Horses are beautiful, large and powerful animals. Though some people grow up around horses, many have had just brief encounters with horses or enjoyed them from afar. Unpredictable and awe-inspiring, horses require constant care, and those who interact with horses should know how to act around horses to reduce their risk of injury.
Contrary to popular belief, all horse-related accidents do not happen when riding a horse. While many injuries result from falling off horses, injury can also occur during routine daily horse chores such as feeding, grooming and tacking. Even the smallest or most mild-mannered horses have the potential to hurt someone if they are scared or startled. While no one should ever fear a horse, certain recommendations can help you avoid kicks, bites or trampled feet when interacting with horses.
• Understand the animal. Understanding horses can reduce your risk of injury. Horses are prey animals in the wild, and they are genetically predisposed to outrunning predators. Domestic horses may still have that fight or flight behavior ingrained in them. Should a horse become startled, it may react by running away. The goal is to remain calm and quiet around a horse. Sudden moves, especially when the horse is getting to know you, can cause a horse to kick out or shy (jump sideways).
• Recognize injury, illness or discomfort. All bets are off if a horse is sick or injured. Pain can cause any animal to act out of character. A horse in pain may be sluggish or unresponsive, while another may act aggressively. Be extra careful around sick horses or when engaging in any activities that may make the animal uncomfortable. Check the horse for injuries or soft spots before grooming. Poor-fitting tack can make a horse uncomfortable, and the horse may attempt to nip at you or the tack when you’re tightening the girth.
• Use proper restraint. According to Blue Cross for Pets, horses should be tied up when they are being groomed or tacked-up, even if they are in a stable. This enables you to move quietly and confidently around the horse. When grooming a horse, make sure the animal is wearing a well-fitting head collar and that the lead rope is secured through a loop attached to the tying up ring. Horse handlers should remain calm but confident around horses, as the animal will get its cues from its handler.
• Always remain on guard. Maintain a safe position when working around horses, regardless of which task you’re performing. For example, never stand directly in front of or behind a horse, which can easily injure you with one kick of its leg. Horses have amazing peripheral vision but two blind spots. One blind spot is directly in front of his nose extending around four feet in front of it. The second blind spot is behind the tail. That blind spot extends about ten feet beyond the horse’s tail. Horses will not be able to see you if you approach in their blind spots, and that could spook the animal. The safest place to stand is beside your horse’s shoulder where you can see each other. Make sure you always have an “out” when standing close to a horse. You should remain on your feet to be able to move out of the way. Do not kneel or sit down on the floor next to a horse. You need to be spry and able to react at a moment’s notice.
• Watch your ropes. Do not loop lead ropes or reins around your hands or other body parts. If the horse pulls away or startles and darts, your body can become trapped. This may cause broken bones, dislocation or dragging.
• Feed from buckets. When giving food or treats to a horse, do so from a feeding trough or bucket. A horse may not mean to bite, but when excited about treats, the horse could mistake fingers for food.
• Wear proper clothing. Always wear appropriate attire when around horses. A substantial shoe or boot will protect your feet against trampling and give you adequate traction. Gloves can be used when handling. Clothing should be well-fitting so that you do not become tangled or ensnared. Novice and even experienced riders may want to wear a riding helmet to protect against head injuries and a crash vest to protect the torso. Brightly colored clothing or reflective gear is adviseable when riding in poor visibility or near moving vehicles.
• Educate yourself. Take advantage of opportunities to learn more about horse care and safety. Less experienced riders can benefit from the training and advice of more experienced riders. Veteran riders also can make suggestions when selecting horses, as some make better fits for novice riders than others.
• Maintain good veterinary care. Horses, just like any other domesticated animal, require veterinary checkups and may even need immunizations. Develop a good relationship with your horse’s vet so that you feel comfortable turning to him or her with any questions.
Horses can make wonderful companions to those who understand their behavior and how to remain safe around these magnificent animals.