Safety Rules for Kids Around Horses
By the Editors of "Horse & Rider" Magazine, Riding Family column, June 2008 Issue
To make your child's experience around horses the following guidelines are suggested:
Horse Safety in A Nutshell
"...When in doubt about the proper way of doing anything, or the advisability of a planned activity, ask for expert help and/or advice before proceeding.
Use common sense. Plan ahead and troubleshoot to avoid mishaps. Be thinking always of how to minimize risk. Make a habit of every safety rule and correct method of doing things. Don't hurry, and avoid shortcuts. Do things the right way every time.
Safety on the Ground
Safety in the Saddle
- Approaching, catching. Always speak to a horse to alert him of your presence before walking near; this avoids provoking his startle reflex. Approach from the side, to avoid his "blind" spots (directly in front of and behind him). Touch him first on the neck or shoulder, with a firm but gentle stroking motion.
- Be especially careful when entering a pasture or paddock containing several horses (they can inadvertently jostle or step on you, or even kick). Also, don't take grain or other food into a group of horses--this just entices them to crowd around you and could incite a "food fight," with you caught in the middle. (My note, not in article: If, for some reason it is imperative to go into the pasture with food I always carry a lead rope with a buckle on the end. I twirl it round and round in front of me in a circular motion. That keeps the herd away from me and acts as a deterrent and protection to me.)
- Leading. Always use a lead rope attached to the horse's halter, rather than grasping the halter itself, which provides no options if the horse were to startle. Don't coil the end of the lead rope around your hand, where the loops could tighten; instead, fold it back and forth and grasp the middle of the folds. To avoid being pulled over and dragged, never wrap a lead rope or any other line attached to a horse around any part of your body.
- Don't allow the horse you're leading to touch noses with an unfamiliar horse, as this can lead the "strangers" to suddenly bite or strike at one another. (This applies when you're mounted, as well.) (My note, not in article: Horse nose to nose contact also spreads disease. Often on the trail other riders will invariable bring their horses right up to ours and try to let them make nose to nose contact. They think that the horses will "make friends" this way. Do not do this on the trail. It puts horse and rider in a precarious situation!)
- Tying. Tie a horse "eye high and no longer than your arm," meaning the tie knot should be at least as high as the horse's eye, and the distance from the knot to the halter should be no more than the length of your arm. Tie only to a safe, solid object, using a quick-release knot or breakaway string (your child's instructor will explain how). Keep your fingers out of the loops as you tie the knot. Tie only with a halter and lead, never with bridle reins. (Not in the article but I would like to add that you should never tie to the cross rails of a fence, any object such as a picnic table,automobile, etc., or tie so that the lead rope is too low. Also, use a break away halter (a halter made of leather or one that has a leather strap across the pole area of the horse). Use a knot that can be easily loosened or released.
- Grooming/handling. Stand near the shoulder or next to the hindquarters rather than directly in front of or directly behind a horse when grooming his head or brushing or braiding his tail. To walk behind a horse, go either (1) close enough to brush against him (where a kick would have no real force), keeping one hand on his rump as you pass around; or (2) far enough away to be well out of kicking range. Avoid ducking under the tie rope; you might cause the horse to pull back, and you'd be extremely vulnerable to injury if he did.
- Be mindful of a horses feet while you're working around him, as horses are often careless about where they step. When releasing a horse's foot after cleaning it, make sure your own foot isn't in the hoof's spot as it returns to the ground. When tending to a horse's lower leg or hoof (as in applying a bandage), never kneel or sit on the ground. Remain squatting, so you can jump away in the event he startles.
- When blanketing a horse, fasten the chest straps first, then the girth strap, then the hind-leg straps. When you remove the blanket, unfasten straps in the reverse order. This makes it impossible for the blanket to slip and become entangled with a horse's hind legs.
- Trailering. Never fight with a reluctant horse to get him into a trailer; seek professional help and retraining, if necessary. Once a horse is in the trailer, close the back door or ramp before you hitch him to the trailer tie. When unloading, untie the horse before opening the back of the trailer, so he doesn't begin to back out on his own and hit the end of the rope, causing him to panic and pull back. (My note, not in article: I never stand behind a ramp when a horse is being unloaded. I have seen a horse back out, panic, rear up and flip over backwards. There was an individual standing behind the ramp who almost got crushed! Horses are unpredictable under the best of circumstances!)
- Turning loose. When turning out a horse or pony for exercise or returning him to his paddock or pasture, always turn his head back toward the gate and step through it yourself before slipping the halter off to avoid his heels in case he kicks them up in delight at freedom. (My note, not in article: Another added suggestion would be to remember that some horses get really excited and will take off to be with their buddies in the pasture before you are able to get the halter undone and off. They can take your arm right with them! This can cause you great injury as well as your horse. With the lead rope dangling from the halter still on the horse's head, the horse can step on the lead rope an injure himself, too. I have seen this happen on more than one occasion. I carry a small treat and train my horses to know that they need to stand patiently while being turned back out. They wait for their treat and then go out to meet their buddies. It is the only time that I give treats by hand! Keep you thumb flat against your hand, fingers out, palm up. Nothing will get mistaken for food that way.)
- Feeding treats. Give carrot or apple chunks from the palm of a flattened hand to avoid being accidentally nipped. Better yet (especially in the case of greedy horses or ponies), put treats in a bucket before offering them.
- Supervision. Until skills are well established, your child should ride only under supervision. This is especially crucial for younger children. Jumping should be supervised at all times.
- Safety gear. Essentials include proper footwear (boots or shoes with hard toes and a heel) and, whenever mounted, a properly fitted helmet that meets current safety standards. [The Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) certifies helmets that meet or exceed the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) standard for equestrian headgear. Use only helmets with the ASTM/SEI mark.] Safety or breakaway stirrups (designed to release the foot easily in the event of a fall) are advisable, as is a safety vest for cross-country jumping. (My note, not in article: Check to see what safety vests are approved. Some are, some are not for cross county jumping.)
- Tacking Up. A bit that pinches, ruffled hair under the saddle pad, a too-tight back cinch--any of these can cause a horse or pony to act up "unaccountably." Make sure your child always follows her instructor's rules for proper bridling and saddling. With your or her instructor's help, she should also regularly inspect her equipment for signs of wear that could cause a rein, stirrup leather, or other essential part to break.
- Preparing a fresh mount. A child's horse or pony must always be evaluated for excess energy before the child mounts. Longeing by an experienced person will "take the edge" off a fresh horse and make it less likely he'll act up when ridden. (Remember, excess energy results from overfeeding, lack of exercise, or both.)
- Mounting. Your child should never mount where there are low overhead clearances or projections. She should follow proper technique (her instructor will show her how) and maintain contact with the reins as she swings aboard. Her horse or pony should stand still for mounting, or else be held by an adult until your child is securely in the saddle.
- Paying attention. Staying calm, focused and alert in the saddle at all times is a key safeguard. Your child can have fun, but she mustn't ever become careless or unmindful.
- Trail riding. Don't allow your child to ride out on the trail until her instructor deems she is ready, teaches her how, and assures that her mount is trail-safe. Your child shouldn't ride out alone at any time.