Working Safely With Horses

Horse Handling Safety Tips

Smiling woman with horse
Learn to lead safely, without warping lead ropes around your hands, or hooking your fingers through bridles or halters. Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek / Getty Images

"Human safety is first.
Horse safety is second.
Everything else is third."

John Lyons

Horse handling and riding can be hazardous if we don't follow a few rules. Whether you are learning to handle your first horse or just enjoy leaning over the fence watching your child take a lesson, learning a few safety precautions will prevent accidents and injuries. The calmest horse or smallest pony has the potential to hurt someone if it is startled or scared. These recommendations may help you avoid kicks, trampled toes, bites, drags, or run-aways. If you are just starting out, you may feel a bit overwhelmed at all you need to remember. But quickly,  safety rules become habits, just like looking both ways before crossing the street.

As prey animals, a horse's ability to react quickly and out-run a predator was key to their survival in the wild. This instinct remains strong in domestic horses even though we make every effort to give them a safe environment to live in. They can become startled easily and remain upset long after whatever scared them has passed. Some horses are more reactive than others. For the beginner, it’s best if they start working around a horse that is calm and quiet.

Rules for Safely Handling Horses:

  • Be calm and quiet. Sudden moves or loud noises can cause a horse to shy (jump sideways) or kick out.
  • The safest way to lead a horse is with a halter and lead rope. Don't hook your fingers through the halter straps, rings or the bit. If the horse pulls away, your fingers could be caught, injuring them or catching your hand so that you are dragged.
  • Never stand directly behind a horse. If you are grooming its tail, stand to one side and pull the tail gently towards you.
  • When cleaning a horse's hooves or putting on leg bandages, don't squat or kneel. Bend over so that if the horse moves you can get out of the way quickly.
  • Never loop lead ropes, longe lines, or reins around your hands or any other body part. If your horse pulls away, you could be dragged. Don’t tie yourself to a horse in any way.
  • Feed treats from buckets or tubs. Horses can very quickly become greedy and mistake fingers for carrots.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots that will protect your feet if your horse or pony steps on them. No sandals or thin shoes! Flip-flops are a big no-no in a stable or around horses.
  • When tying use a quick release knot or panic snap so that if your horse gets scared and pulls he can quickly be freed. The feeling of being constrained can make a scared horse panic to the point of hurting himself or you.
  • The safest place to stand is beside your horse's shoulder where you can see each other, or about 10 or more feet away unless you are grooming, tacking up or otherwise interacting with your horse.
  • When grooming, saddling up, or cleaning your horse's stall, tie your horse up. A loose horse in a barn can cause havoc. And don't leave a tied horse unattended. While mucking out, it’s safest if the horse is turned out or put in another stall.
  • When going through a doorway, make sure the door is wide open so the horse doesn't hit itself on it. This can startle the horse and result in you being trampled or dragged. If the door is narrow, go through first, make the horse wait, and then have it go through after you as you stand to the side.