By Jerry Tardif
You don't have to be around horses very long to learn they can react and move VERY quickly when startled.
Knowing that is valuable because it can help us avoid getting injured while interacting with them.
Here are a few simple tips to increase safety for those new to horses:
Most advice about maintaining safety when around horses is just common sense.
But "common sense" is not always "obvious sense" until we think the situation through to assess the risks before we act.
- Pay Attention — Be VERY Aware
We need to be "in the moment" when around horses.
Pay close attention to everything around when near horses so YOU don't get surprised.
- Watch Their Head, Eyes, and Ears
Learn the expression of horses.
When alarmed, their ears go straight up, the eyes open wide, and they raise their heads in order to take in the view, sounds, and smells all around them.
If you see that pose, stand back and be very alert as to what's happening around you both and especially keep your eyes on your horse.
- Avoid Enclosed Spaces
No, I don't mean stalls, specifically, but you can't let that space get too small.
In general, don't allow yourself to be between your horse and a wall or between two horses if those distances are small, such as just a few feet.
Your horse could jump to the side when startled and crush you between himself and the wall or himself and the other horse.
Or, the other horse could do the same.
And be alert that his shifting over time or that of another horse shifting doesn't "shrink" your safety space while you're focused on your task, such as brushing or cleaning hooves.
It's ok to be in a stall with your horse providing it's big enough and you're not between him and the wall with too little space.
But always remember that it's still a confined space.
The less time you're both in that space together, the safer it is for you.
- Walking Around the Back of Your Horse
When walking around the rear of your horse, do these things EVERY time:
Observe your horse and assure he's calm before proceeding to walk around.
- Walk Close to Your Horse's Rump
If you're close to his legs, a kick will have less power to develop because you're closer.
- Drag Your Hand
Most horses don't want to kick a person.
If they do, it's usually because they were startled.
Avoid surprising him by dragging your hand along his side and across the back of his rump while you walk around so he knows exactly where you are the whole time you're coming around.
- Avoid Walking into a Herd
If you're going to get your horse and see him commingling with other horses, you don't want to go directly into the herd.
Just one of them spooking or competing with another horse for food or position is enough to cause many thousands of pounds of horse flesh and muscle to move swiftly around you — that's scary! If any of that horse flesh hits you, it could be bad — FOR YOU!
Instead, approach your horse from the outside — DON'T walk into the herd to reach him.
If there are many horses and he's inside the herd, start swinging your lead line enough to cause them to break apart and scatter a short distance, but not enough to panic them.
You only want to make them move enough so it's safe to approach your horse, you don't want to upset them and raise their anxiety levels.
- Don't Offer Treats With Other Horses Around
For safety, one of the best ways to offer your horse a treat is to throw it into his feedbox.
If you like to offer treats to your horse with your hand, don't do it with other horses in close proximity.
Remember these points:
In general, it's not a good idea to treat a horse with others around.
And therefore, it's an even worse idea to bring treats for several horses that are free to move around you.
If you have treats for more than one horse, offer them when they're all in their stalls and controllable.
- They will ALL smell the treat while you're still approaching;
- They WON'T make the distinction that you're bringing the treat just for your horse;
- If you're bringing some treats for all, they WON'T care that they've already received theirs and that it's now another horse's turn — THEY WILL try to get ALL the other treats in your possession; and
- Consider that, being in the middle of a group of horses fighting over food IS VERY EXCITING — your adrenalin is likely to reach a lifetime high.
UNFORTUNATELY, it is so high because your chances of getting hurt or killed are equally high — DON'T DO IT!
Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com.
He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.
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