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Horse Safety Guidelines

**  Note:  If you would like to print a complete copy of these San Diego County 4-H Horse Safety Guidelines, a full pdf version is attached at the bottom of this page.
 
Introduction
    The disregard for simple safety precautions in handling horses can result in serious mishaps.  The Council has developed these guidelines to promote the safe use of the horse in an effort to improve the value of this animal in service to youth and society in general. 
     The points listed in these guidelines are selected as pertinent facts to refresh each rider's memory.  They are not intended to serve as complete "how-to" instructions.  The reader is encouraged to seek competent and experienced help whenever necessary. 
 - San Diego 4-H Horse Advisory 2008
 
Horse Safety Commandments
1. Buy or ride a safe horse.
2. Don't be overmounted.
3. Know your horse.
4. Don't surprise your horse.
5. Check your tack.
6. Small children must be supervised.
7. Tie your horse with care.
8. Know trailer safety.
9. Don't crowd others.
10. No clowning please.
 
Safety Facts
Information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission indicates approximately 22,000 youth aged 18 year and younger were treated in hospitals for horseback riding injuries during 2005.
- Two-thirds of these injuries occurred around or near the home or farm.
- Head injuries are associated with more than 60 percent of equestrian-related deaths. Riders who only ride on the flat, or never gallop are not immune to injury. More than 50 percent of injuries that result in death or hospitalization occur when the horse is walking, trotting or cantering.
- There is no such thing as a safe horse. Any horse can become frightened by an unusual sound or object. Fear, defiance, aggressiveness, curiosity or excitement may cause a horse to behave unpredictably.
 
Approaching
1. A horse's vision is restricted directly in the front and in rear, but its hearing is acute. Always speak to a horse as you approach it. Failure to do so may startle the horse and result in a kick.
2. Always approach at an angle, never directly from the front or rear. Speak to the horse, let it know you are there.
3. Pet a horse by first placing a hand on its shoulder or neck. The touch should be a rubbing action. Don't "dab" at the end of a horse's nose.
4. Always walk around a horse out of kicking range. Never walk under or step over the tie rope.
 
Handling
1.  Be calm and confident around horses. A nervous handler causes a nervous horse that could be unsafe.
2.  While you work around a horse, stay in close so if it kicks, you will not receive the full impact of the kick. Stay out of kicking range whenever possible. When you go to the opposite side of a horse, move away and go around out of kicking range.
3.  Know your horse, its temperament and reactions. Control your temper at all times, but let it know that you are its firm and kind master.
4.  Always let a horse know what you intend to do. When picking up the feet, for example, do not grab the foot hurriedly. This will startle the horse and may cause it to kick. Learn the proper way to lift the feet.
5.  Learn and use simple methods of restraint.
6.  Tying or holding the head is the safest method to follow when working around a horse. Work from a position as near to the shoulder as possible.
7.  Never stand directly behind a horse to work with its tail. Stand off to the side, near the point of the buttock, facing to the rear. Grasp the tail and draw it around to you.
8.  A good equestrian will keep in balance at all times. A slip or stumble can result in unintentional injury by the horse.
9.  Do not drop grooming tools underfoot. Place them where they will not cause you to trip or be stepped on by the horse.
10. Know the horse's peculiarities. If someone else is riding it, tell him or her what to expect.
11. Teasing a horse may cause it to develop dangerous habits for the rest of its life and could put your safety in serious jeopardy.
12. Discipline a horse only at the instant of its disobedience. If you wait, even for a minute, it will not understand why it is being punished. Discipline without anger. Never strike a horse on the head.
13. It is not safe to leave a halter on a horse that has been turned loose. If it is necessary to do so, the horse should be checked on daily. 
    a)  Some halter materials will shrink so be certain to check the fit. 
    b)  There is a possibility of a horse catching a foot in the halter strap. 
    c)  A halter might catch on posts or other objects.
14. Wear footgear that will protect your feet from being stepped on and from nails, etc., around the stables and barnyard. Boots or hard¬toed shoes are preferable. Never wear tennis shoes, moccasins or go barefooted.
 
Leading
1.  Make the horse walk beside you when leading, not running ahead or lagging behind. A position even with the horse's head or halfway between its head and shoulder is safest.
2.  Always turn the horse to the right and walk around it.
3.  Use a long lead strap, with the excess strap folded in a figure 8 style in your left hand, when leading. It is customary to lead from the left, or near side, using the right hand to hold the lead near the halter. Extend your right elbow slightly toward the horse. If the horse makes contact with you, its shoulder will hit your elbow first and move you away from it. Your elbow can also be used in the horse's neck to keep the head and neck straight for control, as well as to prevent the horse from crowding you. A horse should be trained to be led from both sides, even for dismounting and mounting.
4.  Your horse is larger and stronger than you. If it resists, do not get in front and try to pull.
5.  Never wrap the lead strap, halter shank or reins around your hand, wrist or body. A knot at the end of the lead shank aids in maintaining a secure grip when needed for control.
6.  When leading, tying or untying a horse, avoid getting your hands or fingers entangled. Use caution to prevent catching a finger in dangerous positions such as halter and bridle hardware, including snaps, bits, rings and loops.
7.  Be extremely cautious when leading a horse through narrow openings. Be certain you have firm control and step through first. Step through quickly and get to one side to avoid being crowded.
8.  Any time you are dismounted or leading the horse, the stirrup irons on an English saddle should be run up or dressed. Be cautious of the stirrups catching on objects when using a western saddle.
9.  When turning a horse loose it is safest to lead it completely through the gate or door and then around to face the direction from which you entered. Then release the lead strap or remove the halter or bridle. Make the horse stand quietly while you pet it. Avoid letting the horse bolt away from you when released. Good habits prevent accidents.
10.  Avoid using an excessively long lead rope to prevent it from becoming accidentally entangled. Watch the coils when using lariats or lunge lines.
 
Tying
1.  Know and use the proper knots for tying and restraining a horse.
2.  Tie your horse far enough away from strange horses so they cannot fight.
3.  Always untie the horse before removing its halter.
4.  Always tie a horse in a safe place. Use the halter rope not the bridle reins.
5.  Tie a safe distance from other horses and from tree limbs or brush where the horse may become entangled.
6.  Be certain to tie the horse to an object that is strong and secure to avoid breaking or coming loose if the horse pulls back. Never tie below the level of the horse's withers.
 
Bridling
1.  Protect your head from the horse's head when bridling. Stand close just behind and to one side (preferably on the left side) of the horse's head. Use caution when handling the horse's ears.
2.  Keep control of the horse when bridling by refastening the halter around the neck.
3.  Be certain the bridle is properly adjusted to fit the horse before you ride. Three points to check are the placement of the bit, the adjustment of the curb strap and the adjustment of the throatlatch.
 
Saddling
1.  Check your saddle blanket and all other equipment for foreign objects. Be certain the horse's back and the cinch or girth areas are clean.
2.  When using a western double-rigged saddle, remember to fasten the front cinch first, rear cinch last when saddling. Unfasten the rear cinch first when unsaddling. Be certain that the strap connecting the front and back cinches (along the horse's belly) is secure.
3.  Fasten accessory straps (tie-downs. breast collars, martingales, etc.) after the saddle is cinched on. Unfasten them first, before loosening the cinch.
On English equipment, it is sometimes necessary to thread the girth through the martingale loop before the girth is secured.
4.  The back cinch should not be so loose that your horse can get a hind leg caught between the cinch and its belly.
5.  When saddling, it is safest to keep the cinches and stirrup secured over the saddle seat and ease them down when the saddle is on. Don't let them swing wide and hit the horse on the knee or belly. That's painful to the horse.
6.  Swing the western saddle into position easily - not suddenly. Dropping the saddle down too quickly or hard may scare the horse. An English saddle is much lighter than a stock saddle. You don't need to, and should not, swing the saddle into position. Lift it and place it into position.
7.  Pull up slowly to tighten the cinch. Check the cinch three times: 
    a) after saddling
    b) after walking a few steps (untacking)
    c) after mounting and riding a short distance.
 
Mounting and Dismounting
1.  Never mount or dismount a horse in a bam, near fences, trees, or overhanging projections. Sidestepping and rearing mounts have injured riders who failed to take these precautions.
2.  A horse should stand quietly for mounting and dismounting. To be certain this is done, you must have control of its head through the reins.
 
Using English Equipment
1.  Immediately upon dismounting, the rider should "run up" the stirrups. A dangling stirrup may startle or annoy the horse. It is possible for the horse to catch a cheek of the bit or even a hind foot in a dangling stirrup iron when trying to brush off a fly. The dangling stirrup can also be caught on doorways and other projections while the horse is being led.
2.  After running up the stirrups, the reins should immediately be brought forward over the horse's head. In this position they can be used for leading.
 
Using Western Equipment
1. Closed reins or a romal should be brought forward over the horse's head after dismounting.
 
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Judith Fidellow,
Mar 3, 2009, 1:13 PM
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