Safety awareness and thinking ahead are crucial when working with horses, says Susan Dudasik of Misfit Farms in Salmon, Idaho.
She teaches horsemanship as a registered instructor with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
“We all wear helmets here,” she says. Head injuries are the most serious risk with horse accidents, and a helmet can prevent a bad outcome.
“People need to be ‘present’ and aware when working around horses, especially the horses they are familiar with, and not take things for granted. Many accidents happen with old reliable horses just because someone wasn’t paying attention,” Dudasik says. “Keep an eye on what’s going on, and think ahead.”
Make a habit of demanding that the horse respect your personal space.
“When we go out to the pasture to catch ours, they come crowding around us. Everyone here has learned to have an ‘alpha’ horse attitude. When you tell a horse to back up, he needs to do it,” she says.
“We are aware of the horses’ personalities and how they interact. The alpha horse may chase timid ones over the top of a person when you are out in the pasture. We don’t want anyone getting hurt because a horse is not being respectful,” she says.
When horses are led back to their pasture, they are turned loose at the same time. “We turn them around to face us, and then let them go, so they aren’t running around with the loose horses before we are safely out of their way.”
Safety around the barn includes always using a halter and lead rope to catch or move a horse.
“People sometimes use shortcuts and put a hay twine around the horse’s neck. You don’t really have control of the horse, and may burn your hand if you try to hang onto the twine if the horse takes off,” says Dudasik.
When leading a horse, hold the extra lead rope in neat loops, not a coil that could wrap around your arm or wrist if the horse pulled away.
“Wear proper shoes — not sandals, flip-flops, or sneakers. Then if the horse steps on your foot he’s less apt to injure it,” she explains.
“Don’t walk under the neck of a tied horse. If he startles and sets back you could be injured. Take time to walk around him instead,” she explains.
Don’t bend down right in front of the horse. If he picks up a foot, his knee comes forward and may hit you in the face.
Other tips: Think ahead. Be prepared for any action a horse might take. Don’t be in the way.
Always let the horse know when you approach, so you won’t startle him if he’s dozing. “We feed horses out of big tubs, and one pony gets so intent on eating that she can’t see you coming. I’ve seen her nearly jump out of her skin. We had to make everyone here aware of this — realizing that when her head is down in that tub in the manger she can’t see you coming,” says Dudasik.
Check your tack before you ride. Tighten the cinch before you get on, so the saddle won’t turn as you mount. Check it again after you’ve ridden awhile or you may find the saddle slipping.
“Keep a hand on the reins as you mount, so you could stop the horse if he tries to move. Some people just grab onto the saddle horn to climb on, and don’t hold onto the reins — and then have no control of the horse that is walking away,” she says.