Horseback Riding Safety Tips

 

Horseback riding is a beloved activity that offers many benefits, such as increasing balance, self-confidence, and self-esteem. However, it’s important to prioritize horseback riding safety when participating in equestrian activities. Horses can injure inexperienced riders and experienced professionals, on the ground or in the saddle. Riding safety is easy with the best equipment and knowledge.

 

Even the most “bombproof” horse is allowed to react in their natural fight-or-flight behavior. As an aside, “bombproof” can be an especially dangerous label for horses, as it’s just not true. There’s no reason to let your guard down and cut corners because a horse is calmer than most. They can still have moments.

 

girl walking a horse in a shaded path

Your relationship with your horse starts on the ground.

 

Table of Contents

 

Horse safety on the ground

Understanding horse behavior

Horse handling safety

Your horse’s tack – is it safe?

Essential safety gear for horse riders

Technology for safe horseback riding

Riding Etiquette

Handing different terrains

Post-ride care for your horse and you

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Horse safety on the ground

 

Ensuring horse safety on the ground is crucial to prevent accidents and serious injuries. One of the best ways to get there is to train your horse well using positive reinforcement techniques and basic kindness.

 

Basic safety guidelines for handling horses

 

  • Properly handling horses is essential for the safety of both the handler and the horse. Here are some basic safety guidelines to follow:

 

    • Always approach a horse calmly and speak to them to avoid startling them.
    • Approach from an angle, as a horse’s blind spot is directly in front of them. You may notice that horses approaching you in a paddock will often move a bit diagonal to you to see you better.
    • It’s always a good idea to talk to your horse calmly and kindly. Escalating a spook by yelling or yanking the lead rope only tells your horse that they now have two things to be afraid of—the spooky thing and you.
    • Use a lead rope when leading a horse, and know how to hold it.
    • It’s never, and I mean never, a bad idea to ask for an extra set of hands.

 

  • It is crucial to be cautious around horses and seek the guidance of a trained professional if needed. Horses are powerful animals, and understanding their behavior and respecting their space can help prevent accidents and injuries.

 

chestnut horse in halter

 

What are some beginner mistakes when horseback riding?

 

  • Beginners often make common mistakes that can lead to accidents or falls. Some of these mistakes include improper mounting, lack of balance, and inadequate use of reins and leg aids. Novice riders need to receive proper training and guidance to develop correct riding skills and ensure safety.

 

  • Group and individual lessons on seasoned school horses are a great starting point. I will always recommend that such beginner lessons include grooming and tacking up as the relationship starts on the ground.

 

Understanding horse behavior and communication

 

  • Understanding horse behavior and communication is crucial for rider safety. Horses are prey animals with a fight – flight – freeze response, and their behavior can be unpredictable. Observing a horse’s body language and movements can provide valuable insights into their state of mind and potential reactions. I will always encourage you to read expert books on horse behavior and communication. There is so much nuance to understand.

 

Recognizing signs of discomfort in horses

 

  • Being alert to signs of discomfort in horses can help prevent accidents and ensure their well-being. If a horse is displaying signs of restlessness, agitation, or resistance, it may indicate pain or fear. Look for these signs of agitation:
    • Teeth grinding
    • Pawing
    • Stomping
    • Tail-swishing
    • Kicking
    • Lips curled back
    • Ears backward facing or pinned backwards
    • Overall body tension
    • Increased pulse rate and respiratory rate
    • Flared nostrils
    • Eyes wide open
    • Shifting side to side
    • Trying to move and turn to get a better view
    • Snorting

 

  • Seeking professional advice and supervision can help address any underlying issues and ensure the horse’s welfare. Additionally, practicing caution and avoiding situations that may cause distress to the horse can help maintain a safe riding environment.

 

More about checking your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respirations here.

 

lead rope with knot

 

 

Horse handling safety tips

 

Some logical (I hope) safety tips for being around horses.

 

Leading and using a lead rope

 

  • Don’t wrap a lead rope or lunge line around your fingers, wrist, neck, or waist. Like for real.

 

  • When leading your horse, keep your shoulder between their face and their shoulder. You need to be able to see their expression and not become a speed bump if they fall behind you. This also lets you use your right hand on their neck to push them out of your space.

 

  • Keep your right hand on the lead rope, about a foot below their halter. Keep it loose. Pulling will only create a tug-of-war situation and you will lose.

 

  • Keep your left hand on the lead rope, too. If your right-hand gets yanked away, you have a backup.

 

  • Keep some tail of the lead rope hanging from your left hand. If your horse gets behind your motion, as they would behind your leg in the saddle, you can gently swing the tail around towards their tail – without hitting them – to encourage them forward. This is very much like riding from behind or riding the hind end in the saddle. You want them moving forward from their engine in the hindquarters.

 

Grooming in the crossties or other tied area

 

  • A horse should stand quietly for you in the cross ties, tie rack, grooming area, or washrack.

 

  • Use ties and ropes with quick-release snaps. There’s a great debate about whether the quick-release should be near the halter or the attachment. I say both to cover all your bases.

 

  • If your horse is new to being tied, also have a lead rope attached in case you need to release them. Then you have a way to communicate and lead them after unclipping.

 

  • Make your horse’s grooming area safe. Some things to think about:
    • Mats for comfort
    • A wide area so that you won’t be squished.
    • No tubs, rakes, or hoses that you or your horse could get tangled in.
    • Visibility to other horses if your horse is nervous alone.
    • A safe place to stash your tack and grooming supplies so you don’t have to run back and forth to the tack room while your horse is unattended.

 

Make your horse comfortable before grooming and riding. Do they already have:

 

    • A full belly, preferably of hay?
    • Some time to be turned out and play and socialize?
    • A comfortable place to stand?
    • Following these tips helps your horse feel safest, which in turn makes you safer.

 

farrier in cross ties

 

How to help train your horse to stand and lead like a good citizen

 

  • This will always boil down to two things about horsemanship – green plus green is not always a good idea and kindness is the best way to train. When you use a positive reinforcement training technique, you are not just training your horse. You are teaching them (and yourself) how to communicate. This builds trust, which builds safety.

 

  • When you ask your horse a question, like walk beside me quietly, and you respond with kind words and a gentle touch, they will understand and learn to seek this kind behavior. It goes for everything in your horse’s life. When this concept becomes clear to both of you, training becomes an absolute breeze and JOY.

 

  • You don’t have to tie your horse up for hours as they flail about or tack them up and let them “figure it out” or whip them in circles or use tie-downs and draw reins for control. You just have to reward the good things and the trust will come.

 

  • This is a horse training system – and there are guides. Using a good reference book, a knowledgeable positive reinforcement trainer, and some time will get you started down the right path.

 

For more on horse training, read this. 

 

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Is your horse’s tack safe?

 

Ensuring the safety of your horse’s tack is essential for rider and horse safety. This falls into two categories: the overall safety of the tack and tack fit for your horse.

 

Overall tack condition

 

  • Inspect your horse’s tack for a few things – and this applies to both leather and synthetic tack. Cracks in leather and other materials indicate weakness. You can condition the snot out of cracked leather, but you will never get the strength back. Cracked leather can and will fail with you in the saddle. The same is true for leather which has stretched significantly.

 

  • Stitching should be intact and not frayed. Sometimes, leather oils will break down stitching. The most important places to check are where the stirrup leathers attach to the saddle. Stitching on reins and around buckles is also critical if that’s part of the design. And the cinch or girth! You definitely don’t want those to fail.

 

Tack fit for your horse

 

  • One of the fastest ways to part ways with your tack is when your horse’s saddle and bridle don’t fit. Saddle fit is more than just gullet width – it’s how the panels contour to your horse’s back. Also, there must be room in the gullet for your horse to lift their back. Girths must be comfortable and not pinch skin, especially around the elbows.

 

  • Bridles and bits must be adjusted to fit your horse’s mouth and head. Nosebands should have enough room for two fingers to slide over the nose. Using the cheeks is cheating – a horse’s face is not circular, and the cheeks are naturally indented, the perfect room for fingers.

 

Read more about:

Saddle fitting

Bit fitting

Bridle fitting

 

sox for horses used as a girth cover

 

Your horse’s leg protection

 

  • Adding boots or polo wraps to your horse’s legs can provide protection when needed. Many horses interfere or forge, and bell boots or leg boots can help.

 

  • The type of leg protection for your horse should match what you are doing. For example, when going trail riding, look for a waterproof boot in case of creeks to cross or a lot of mud. Fabric boots and polo wraps also like to collect burrs and stickers.

 

  • However – there is much speculation with only a little bit of science to back up the fact that leg boots can heat the tendons and ligaments too much, which may create problems in the long run.

 

Preparing for the ride: essential safety gear

 

  • Proper safety gear is essential for a safe riding experience. Riders should always wear appropriate safety gear, including riding boots and a properly fitted helmet. Riding boots provide support and protect the feet in case of falls or accidental kicks. A hard hat or helmet can prevent head injuries and should be worn by riders of all ages and skill levels.

 

Choosing the right helmet for horseback riding safety

 

  • A properly fitted helmet is crucial for protecting against head injuries while horseback riding. Head injuries can be severe and have long-lasting effects, including concussions. When selecting a helmet, look for one that meets the safety standards set by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and is certified by reputable organizations. Ensure that the helmet fits snugly and securely, covering the forehead and the back of the head.

 

  • More tips for selecting the best riding helmet:
    • Look for helmets with high safety ratings like the ones in this university study
    • Don’t buy a used helmet.
    • Replace your helmet after a rider falls or an accidental drop. If all goes well, replace your helmet every few years anyway.
    • Work with a helmet fitter. Most reputable tack shops have one or can put you in touch with one.
    • Consult with your show organization’s helmet requirements. Sometimes, they may exceed SEI standards.

 

The role of boots, chaps, and breeches in rider safety

 

  • Wearing the right footwear is crucial for rider safety. Riding boots with a small heel provide stability and prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup. The small heel also helps riders maintain proper balance and control while riding and helps support the ankle.

 

  • Chaps or half chaps can provide additional leg protection, prevent chafing against the saddle, and be “grippy,” adding some stick.

 

  • Full-seat breeches offer more stick than knee-patch breeches but may not be as flexible if you jump or spend a lot of time in a two-point position.

 

  • Sticks and spray can add some “glue” to your legs and seat in the saddle and help boost rider safety.

 

Even if you have never dropped your helmet or fallen off, they need replacement every few years. 

 

Body protectors and vests

 

  • Protective vests are an additional safety measure that riders can consider, particularly for inexperienced riders or when engaging in high-risk activities such as jumping or cross-country riding. Protective vests help absorb impact and reduce the risk of serious injury in the event of a fall. Look for vests that meet the safety standards of the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and ensure proper fit and comfort.

 

  • Safety vests fall into two categories: fixed and inflatable. Fixed vests are usually foam blocks to allow for some body contour and cover the back of your neck, your torso, and your tailbone. Inflatable riding vests attach to your saddle. During a fall, the cord breaks, triggering the inflation of the vest before you hit the ground. They cover the same parts of your body as a traditional vest.

 

Safety technology when riding

 

  • Advances in technology have also contributed to enhancing rider safety. Riders can utilize cell phones to communicate in case of emergencies. Additionally, wearable technology such as GPS trackers and alert systems can provide an extra layer of safety by allowing others to track the rider’s location or send alerts in case of a fall or other emergencies.

 

Apps for your phone

 

  • Various apps are available for horseback riders, providing valuable information, tracking tools, and safety features. These apps can help riders find trails, track their riding sessions, and access helpful resources and tips. Some apps also offer emergency features like fall detection, allowing you to automatically contact emergency services or designated contacts in case of an accident.

Look into these two apps to use when riding: 

Safe Ride by Seaver 

Horse Rider SOS 

 

Wearable technology for horseback riding safety

 

  • Wearable technology is becoming increasingly popular in the equestrian world to boost horseback riding safety. Riders can wear devices that monitor their heart rate, speed, and movement to analyze their riding performance and detect any irregularities.

 

  • Some wearable devices also have built-in safety features that can detect falls or sudden changes in movement and send alerts to designated contacts or emergency services. These technological advancements provide an additional layer of safety and peace of mind for riders and their loved ones.

 

  • Some hiking technologies may work for you too. Satellite beacons allow you to send a message to a contact with your location, time, and a brief message to give an update or alert them of an accident. Another setting allows you to summon emergency services via satellite to even the most remote locations.

 

This beacon for hiking can also be used for horseback riding safety.  There is a monthly service fee – but it’s worth it! 

 

Basic horseback riding etiquette

 

  • Understanding and practicing basic horseback riding etiquette is essential for a safe and enjoyable riding experience, especially when riding in groups. Riders should maintain a respectful distance from other horses to prevent spooking or crowding.

 

  • When riding in a group, it is customary to ride in a single file to ensure a smooth flow and minimize the risk of accidents while maximizing riding safety. Good riding skills, such as maintaining control and following trail rules, are crucial for both rider and horse safety. Most trails give horses the right of way over hikers, bikers, and motorized vehicles.

 

  • Here are some general guidelines for safe navigation and riding etiquette.
    • Pass other horses from left shoulder to left shoulder, as you would when driving.  
    • Leave plenty of space between yourself and other horses.  
    • Don’t ride double-wide if you are chilling with friends in the warm-up. In fact, chill with friends outside of the warm-up.  
    • Yield to others going at a faster gait than you.  
    • Let the person in front of you know you will pass. You might say “on your left” or “passing on the inside.”
    • Avoid blocking gates.  
    • Don’t lunge in riding areas, even if allowed. It’s just not safe. 
    • If there are jumps in the area, call the jumps before you approach.  
    • Sometimes, jumps are flagged. Jump in the direction where the red flag is on the right. 
    • Don’t cross a jump line in the ring with others popping fences. 
    • Leave the area to grab a sip of water or take off your jacket. 
    • If you are riding at a show and your horse kicks, tie a red ribbon to warn fellow riders to give room.

 

Navigating through different terrains safely

 

  • Riding on different terrains requires specific safety considerations. Before venturing onto unfamiliar terrains, familiarize yourself with the potential hazards and safety guidelines specific to that terrain. For example, riding on steep or uneven trails may require adjustments in speed and posture to maintain stability – like leaning forward for uphill travel. Riding through water or muddy areas may require additional caution to prevent slipping. Always follow trail rules and guidelines and be prepared with appropriate safety gear and equipment for the specific terrain.

 

  • This means your horse should be fit enough to handle different terrains and wear the appropriate hoof wear. Shod horses are protected, but their soles and frogs can still be hurt. For rocky terrain, many horses benefit from pads in their horseshoes or boots designed for riding, like Crocs for horses.

 

  • This is a good reminder to bring a hoof pick along for your trail ride—rocks can get stuck!

 

trail ride in the fall on chestnut horse

 

Dealing with falls: horseback riding safety tips and techniques

 

  • Falls are an inherent risk in horseback riding, and knowing how to fall safely can minimize the risk of injuries and increase your riding safety. The roll technique is a technique used to distribute the impact of a fall and protect vital body parts. Here are some safety tips and techniques for dealing with falls:
    • Stay relaxed and avoid stiffening up during a fall.
    • Try to roll and land on your shoulder and roll to your side.
    • Keep your head tucked in to protect your neck.
    • Avoid reaching out to break the fall with your hands.
    • If possible, aim to fall away from the horse’s hooves.

 

  • Remember, it is crucial to wear appropriate safety gear and seek medical attention if needed after a fall. The old adage about “getting back on right away” is total bunk and ignores rider and horse safely – both mental and physical. If a trainer ever tells you otherwise, consider that a huge red flag.

 

Post-ride care and safety

 

  • Your grooming shouldn’t end when your ride does. There are a few more things to help your horse stay safe. And you! Take care of yourself, too, after a ride.

 

Proper cool-down and riding safety practices for your horse

 

  • Properly cooling down your horse after a ride is crucial for their well-being and safety. Gradually reduce the intensity of the exercise to allow the horse’s heart rate and breathing to return to normal. Walk your horse for a few minutes to promote circulation and prevent muscle stiffness.

 

  • Monitoring the horse’s temperature, heart rate, and overall demeanor can help identify potential issues and ensure their safety and comfort. Tracking your horse’s heart rate is one way to track their fitness. After a ride, record the time it takes for your horse’s heart rate to return to normal. As your horse’s fitness increases, this recovery time reduces.

 

  • Offer water and allow the horse to rest in a well-ventilated area. It’s an absolute myth that you shouldn’t offer water after a ride! You need some, and your horse does, too!

 

horse sport boots on chestnut horse

 

Checking for Injuries After the Ride

 

  • Horses are masters of getting injured – big and small. After a ride, its time to cool off your horse and then check their entire body for weird stuff they can pick up. Some things to look for are:

 

    • Heat or swelling in the legs
    • Cuts or scrapes
    • limping or stiffness
    • Anything new that wasn’t there yesterday
    • The same goes for you – stretch and care for your body after a ride.

 

Read this for more info on post-exercise leg care

  •  

Remember, safety is key to enjoying the beauty and thrill of horseback riding.

 

 

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