How to Be Safe Around Horses

Three Parts:Safety Equipment and SetupHandling Horses from the GroundRiding a Horse

Handling and riding a horse can be one of life's greatest pleasures. That said, they are powerful, often skittish animals that need to be handled correctly. Protect yourself and the horse from injury at all times, by following safe practices on the ground and in the saddle.

Part 1
Safety Equipment and Setup

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    Wear hard leather boots that are not steel-toed. If a horse steps on a steel-toed boot, the metal in the front could slice into your toes. To protect your feet from a horse possibly stepping on you, choose boots made of firm leather. Soft leather boots, or tennis shoes, won't protect your feet at all. If you are riding, make sure your boots have a heel (usually about 2" high).
    • Weight varies widely depending on your horse's size and breed, but typically falls between 880 to 1,870 pounds (400 to 850 kg).[1] Having a quarter of that on your toes is still rather heavy, so take care when choosing safe boots.
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    Wear a helmet while riding. Choose a riding helmet with a retaining harness, and evidence that it's met safety requirements made no more than ten years ago.[2][3] Look for labels from the SEI (Safety Equipment Institute), American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM), or Kitemark.
    • Some SEI-approved helmets include large ventilation holes that would not pass other tests, due to a possible increase in harm from penetrating injuries.
    • Replace the helmet at least once every five years, and whenever it receives a major impact or shows signs of wear.
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    Wear safe, visible clothing. Avoid baggy clothing, which can get tangled in the horse's equipment. Most importantly, make sure you are easily visible before riding near roads. Fluorescent vests are recommended, especially during heavy rain, fog, or low light conditions.
    • If you are a beginning rider, learning to jump, or entering competitions, wear a body protector. The protector should fit comfortably, be less than five years old, and be approved by a safety standard organization.
    • Comfortable gloves and seam-free underwear and legwear can prevent sores and discomfort.
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    Remove loose accessories. Anything dangling or removable can startle the horse or catch on his equipment. Take the following precautions:
    • If you wear glasses, they should have flexible frames. Contact lenses increase the likelihood of getting dust and hair in your eyes. Ask your optician for advice.
    • Remove all jewelry. Even tight rings and bracelets can get snagged.
    • Tie back loose hair.
    • Zip up jackets and tuck away loose strings or other dangling objects.
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    Check the tack frequently. Check that all tack is the correct size and shape for the horse. Check all tack for wear and tear. This includes any cracking of stretching of the leather and the quality of the stitching. Anything that is close to breaking or snapping is a safety risk. Check before you mount, then again after riding a short distance.
    • The cinch should be tight enough to prevent the horse catching its leg, but not uncomfortably tight. Check again after mounting, after a few minutes of riding, and every few hours afterward during a long ride.[4]
    • You should be able to hold the reins without draping them over the horse's neck, or wrapping them around your hand.
    • Keep all tack clean.
    • Make sure that you have your stirrups set at the right length. When riding, you should be able to let your weight fall onto your heel.
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    Consider a neck strap. During a jump or sudden movement, a neck strap is easier to hold onto than the horse's mane, particularly if the mane is braided. While neck straps are most often used for beginning riders, there is no harm in an additional piece of safety equipment. Nowadays, they are even used by some professionals.[5]
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    Keep human and equine first aid kits. Keep at least one of each in your stables, and an extra one in the trailer if your horse is often on the road. Add a sturdy piece of paper with the contact information for a nearby veterinarian, human hospital, and (if possible) horse ambulance.[6]
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    Close gates and stable doors behind you. Check that all gates are closed before you let a horse into a field. Never let your horse loose near dangerous areas, such as roads or areas of treacherous ground.
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    Install horse-proof latches. Many horses learn how to undo simple latches and sliding bolts. Consider an eye bolt and/or a commercial "horse proof" latch. For very bored or intelligent horses, add additional latches and/or a wooden shelf to block the horse's access to the latch.[7]
    • If your horse is constantly trying to escape, she may need more companionship, exercise, or time spent outdoors.

Part 2
Handling Horses from the Ground

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    Learn with experienced help. Beginners should not be around horses without close supervision. As you grow in confidence and skill, you can handle a horse by yourself, but there should still be people close enough to hear or see if something goes wrong.
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    Approach from the side. Horses have blind spots directly in front and directly behind. Approach from the side so the horse knows you're coming.
    • Even in a small stall, try to get the horse to turn around. If the horse is tied up, approach from an angle, not directly behind.[8]
    • Speak to the horse calmly as you approach, to get the horse's attention.
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    Stand near the horse and keep one hand on it. Your hands are your primary communication tools with your horse. When grooming or tacking up, rest your hand on the horse's shoulder or hindquarters. This tells the horse you are there even if he cannot see you. It also gives you the best opportunity to push yourself away should the horse choose to kick. As you groom or tack up the horse, stand next to the horse's side with one hand on the horse whenever possible.
    • Pay attention to a sudden increase in tension. This may lead to a kick or lunge.
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    Tie up the horse before grooming or handling. Tie the rope at the height of the horse's withers (the base of his neck), and make it no longer than your arm.[9] Use a quick release knot so the knot can easily be undone. Never put your finger in the knot as you tie, since the horse could pull it closed.
    • Ideally, you should tie the horse to a "panic snap," not directly to a tie ring.[10] The panic snap is a length of twine or string that the horse can easily break with a strong pull. Without a panic strap, the horse may fall if it gets startled, potentially injuring itself or you.
    • Never tie the horse using its bridle reins.
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    Be cautious when moving behind the horse. Moving behind a horse makes you vulnerable to a powerful kick. If there is no room to walk outside its kicking range, walk right next to the horse, with one hand on the rump, and keep talking so the horse knows where you are. At this short distance, a kick will have much less force.[11]
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    Avoid ducking in front of the horse unless he is trained for this. Moving or standing in front of the horse is safer, but there are still risks. Never duck under the horse's belly (barrel), neck, or tie rope. This is almost guaranteed to spook him as your movement is quick, low and out of his sight. Both actions leave you wide open to being kicked and trampled on. From the front, he is also liable to rear and kick down on you.
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    Lead the horse by a rope. Don’t grab the halter itself, or you could be pulled off your feet when the horse startles. Never coil the rope around your hand or other body part, or let it drag on the ground where it could catch your feet. If this happens, the horse could pull the rope tight and cause major injury.
    • Fold the rope back over itself instead to reduce its length. Hold the rope by the middle of the folds, so you can easily drop it.
    • Never loop extra lead rope around your hand––your hand can be broken or even taken off if the horse spooks and tries to bolt, or you could be dragged behind the horse.
    • Don't get into a pulling contest with a horse. The horse is much stronger than you and could easily pull you off your feet.
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    Feed treats from your flat palm. If the horse is very excited, put the food in a bucket instead. It may not be a good idea to feed the horse by hand regularly, as it may encourage nipping.[12]
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    Handle a horse's legs carefully. If you need to examine the horse's hoof or leg, let the horse see what’s happening and adjust to it. Put your hand on horse’s shoulder or hindquarter, then move it slowly toward the leg. Squeeze the fetlock gently to get the horse to lift its foot, saying “up” at same time to teach this command.[13]
    • While holding horse’s leg or foot, do not kneel or sit. Squat instead so you can easily jump away.
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    Be cautious around multiple horses. Pay attention to other horses nearby, not just the one you’re handling. Don't walk behind other horses, or stand too near their feet.
    • In particular, avoid carrying food to the middle of a group of horses. They may crowd around and trap you in their excitement.[14]
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    Trailer a horse safely. Training a horse to enter a trailer for the first time can take weeks of patient communication, convincing the horse enter on its own first. Even when handling an experienced horse, make sure to tie or untie the horse with the trailer door closed. This prevents the horse from trying to exist before you are finished.

Part 3
Riding a Horse

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    Ride with supervision when appropriate. Beginning riders should always ride with a more experienced rider, although they do not need to share a horse. Riding in company is also a good idea if you are practicing jumps.
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    Lunge an energetic horse before riding. If a horse is acting wild or full of energy, have an experienced rider lunge (longe) the horse first.
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    Stay calm. Speak and behave calmly in the presence of horses. Horses work best with patient, quiet people. Never shout around the horse, as he may spook at the noise.
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    Be on the alert at all times. Check your surroundings constantly for possible sources of fear. This may include running children, an approaching car, or even a plastic bag blowing in the wind. If the horse's eyes widen and its ears point straight up, it may be scared. If this happens, calmly talk to the horse and try to move somewhere the horse can calm down.
    • Desensitize the horse in a familiar setting if it is easily scared.
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    Be cautious when introducing unfamiliar horses. Horses are not always friendly when they meet for the first time. Touching their noses together can cause them to bite or strike.
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    Let the horse walk over difficult terrain. Let the horse pick the pace when traveling over slippery ground, including ice, snow, and mud. When riding up or down a steep hill, keep the horse to a walking pace, even if it wants to go faster.[15]
    • Sticking to a walk is also a good idea at night or during low-visibility weather.
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    Stay back from other horses. When near other riders, either ride abreast or stay far enough apart to avoid kicks. When looking between your horse's ears, you should be able to see the hind hooves of the horse in front of you.[16] That said, when riding with a group, don't allow a horse to lag so far behind it has to gallop to catch up.[17]
    • A red ribbon on the tail is a sign of a kicker in some areas. Stay well back from these horses.
    • When at the front of a group, shout back to inform other riders of possible dangers. These include broken glass, poor footing, and branches at head height.
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    Learn how to handle a runaway horse. Losing control of your horse can be a dangerous occurrence, especially if you don't know what to do. In most cases, the safest course of action is to stay on the horse and let it run until it calms down or tires out.[18] Pulling back on the reins can limit the horse's vision and cause it to lose its footing.
    • If you practice with the horse beforehand, you can train it to step to one side, slowing it down. Without this training, pulling back on one rein may just limit the horse's vision and balance, or cause it to turn without slowing down.[19]
    • Do not jump off the horse unless it is headed to a road, cliff, or branches too low for you to safely pass under.
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    Handle the horse safely after riding. Since both you and the horse are a little more tired after a ride, it's helpful to follow a post-ride checklist to make sure everything gets done. Try this one:
    • Slow to a walk before approaching the stable.
    • After dismounting, tie the horse with a quick release knot.
    • Give the horse a wash and groom.
    • Lead the horse back to the pasture or stall. Teach him early on to not rush off, but to stand calmly beside you with the halter on.
    • Remove the halter. Pat and praise the horse for calm behavior. He should be able to remain standing by your side until you turn to leave.


  • Learn how to tie a horse safely without having access to ties. Sometimes you may need to know how to do this when out riding and you need to stop somewhere. Don't tie your horse to anything he can move, such as hollow items, fence boards, or door handles.
  • If you're showing horses, you have a range of additional safety issues to consider, such as adjusting to new stalls and being around large, noisy crowds. Talk to experienced show-goers for advice.


  • Be especially careful around rescued or formerly abused horses. They may have a dislike of humans and are often more dangerous than horses that have been handled the right way all their lives.
  • Never agree to be locked in a stable with a horse present.

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