We asked Ox Ridge barn manager Sue Louther and hunter/jumper trainer Holly Hugo-Vidal what are the most dangerous situations riders encounter and how to make these moments as safe as possible.
Safety Around Horses – Turnout
Sue: Most of my grooms’ injuries have happened when turning horses out. If you just walk a horse through the gate and set him loose, you stand such a chance of getting kicked. He isn’t kicking at you on purpose, just out of high spirits; even the safest, most reliable horse may catch you off guard now and then. So always follow this turnout routine:
1. Lead your horse with a chain over his nose, and don’t have anything else in your hands.
2. When you reach the gate, put the lead rope in your right hand and push the gate all the way open with your left.
3. Lead him through the opening and turn him completely around. Facing him and keeping an eye on him, push the gate behind you so it’s closed enough that he can’t easily escape.
4. Carefully unclip the shank, slide the chain slowly through the holes of his halter (so you’re not ripping it across his nose), pat him, and let him go.
5. Never taking your eyes off your horse or turning your back to him, step slowly backward to the gate. Slip through the space between gate and gatepost; then pull the gate closed and latch it.
Catching a horse in the pasture, especially if he’s turned out in a group, can be just as dangerous; we don’t recommend that anybody who isn’t very experienced try it. Even if the other horses seem to be grazing quietly, there’s no saying they won’t all charge the gate when they see you leading your horse out. Until you’re safely out of the field, be very aware of the other horses, and remember these pointers:
- Always put the chain over your horse’s nose before you try to lead him.
- If you must pass other horses to get to yours, keep your distance. Walk around them in a big loop. Do the same leading your horse back to the gate.
- Never try to cut through a group of horses. Don’t lead your horse anywhere near another horse if you can help it–and never get within kicking range.
- Never let yourself get cornered between the fence and another horse.
Safety Around Horses – Mounting:
Holly: One of the more potentially dangerous activities we do every day is mounting. I see plenty of people get on while their horses are practically trotting off; if they made one mistake, they could be dragged. I teach all my horses to stand absolutely still while I’m mounting, and to remain standing for a few moments after I’ve gotten on.
If your horse is very young or nervous, ask a helper to hold his reins while you mount–but warn her not to get rough with him if he tries to move, because he could respond by throwing his head up and hitting you in the face. Instead, if he starts to walk forward when your foot is in the stirrup, tell her to walk along with him, holding the rein and maybe putting a hand on his shoulder. If you’re patient and consistent, he’ll eventually learn to stand still while you mount.
- Use a mounting block whenever possible. Mounting from the ground is a useful skill to learn, but it increases your chances of poking your toe into your horse’s side or pulling the pommel of the saddle against his wither.
- If there’s a lot of traffic in the ring, mount outside the ring or ask somebody to hold your horse while you mount.