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Safety Awareness with Equine

Safety Awareness with Equine will educate participants on general safety around horses and presents research-related data and information concerning helmet safety when horseback riding.


Target Audience(s):

Equine enthusiasts and horseback riders


Participants will learn:

  • About potential hazards and related safety issues when working with horses, and
  • How to make decisions on safe practices with horses and using equestrian helmets.

Total Number of Modules or Sessions: 2

Total Number of Hours for Program Delivery: 4

Program Delivery:

  • Demonstrations
  • Educational Class
  • Educational Video (Online or DVD)

Primary Contact:

Dr. Clay Cavinder,


Working Safely Around Horses

In the U.S., there are approximately 9.2 million horses, which are owned by around 2 million people.  In fact, the American Quarter Horse Association alone has over 3 million registered horses.  Many of these horses are around 1,000 pounds and are very fast and powerful.  The size and strength of the horse, combined with many people riding and handling them, presents a need for sound advice on how to safely manage and handle horses.  This video series seeks to educate people on the potential hazards of working around horses, giving them the ability to understand the risks, and to prevent needless injury.

This module discusses the proper way to lead a horse.

Horses can see best around 55-65 degrees in front of them.  Because of the way their eyes are set on the sides of their head, they have a small blind spot directly in front of them and directly behind. 

It is never a good idea to approach a horse from the rear, but if the need should arise, make sure to make some sound so the horse can hear you approaching.  Likewise it is not a good idea to stand directly in front of a horse either.  Horses can be easily startled and their first instinct may be to run or move forward. 

In order to put a halter on the horse, it is best to approach from the side.  Generally, horses are caught, haltered, and led from their left side.  To place the halter on the horses head, slowly and quietly reach around the neck of the horse, slip the halter over the nose, and then finish by closing the buckle on the side of the halter. 

When walking or leading the horse, always lead horses with your hand firmly around the lead rope close to the halter.  In this way, the handler can manipulate the horse’s head and keep the horse at a safe distance. 

Don’t lead a horse by the halter alone. Also, when using a lead rope, do not coil the end around the hand.  Another good safety tip is to not lead the horse on the end of the lead rope with the horse trailing comfortably behind.  In each of these scenarios if the horse spooks, the handler will potentially be in harms-way.  Some lead ropes have a chain portion at the end.  This chain portion can be fixed over the nose or under the chin and provides more control if the handler needs it. 

Lastly, all horses should respect the space of the handler.  Horses must be required to respect the handler’s space in order to prevent a “pushy” horse from contacting the handler.  If horses are allowed to “lead” the handler then numerous possibilities may develop for injury.  In this case, horses who are in control of the handler could easily escape (which may put others at a safety risk), run by and kick, or run over the handler.

These are all good tips for beginners but it should also be a good refresher for advanced horsemen.  Sometimes it is easy for people who are very comfortable with horses to let some of these sound practices “slip through the cracks.”  When we let our guard down, injuries may arise.

Questions and Discussion Ideas for Module 1:

  1. Do you know someone, experienced or beginner, who was injured due to a lack of awareness of one of the previously mentioned tips?
  2. How could that injury have been prevented?
  3. Horses are said to be “fight or flight” animals.  What is meant by that term?


Turning Out and Tying Safely

Many horse owners choose to leave show and competition horses in stalls throughout the year.  This in combination with the fact that many horses are fed high energy rations, pose a potential hazard when horses are turned out in order to get free exercise or grazing time.  Additionally, energetic or nervous horses may not care to be tied up.  In this module, we will discuss proper ways to limit risk of injury when turning horses out in paddocks or runs and also how to safely tie horses. 

Many horses tend to run and play when they are being turned out, especially if they have been stalled for a time.  Handlers should always lead horses into an area and turn the horse around so that the horse is facing towards the in-gate and the handler is between the two.  In this way, if the horse decides to run and/or kick, they will have to turn 180 degrees around to do so, thus, giving the handler time to move away.  Horses who are led into a pen and immediately turned loose can then run by the handler putting them in harms way.  This is also true for leading horses into stalls.  Always walk in the stall with the horse and turn them around before unfastening the halter. 

When leading a horse through the barn or other close quarters, always make sure to not lead them directly behind other horses.  Lead horses safely out of the way of a kick from another horse.  If the space is really confined, make sure to push the other horse out of the way to provide a safe passage for the horse you are leading.      

Horses should be tied in a manner that prevents them from getting loose but should also be tied so that a person can quickly untie them in an emergency.  Using a quick release knot will ensure both.  A quick release knot allows a person to be able to pull on the lead rope to untie the horse quickly.  This can come in very useful if the horse “sets back” once tied.  Only tie to objects that are sturdy so that if the horse startles and sets back, the object will not come loose.  Tying horses to stall fronts, loose panels, flimsly poles, and poorly constructed fences may lead to the horse being injured if they should try to pull free.  Furthermore, the height and length to which horses are tied is also important.  Tie at eye level of the horse with no more than about an arms length of loose rope.  This will prevent the horse from potentially putting a front leg over a long rope, which will lead to the horse becoming entangled.

Horses can provide many hours of enjoyment, but must always be taken for the powerful animal that they are.  They have minds of their own and may become frightened and things unforeseen.  By respecting their power and size and following a few safety points, the risk of injury may be greatly reduced.   

Questions and Discussion Ideas for this Module:

  1. Could a horse who is gentle and easy to be around potentially cause an injury to a person?
  2. What is wrong with tying a horse “hard and fast” (i.e. not using a quick release knot)?
  3. Name 3 places in your barn that are good examples of places to safely tie a horse? 3 examples of poor places to tie?


Proper Attire for Working with Horses

The enjoyment that can be gained through interaction with horses is apparent to all who are involved directly with handling, riding, and spending time with horses.  Some horse enthusiasts make a living through riding and training horses while most simply enjoy leisure time with them.  In either case, proper attire for the handler is a must in order to prevent or lessen the risk of injury.  In this module we will discuss proper attire needed by both horse handler and rider in order to reduce chances of injury.

Most horses who are handled routinely are docile and gentle but all horses should still be considered for what they are….large animals that react with a “fight or flight” mentality. With this in mind, it may be very easy to see how wearing the proper footwear is essential when handling horses.  Leather boots provide fairly good protection from the likelihood of a horse stepping on the toe of a person.  If this should happen, a cowboy boot or work boot usually prevents serious injury.  Open toed shoes such a flip flops or sandals or even soft leather shoes such as tennis shoes, should never be worn in a horse barn.  To compliment these concerns, boots with heels should be the only allowable footwear for horse riders.  Once the rider has placed his foot in the stirrup, the heel of the boot prevents the rider’s foot from moving forward through the stirrup and becoming hung.  If the horse should startle, and the rider fall off, the riders foot could become trapped leading to serious injury. 

In addition to proper footwear, jeans and pants should always be worn when working around horses, especially when riding.  Jeans keep the riders legs protected from saddle pinching or rubbing caused by course saddle leather.  Not to mention, many barns and horsemen consider proper attire essential to promote professionalism.

All equestrians should think carefully consider wearing a riding helmet.  An equestrian riding helmet can be a piece of riding attire that greatly reduces risk of injury when riding horses.  Serious injuries such as concussions or brain injury can be avoided through choosing to wear a helmet.  Many brands, colors, and styles are available on the market; however, when choosing a helmet, it is imperative that one makes sure that it is approved through the American Society for Testing and Materials and Safety Equipment Institute (ASTM/SEI).  Bicycle helmets are not made with the same standards required of helmets for riding so do not use bike riding helmets for horseback riding.  You want to make sure that the helmet you purchase has the ASTM/SEI certification.  Not wearing a helmet or wearing one that fits improperly are factors associated with most head injuries.  A helmet should fit the riders head comfortably but when moved by the wearer it should cause the scalp to move with the head.  When using a helmet, always ride with the chin or throat strap secured and tightened enough so the helmet does not come off.

Riding and working with horses can be extremely enjoyable but proper practices should be taken in order to reduce and lessen the chances of injury.  Remember, whether you are a beginner or an experienced horse person, proper horse safety practices are essential.

Questions and Discussion Ideas for this Module:

  1. Have you known or know of someone who has been hurt while working with horses?  To what extent was their injury?  What are some ways these injuries may have been avoided?
  2. Why is it important to wear proper attire when working with and around horses?
  3. Could a rider be hurt from casual riding where they are not going fast?


Grooming and Feeding

All who own and work with horses know that there is much more time spent doing daily chores than there is time actually spent riding.  Chores such as feeding, grooming, cleaning stalls, and general care taking of horses are things that many horses owners find enjoyable and a means to relieve stress.  However, horse owners must keep in mind that safety in these situations is as important as other “higher risk” activities such as riding.  In this module we will discuss how to safely work around horses during times of grooming and feeding that will minimize risk of injury to the person.

All horse owners, whether experienced or novice, usually have a close working relationship with their horses.  Daily activities like handling, grooming, feeding and riding, all combine to make most horses gentle and easy to care for.  Still, it is important that people working with horses remain aware of their surroundings including how the horse may react to situations within their environment.  Many people consider grooming a daily activity in order to keep the hair coat in its best condition, but this activity does put the handler in close proximity to the horse.  So, when grooming horses it is a good idea to keep your free hand on the horse at all times.  If the horse startles and moves into you, this will give you a leverage point to safely push yourself out of the way.  When moving around the horse always talk to the horse to alert them to your location and move around them at a distance that will prevent you from being kicked.  When picking up the horses feet, keep your body close to the horse to prevent being kicked. 

Many horse owners choose to keep their horses in stalls and small paddocks.  This being the case, it is essential to daily clean stalls in order to keep the barn clean including limiting the fly population.  At times, you may be in a hurry to get the barn clean and it may seem like a good idea to clean the stall with the horse loose.  Leaving the horse loose while you are in the stall with him puts you at great risk to be kicked or stepped on.  Even the gentlest of horses may kick for unknown reasons, thus it is imperative that the horse be brought out of the stall and properly tied in another area of the barn while you clean the stall. 

Horses who are managed in a confined space, will also be fed in a routine manner and this may pose some danger.  Horses can be aggressive eaters which will be seen by pinning of the ears, showing teeth, and/or being generally pushy once the handler opens the stall door to feed the horse.  Horses who are allowed to come to the feed bucket while the handler is putting grain in a bucket could inadvertently injure a handler. Horses must learn to not invade the handler’s space during times of feeding.  Asking the horse to step away and making sure the horses follows the command will limit risk of injury in this situation.  Also, feeding treats from your hand is a bad idea.  Horses become use to treats very quickly and will start to bite at or nibble on people in anticipation of the treat.

While most of these preventative measures are easy to understand and generally followed, it is important to remember that no matter the temperament of the horse or experience level of the handler, injuries can happen!  By making safety the priority, many of the situations can easily be avoided.   

Questions and Discussion Ideas for this Module:

  1. Have you ever cleaned a horse’s stall with the horse loose in the stall?  If so, can you identify times that you were at risk for injury?
  2. Have you fed horses that exhibited aggressive behavior?  What did they do that told you they were being aggressive? 
  3. Name the ways that you should properly groom a horse to prevent risk of being injured.


Tack, Equipment, and Proper Mounting

In regards to tack and equipment, the horse industry is saturated with various types of equipment for a number of disciplines.  Within each discipline, there is also a variance in quality of tack that a horseman can elect to use when working with and riding horses.  It is very important that all who own and work with horses understand the function of and safety concerns associated with their tack.  Additionally, safety awareness must be taken seriously when using horse related equipment.  In this module we will discuss some of the attributes of quality tack, how it should fit on the horse, how to properly put on and take off tack, and basic requirements for safe mounting.

Although tack and riding equipment can be pricey, most of the time you get what you pay for.  Saddles that not only fit the horse well, but are also made of quality leather are usually more expensive than lower quality made saddles and bridles.  However quality leather is less likely to crack and break, but it is imperative to clean and oil tack and equipment to keep it in its most operative condition.

Putting on and removing this equipment in a manner that reduces risk of injury to horse and rider is of the upmost importance.  When saddling horses, be aware of cinches or bridles that pinch.  Ill-fitting or poorly designed equipment may cause the horse to act in an unruly manner.  It is recommended that “fresh” horses be tacked up and lunged to allow them to release stored energy.  If using a back cinch, the back cinch should be fastened last when putting the saddle on and unfastened first when taking the saddle off.

Bridling horses properly can reduce risk to the handler and horse.  Putting a bit in or taking one out of the mouth of a horse can put a person in a precarious position.  The safest way to bridle or unbridle a horse is to stand close to the horses face, next to his throatlatch.  Slowly introduce the bit to the horse’s mouth and most importantly when taking the bit out, make sure to do it slowly so that the horse drops the bit himself.  Yanking the bit out of the mouth may alarm the horse enough that he runs backwards or bumps into the handler.  Additionally, always keep your mouth and lips closed while doing this in order to protect your teeth if the horse reacts and bumps the handlers face.

When mounting a horse, the rider should always keep the reins in the left hand.  If the horse spooks while getting on, the rider wants to have control of the horse’s face.  This prevents the horse’s hind end from coming into contact with the rider.  Once mounted, always make your horse stand still for 15-20 seconds before riding off.  This will prevent the horse from taking off while when the rider is trying to get on.  It is imperative that the rider keeps their feet in the stirrups and legs around the horse at all times.  Some riders get comfortable with their horses and elect to sit with their legs in dangerous positions.  Lastly, when getting off the horse do so quickly as to not “hang” onto the side of the horse thus putting yourself in an unbalanced position.

In conclusion, all handlers, mounted or not, should always stay alert to their surroundings. Watching for potential hazards such as loose dogs, other children, or debris that could cause the horse to startle are very important. Supervision of riders is important as well in the prevention of injury. Being educated in these areas will improve confidence and calmness when working around horses which is paramount in limiting potential injury. Being firm, confident, and smart are all essential aspects of limiting injury and maximizing the enjoyment that comes with working with horses. 


Questions and Discussion Ideas for this Module:

  1. What can or may happen if a rider chooses to use tack that is in poor working condition?
  2. What are some common mistakes riders and horse handlers make when they are comfortable with the horse?
  3. Discuss the proper steps in saddling and unsaddling. Bridling and unbridling.
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