Safety Around Horses

Horses are generally easy going animals, however their size and strength present the
potential for injury if one does not both take care when working around them and
understand equine behaviour.
As well, it is important to keep horses in a safe environment. We will look at safety
around horses, riding safety and maintaining a safe housing area for horses.
Horses by nature are a prey animal. This means the horse is an animal that is likely to be
eaten out in the wild. Because the horse knows that their nature is to be food for other
animals, they are mostly concerned with staying safe. For this reason, horses tend to be
skittish, nervous, flighty, and if cornered they can be aggressive to protect themselves or
their herd mates.
Because a horse is a prey animal, here are some general things to keep in mind when
working around horses if you want to help keep the horse calm and feeling safe:

  • Avoid loud noises and sudden, big movements
  • Avoid standing directly in front or directly behind a horse because these are the
    most dangerous places – you could be kicked/bitten/striked
  • Wear strong shoes or boots, possibly with steel toes to protect injury to feet. Do
    note that steel toes may actually increase the severity of a foot injury should the
    horse step hard enough to press the metal into the person’s foot
  • Gloves may be helpful as they will protect hands from a lead rope being pulled
    through them causing a painful friction burn
  • Use a lead rope when leading horses and only lead one horse at a time
  • Always warn the horse before approaching and be sure that he sees you or is
    aware of your presence
  • Approach the horse at the shoulder – not directly in front or behind
  • It is always a good idea to wear a helmet when riding, and sometimes you may
    want to when working with horses from the ground too.
  • Safety vests can be useful both when riding as well as when handling horses
    under certain circumstances.
  • Never kneel beside a horse, rather squat or bend over if working around the feet
    and lower legs (you always want to be ready to jump out of the way if you need
  • Always remain calm around horses. They will sense your fear and lack of
    confidence and this could make the horse get anxious and scared which can be
    dangerous both to the horse and the handler

    • Domination by force will only serve to make the horse’s fear
      worse and is more dangerous
    • Successful handling is from quick corrections and releases in
      pressure when the horse is calm rather than brute force
    • Equine behavior problems are often a result of fear, confusion and
      a lack of appropriate training and handling
    • Horses are very large animals and are capable of inflicting major
      damage. Safety to both handlers and horses should always be the
      foremost priority
  • People working with horses should have at the very least a basic understanding of
    equine behavior and know how to recognize the signs of danger by understanding
    the meaning of a horse’s ear position, head and neck position, changes in leg
    position, especially of the hind legs and tail position and action (e.g. tail swishing
    could mean the horse is mad or irritated).

If tying a horse for grooming, tacking up, etc.:

  • Use a quick release knot or quick release snap
  • Make sure that the rope is not so short that the horse panics and tries to get
    away, possibly damaging himself, the facility or a human in the area
  • Not so long that the horse can get his head under the rope or a leg over the
  • Make sure the horse is trained to give to pressure so they don’t panic when
    they feel their head tied

When turning a horse out into a field or putting into the stall:

  • Be sure to close the gate quickly once the horse is released or when
    entering a field of horses
  • When putting a horse into a stall, only release the horse when you are
    near the stall door and can get out first without the horse escaping by

Riding Safety:

  • Always wear an ASA approved helmet when riding. Make sure the helmet fits
    and do up the chin strap. Replace the helmet if it’s been worn during a fall.
  • Ride with shoes or boots with heels
  • Wear long pants, not shorts
  • Consider wearing a safety vest
  • Clothing should be secured – shirts should be tucked in, nothing hanging that
    could get caught
  • Avoid hanging necklaces, dangling earrings
  • No gum chewing while riding
  • Have an accessible first aid kit and if possible a registered first aider available
  • Use safety stirrups
  • Consider wearing gloves to protect your hands
  • Make sure all tack is fitted properly to the horse and in good repair. Check
    stitching and leather regularly for damage
  • Try to avoid riding alone – or if you do ride alone, make sure someone knows
  • Only work with horses that suit your level
  • Don’t talk on the phone while riding
  • Dogs should be kept under control around horses

Barn Safety:

  • Fire prevention:
    • Fire extinguisher in a visible location
    • No smoking signs should be posted in visible locations in the barn and
      smoking should never be permitted under any circumstances
    • The light bulbs should be protected from horses hitting them and should
      be the appropriate wattage and kept cleared of cobwebs
    • Hay can spontaneously combust into fire. It is important that hay is dried
      properly prior to bailing. Ideally hay should be kept in a separate building
      from where horses or other animals are kept.
    • There should be at least two large exits in the barn, allowing for easy
      entrance and exit
    • Any questionable wiring or electrical equipment should be checked by a
      certified electrician
    • There should be no flammable liquids in the barn
    • There should be no matches, lighters, chimneys, heater pipes or stoves in
      the barn. Space heaters are not recommended
    • There should be a clear address sign on the road
    • Garbage should be removed routinely
    • Outdoor fire pits – users need a permit and should always call required
      officials before burning. The fire should never left unattended and be
      doused appropriately once the burn is completed
    • A smoke detector in the barn is a good idea
    • There should be at least one ABC fire extinguisher in a visible and easily
      accessible place in the barn. It should be checked periodically to make
      sure that it is full
  • First aid:
    • There should be a human and equine first aid kit accessible to everyone
      working in or visiting the barn. Staff should have at least basic training on
      what to do in the event of an emergency.
    • First aid kits should be checked periodically and restocked as needed
    • There should be emergency numbers posted in the barn in a visible location. Ideally there should be a phone in the barn or if the house is nearby anyone in the barn should be able to access the phone
  • Miscellaneous considerations:
    • Keep tools out of the aisle way
    • Clear cobwebs
    • Keep feed in rodent and horse proof bins
    • Keep equipment stored when not in use
    • Keep flammables and toxic products out of the barn
    • Keep gates closed where horses are
    • Door and gate hatches should be functional and replaced or repaired as
    • Tractors, ride-on lawn mowers, etc. should be in good repair and only be
      operated by trained personnel