Safety and Negligence

By Bonnie J. Hilton

Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles


Crane logo Training and riding with safety. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Bonnie J. Hilton.
© copyrighted horse article.
Prior to my agreement to begin any long term lesson or training relationship, I ask that the individual go through an evaluation. At that time I give my new prospect a folder containing written material that explains my background, focus and the standards that I will be expecting them to learn (if they don't already know them) and adapt into their present program of handling and working with their equines. The new student then has the following list in hand, which is part of the "packet" and they know that each and every time I am in their presence I will be watching and observing so that negligence does not creep into the facility where they are now and the safety standards stay as high as possible. I have never had anyone complain if I have taken the time (and their money) to go over this list, explain and demonstrate as necessary and by doing so, hopefully have the suggestions become part of their every day routine.

For beginners, as well as accomplished equestrians, the reminders about safety and negligence are often the same. Sometimes the more experienced we are the more we become negligent with our actions around the horse. We become complacent, cutting out steps to save time or just due to sheer laziness or being tired (I myself will admit to that), never expecting the unexpected anymore, until it happens and we suddenly are reminded.

Some of the information given here will seem trivial to experienced owners, but I hope that it will serve as a wake up call to stop taking yourself, your horse, your instructor/ trainer, your surroundings, your facility, whatever, for granted. I also want to instruct students and instructors, even though you may not like to think about it or accept the responsibility, to set an example that not only will keep you safe, but hopefully will teach others by observation and people do learn good and bad handling techniques by watching you be safer.

1. Always make your presence known to the equine prior to entering its stall (or space) and have its attention on your actions. Notice their body language. Don't assume behavior to be consistent, that is when the accident happens! Assess the environmental conditions that are present. How will they impact you with your plan? The classic problem being the excited horse on the windy day. Take the time to assess your mental and physical condition as well, for the activity that you want to undertake.

2. Use the classic primary and secondary leading system, depending on the conditions determined from No. 1, - lead with halter and lead rope or halter, lead rope and chain shank properly applied over the horse's nose. The human arm, "the classic short cut system of leading!", is not a lead rope. When the basic flat strap halter is on the horse it should be properly adjusted and the throat lash snap should be done up, not just hanging because of sheer laziness to complete the haltering process. Equipment can't work properly unless it is applied properly.

3. Do not leave a tied equine alone at home or during travel. Be organized and have all of your equipment in position to be used in cross ties or single rack. Please don't take cross tie areas for granted by letting the clutter bug take over. Could you release your horse if you needed to as it panicked for some reason? I like to see a basic lead on the horse in cross ties so that if I had to move quickly, the lead is already on. How do you trailer tie outside of the trailer? What is the quick release system being used? Review what a safety release knot is for the single rack tie. Never tie an equine with a shank applied over its nose. (This last statement may horrify some readers and they may wonder if they use a leather strap shank how this could have happened. The rope shanks, have caused this negligent practice to occur.)

4. Positional safety while on the ground is very important and something we get very lax about. Review how you position yourself during grooming, feet cleaning, bandaging and tacking up. Do you know the classic positions or do you need to learn them? Don't duck under the horse's head at any time during grooming and tacking up and don't face the rear when you reach under the belly to get the girth, cinch or blanket straps. Do you know the safe position to use to manipulate the front legs to stretch for the girth set while holding the reins?

5. Review the correct method to use to lead your horse from the near or offside. Horses should not be tagging along behind a handler like a dog. A startled equine can by mistake in panic, step upon or actually knock down the handler. For this reason alone, suitable footwear should be worn at all times in and around the barn. For the horses that attempt to lead the handler, train continually in that you take the time to make frequent stops when leading where your horse must stand. Horses rush because we do.

6. ASTM/SEI approved hard hats are supposed to be adjusted to fit snugly on your head so that if you do fall off, the helmet stays on and stays in position to absorb the concussion of impact. Please set the correct example for those less informed to follow.

7. A safety equipment check should be part of your routine. Stop taking your equipment for granted!. Know the condition of the equipment that you are using, especially if it's not your own! I should not be the one to show you bad stitching, worn or torn areas, dry rot or safety thumb pieces rusted into closed position. Clean equipment is often safer equipment because it has been routinely checked over. Damaged equipment should be repaired or replaced and not used. Remove it from the tack room or barn so that someone else doesn't use it either.

8. Check and adjust the girth. Girths, both western and English, should be sized and adjusted from both sides of the saddle to be as even as possible around the horses heart girth area. Once you mount you should check your girth after several minutes to assure yourself that it is still properly adjusted. Don't assume that it is all right, take the time to check it! We may never have a spook, buck or slip that causes us to lose our balance, but a loose girth should not add to the incident and cause our fall. If you are riding for several hours you should check the girth often and once you are finished and walking out off the horse, release the girth slightly so that the horse's vascular system under the saddle can slowly return to normal.

9. Protect your horse's back at all times. Don't just pull a saddle off. Pulling a saddle off on a brisk day exposes the warmed muscle areas to instant shock therapy. (Let me strip you down in a cool or cold draft when you are all hot and sweaty and lets see how you feel!) You don't have to buy expensive coolers or blankets. Buy the cheap sweatshirt material stadium blankets for human use sold at discount stores or simply bring one of your largest bath towels to the barn and use it like a mini sweat sheet over the saddle area.

10. Dress neatly and with common sense. Tuck in the shirts, get rid of the dangling earrings, the oversized necklaces and please either take off the rings or wear gloves.

11. Speak up, voice your concerns, learn how to say no and don't think you have to ride outside of your comfort zone to prove anything. Don't ever take the equine for granted. A more experienced rider may have made your equine do a lot of things that you are not fit or confident enough to communicate as yet. You also need to be honest with yourself as to what you want and what you really can achieve with limited time, fitness and even financial demands.

Above all, remember that we are stewards of the equine.

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