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15 Important Ground Rules For Horse Safety

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You might be starting horseback riding lessons at the local stable. Or maybe you are planning a vacation at a ranch, where you will be riding horses. Perhaps, best of all, you have been fulfilling a lifetime dream and getting your first horse. All of these scenarios have one major thing in common. If you don’t know some basic ground rules for handling a horse, they can be dangerous. These basic horse safety ground rules will assist you in being safe and developing good horsemanship.

Side view portrait of beautiful bay horse and female equestrian riding at racetrack during competition

If you open a gate, you shut it.

By closing gates behind you, you ensure that horses and other livestock can’t get out of their enclosures, or into places they should not be. It is especially important to keep feed and tack rooms closed. If a horse can get to the grain, they tend to be little piglets. The large quantities of starch in grain can cause severe intestinal health problems, like colic, founder, and diarrhea. If your horse gets into the grain, be sure to contact a vet!

You and your horse are a team. And you are the team leader.

You want to have a loving relationship with your horse, but you need to be in control for proper horse safety. Your horse needs to understand that when you tell it to do something, it needs to do it. In an argument between a 1000 to 1200-pound horse and a 175-pound person, the person will lose. It is essential to be a team leader while remembering there is a line between leading and abuse.

Jockey riding horse at barn

You want the horse to work because it wants to not because it has too.

A horse that enjoys its job will perform at a higher level, be safer, and frankly more enjoyable to be around. Stacey Westfall’s famous bridleless, bareback freestyle reining championship ride on YouTube is one example of a horse that loves its job. The key to developing this is to have a relationship with your horse based on trust and teamwork. A barrel horse fighting to NOT go into the arena can be an example of a horse that does not like its job. Often this is caused by overuse of spurs.

Teach the horse with three steps: Ask, insist, demand:

Think of this like a parent asking their child to make her bed. First, they ask”Wendy, please make your bed.” When the bed still isn’t made, the parent insists”Wendy Sue, I told you to make your bed.” When the parent uses our full name, we know they are demanding, and we had better get it done. It will take some patience, but if you use this theory in your training, you will find your horse responding to the ask more and more. 

A typical training day for a horse and his rider.

It is important to remember that horses have a very short attention span. So, ask – wait a few seconds – insist-wait a few seconds – and demand. If you have to demand, be sure to get results.  After you get the desired result, stop and let your horse think about it for a few seconds.

You can’t be afraid, but you have to be cautious.

Horses can read your emotions like a book. The herd has to rely on each other to be safe by learning body language. This ability makes them masters at reading our emotions. If we are afraid, they will become frightened also. We need to stay calm for the safety of ourselves and the horse. If you are scared, try to fake it. You must be cautious! You are dealing with a large animal, and anything can happen.

Where can a horse see you? How to approach a horse safely.

Horses have eyes on the sides of their heads, allowing them to see almost entirely around themselves without moving their heads. They do have two blind spots, though. A horse cannot see directly behind them unless they turn their head.  Directly in front of the horse, it is very blurry until they focus on something about 10 feet in front of them. These blind spots make it is safer to approach the horse from the side at the neck and shoulder area. Always talk to the horse as you approach them. 

"A thoroughbred race horse at the track, with it's trainer."

Turn a horse away from you, not towards you.

Turning a horse away from you is done to protect your feet. An excellent way to demonstrate this is to have a friend be your “horse.” Turn away from your “horse,” pulling them with you. Stop and look where their feet are. They will be close to your feet. Turn the “horse” away from you. Their feet will be far away from yours. Remember, you are dealing with a very heavy animal.

Butterfly the lead rope when leading the horse. Don’t wrap it around your hand.

Butterflying the lead will help to keep you from getting dragged if your horse runs off. Make a couple of large loops in the lead rope. Grab the center of the loops, making a butterfly shape. If the horse runs off, the lead will slide out of your hand and not wrap tightly around it.

Only tie the horse up with a lead rope, never the reins.

A quick way to tear up your horse’s mouth is to tie it up with the reins. If something were to cause the horse to pull back, the bit in its mouth could do a lot of damage. If you think you might need to tie your horse, be sure to have a halter and lead rope.

Treat the equipment like it is gold.

It doesn’t matter if it is a curry comb, feed bucket, or a show saddle; all horse equipment is expensive. If equipment is not in good shape, it may even jeopardize your horse’s safety.

Leather horse saddles and equipment resting on hangers in tack room

Water is the most important meal. Then comes forage and then comes grain.

On average, a horse drinks ten gallons of water a day. They drink more during times of hot weather and hard exercise. Hay, hay cubes, hay pellets, and pastures are the forages. They need to eat approximately 1% to 2% of their body weight. Grain is full of starch and sugar. Horses in a rigorous training program and horses which are underweight can befit from grain. It is not necessary for the maintenance of most horses. If the horse is pastured, it can be beneficial to feed a small amount of grain to keep the horses wanting to come up to the barn

Don’t hand feed the horses. It leads to biting and other bad habits.

It is popular to want to give horses treats. Treats are okay in moderation, and if you don’t feed them by hand. If you feed by hand, the horse will start to expect it. Some, not all, horses will bite if they are not getting their treat as soon as they expect it. Young horses are the worst for this. The horse can also start getting pushy, looking for where the treats are.  It is good not to feed by hand. Put the treat down somewhere for the horse to reach.

Beautiful bay latvian breed horse eating dry hay on sunny day

Don’t tailgate the horse in front of you.

Horses’ back legs are very powerful. When they kick, they can reach out at a long distance. When you are coming up to a horse in front of you, be sure to keep at least one-horse lengths distance between you and that horse.

Watch the horse’s ears. They communicate with them.

A horse’s ears can telegraph what they are listening to and how they are feeling. If they are forward or backward, they are listening to something in that direction. They can have one ear forward while the other is backward when they are listening in both directions. Horse show anger when the ears are pinned back tight to their heads.

horse safety ears

You have to be able to control the horse on the ground before you can ride!!!!!

This is the most important horse safety rule I teach my students. If the horse does not respect you on the ground, they will not respect you when you ride. Ground control is crucial. 

Are there any other horse safety rules that you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!15 Important Ground Rules For Horse Safety

About the Author

Wendy Sumner (Researcher/Writer)

Wendy grew up on a quarter horse ranch in Wyoming.  She helped raise and train horses to be shown in the American Quarter Horse Association. At college, she received her Equine Science degree and pursued her love of everything equine.  She has spent the last 35 years raising and training horses and teaching lessons.  e are excited that she has agreed to join our team as a researcher and writer. 

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