc. before the problems get worse.
  • Tighten the girth when you are tacking up, then tighten it again right before you mount.
  • Always mount up in an open area away from objects you could fall on or the horse could get caught up in. If you are very short and your horse is very tall, a sturdy mounting block is the answer.
  • If your horse refuses to stand while you are mounting, have someone hold him and for goodness sake -teach him to stand! Ask your trainer or an experienced adult to help you with this; a horse who insists on wandering off is a danger and a nuisance.
  • When dismounting, swing your right leg over the back of the horse, kick your left foot free of the stirrup, balancing your weight on your hands and push off slightly away from the horse, landing lightly on the ground.
  • Always ride in a boot with a heel, otherwise your entire foot might slide through the stirrup.
  • If you have a very nervous, fresh or excitable horse, lunge him for 15 minutes before you ride him in a safe, enclosed area first - such as an arena or fenced outdoor ring - before you hit the trails.

    On The Trail:

    Don't let your horse get into the habit of eating on the trail. It is a sign of disrespect for the rider and if he suddenly drops his nose to snatch at grass when you are not expecting it, you could be pulled over his head. Ride at least one horse's length apart when travelling in groups. This will cut down on kicking and nipping and will allow each rider to spot rocks, roots and holes in the trail ahead of them. If you must ride along a road, ride in single file, and, depending on the local traffic laws, usually with the flow of traffic. Ride as far to the right on the shoulder as possible and never travel faster than a slow trot. If a group of riders must cross the road, the entire line should turn as one and cross together, abreast, when there is a safe opening in traffic. This is better than crossing in single file, as one horse may become stranded and panic when he is separated from his friends. If you are traveling through mud or crossing a river, kick your feet free of the stirrups, in case the horse should fall. Popping over little logs is fun in a group, but make sure there are several horse lengths between you and the horse in front, in case one stops or has trouble.

    In The Trailer:

    Determine if your horse has enough head space in the trailer. If his ears are touching the roof when his head is at a normal level, the ceiling is too low. Check your trailer over thoroughly at the beginning of each season and make a point of giving it a once-over before every use. Areas to pay particular attention to are the floor, doors, latches, hitch, safety chains, wiring, lights, tires and brakes. Teach your horse to load quickly and quietly. Get help from a pro if necessary. The driver should haul the trailer as if there were a glass of champagne on his dashboard - and he didn't want to spill a drop. This means no sudden stops or starts and easy does it on the corners.

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