Updated: Jul 10
How not to get in trouble at the barn and other horse safety tips.
This post will be part of an ongoing series regarding horse safety, barn sense and the general nature of the horse.
Horses are not like us. They are instinctively herd bound prey animals. Their flight or fight instincts are very real. We are predators, much like our dogs and cats. It is important to understand that we speak a different completely language than horses. Therefore, it's up to use to learn the horse's language and be able to approach the horse from his point of view.
Tip #1 - Read the Room.
When you enter the barn area, stay aware of your surroundings. You have entered the horse's home and some horses are not as friendly as others. Each has his own personality and established place in the herd dynamics within that barn. If you are meeting the horses for the first time, understand that you are a potential new member of this herd.
Sometimes new members can have a rocky start when entering a herd. Horses usually prostrate and can sometimes fight with one another to establish their herd hierarchy. Once that place is determined, the fighting settles down but that place isn't always permanent.
As a human, you shouldn't have to fight your way to become a respected member of the herd like the two horses in the photo above. However if you are not aware of your surroundings, you may find yourself in between two horses who are having a conflict. Most horses won't even see you standing there if their herd mate doesn't heed their warnings. If they are forced to attack to prove a point, a human can be seriously injured.
I've witnessed this first hand from the sweetest horse I've ever known. The horse was removed from her stall and a friend of mine was in the aisleway in front of another horse's stall. She squeezed over to give that sweetheart horse more room, but as she passed my friend, the horse in the stall pinned it's ears and lunged over the stall door at the horse in the aisleway. Sweetheart instinctively kicked out at the angry horse,. My friend was in the way. Thank goodness Sweetheart horse pulled her kick and my friend wasn't injured but I've known of times where that wasn't the case and the human went to the hospital with broken bones.
Tip #2 - Read the Body Language.
You can find tons of information about body language online so I won't go into great detail on this post. But, I want to give you a little bit of detail when reading body language. Most of these guides will tell you to look at the horses ears. If they are back, that means danger.
The horse above has the classic warning look about her. Note the flat ears and tension in the nose and mouth. This horse is looking directly at her rival or the offending horse and is telling that horse (or person) to stay back. Approaching this horse is like approaching an angry bully who has been giving you the evil eye from across the room all night. Unless you are looking for a fight you may not win, leave this one alone.
This horse is not angry. His ears may be tilted back, but the ears aren't the only thing you need to look at to determine how a horse is feeling. This horse has his eyes closed. For a prey animal, this is a sign of trust. A nervous horse will have wide eyes and a high headset because that's where most predators will attack them first.
The ears usually tell you where your horse's mind and attention is.
Tip #3 Wear the Right Gear!
While these are boots, they are not the appropriate footwear for riding. The toe does not fit in the stirrup and this rider risks her foot being trapped in the stirrup if she comes of the horse. Also, capri pants leaves bare skin vulnerable to pinching and rubs against the leathers (the straps that go to the stirrups).
It has been my experience that the most common injury around horses is getting your toes stepped on. Not falling off. Not getting kicked or bitten by the horse. So sandals and flip flops have no place in the barn.
Bicycle helmets are made for bikes not horses. Humans typically wreck bikes differently than they fall off horses. Please used an approved riding helmet when mounted on your equine friend.
The child above is adequately dressed for riding and working around horses. She is wearing long pants, a paddock boot and an approved riding helmet.
Tip #4 Always ask before you pet.
We've already covered that not all horses are friendly. But, did you know that just like humans, viruses and colds can be transmitted by touching one horse's nose and moving on to his neighbor to pet more noses?
Don't give a strange horse anything to eat, no matter how much it will beg you. No treats! No hand picked grass. The horse will try to tell you it's starving. Don't believe him!
Horses have whiskers on their nose because they can't see what is going into their mouth. Fingers can feel like baby carrots. Fingers can upset their stomach and ruin everyone's day. Horse's can't vomit up your bloody nubs, so there will be no reattachment surgeries for you.
Tip #5 Close the GATE!
If the gate is closed and you go through it, close it behind you. If the gate is open, leave it open. There is a method to our madness.
There's a lot more!
I could go on for days, but that's enough for now.
Until next time, happy horsing around!