Due to the sheer abount of accidents happening when people handle horses, I would like to share some of the things I have been taught throughout my life. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to avioding accidents but adhering to these guidelines and understanding WHY could help you to stay safe.
- Always remember you are not dealing with an item but with a living being. This being is an animal with very strong instincts, and a horses’s instinct is often stronger than their ability to think. The normal reaction for a horse getting a fright is to flee.
REMEMBER: A horse is a reactive animal with strong INSTINCTS and one of the strongest is to FLEE.
- Horses are flock animals; they naturally live in arrangements of herds. They arrange the pecking order within the herd between themselves and communicate by warning before kicking or biting. Warning signs are
- The horse turns his rear towards the individual he would like to warn
- The horse bares his teeth
- The horse flattens his ears against his neck
- When a horse CHALLENGES someone, he faces the challenged party and scrapes with front legs, often flattenin ears against the neck and/or baring his teeth.
REMEMBER that the horse will have to understand and accept that YOU ARE HIGHER UP in the pecking order or you may be challenged.
- Since horses are flock animals, they generally don’t like being removed from other horses. Their extent of comfort with being alone depends on both their level of domestication and how used they are to being alone. If you have a nervous horse, try to handle it nearby other horses to give it a sense of security.
- When you walk a horse in-hand, make sure you are keeping the horse’s left shoulder by your right arm. If you walk in front of the horse, the risk is that it tramples you down if it gets a fright. If you walk next to the horse’s head, you risk being stepped on the heals. If you walk behind the front legs, you have no control over the horse’s head.
When walking a horse in a head collar/halter, never wrap the lead rope around your hand. ALWAYS keep the lead rope FOLDED in your hand. If your hand is tangled up in the lead rope, you can lose your fingers if the horse gets a fright and pulls. Keep the lead rope in the hand closest to the horse (right).
- When tying up a horse, make sure you can quickly un-tie it. Never tie up the horse in a metal chain with a metal carabbina. If the horse panics and lies down, you cannot undo the chain or the carabbina, if both are made of metal, when stretched with lots of pressure.
Use a rope or a plastic chain (which can be cut or will break under pressure) or use a “panic hook”. If you tie with a rope, tie a knot which can be released with a quick pull.
- Horses use their HEAD and TAIL to balance. If a horse’s head is being controlled, you have half of their balance. If a horse doesn’t want to stand still to have his hooves picked, ask someone to pull his tail forward. Tthis person should hold the tail by the horse’s shoulder in a firm grip. If you are picking left hooves, the tail holder is standing on the right side.
This gives the horse a feeling of balance but YOU are controlling the balance since you are holding the tail.
- If a horse has rolled over in their stable and gotten stuck, you need to know about the head and tail – the horses way of balancing. Horses “rolling over” can get stuck too close to the wall to be able to free themselves. Most people would try to pull a hind leg to get them flipped over on their back and help them get balance to move and get back up. This is dangerous (I tried it and got kicked in the forehead = concussion and could have been a lot worse…). The safest method of assisting a horse which has gotten stuck is to be TWO people.
One person used knee and upper body weight to restrain the horse’s head – weight head down and keep it on the ground. This way, the horse cannot balance. The other person pulls the tail backwards and PULLS the horses hind qarters away from the wall, giving it space to kick free and get back up. The horse CANNOT KICK when the head is held down and tail pulled at the same time because it has no balance. IMPORTANT!!! Once the horse’s hind quarters are moved into the center of the stables, the person who pulled the tail needs to get out of there a.s.a.p. since the horse now wants to move and the person restraining the head cannot let go of the head until the person by the rear is safely out of the way. MOVE OUT QUICKLY AND SAFELY.
When the horse has gotten back up, take it for a walk immediately. Horses get very stressed by being trapped like that and could develop a colic. By making them walk, you reduce the risk of a colic and also get a chance to see if the horse has injured itself while struggling to get free.
- When taking a horse into it’s stables, or letting it loose in a field, never take the halter off without turning the horse to face you. Stay close to the exit / door and take the halter off and leave calmly. This reduces the risk of receiving a kick when the horse goes to enjoy itself.