Safety pet peeves – Seven risks that are NOT worth taking
Maybe I’m just too paranoid, but there are a number of things that I witness riders do, that nearly give me a heart attack while I watch. Horses can be dangerous. They are 1200-pound animals that are relatively unpredictable because they are afraid of their own shadows.
As a rider, you consent to the risks that come along with horses because they are awesome and you could not imagine a life without them. However, there is no worse feeling than something bad happening that you know was preventable.
Many riders never think that a freak accident will happen to them or their horses. My attitude has always been that if something can go wrong, it will. I understand that it is impossible to freak accident-proof myself and my horses, but I try to think ahead to avoid any risk I can think of or have been warned about through someone else’s painful lesson. These unsafe horse-handling techniques make me very uneasy and are unnecessary risks:
1) Letting your horse walk to its stall alone – Allowing your horse to walk from its paddock or the crosstie area to its stall on its own is not cute. It can be dangerous. Even the calmest horse could spook and take off running down the barn aisle. Most barn floors are not meant to have horses galloping across them; your horse could slip and fall. A loose horse in the barn runs the risk of harming another human or horse. The amount of effort it takes to put a halter and lead rope on your horse and escort it to its stall is minimal, so just do it.
2) Looped chain lead rope – Looping a chain lead shank through your horse’s halter and clipping it back on itself is a huge safety hazard. If your horse puts its head down to graze and steps its foot into the loop, chaos can ensue. If you do not believe me on this one, read this true story about a girl who lost her horse because she looped a chain lead. If you have a chain lead shank, either, put it across your horse’s nose, just clip it to your horses halter regularly or go and buy a plain lead rope. It does not matter how careful you are when leading your horse with a loop in the chain an accident could still happen. Do not risk it.
3) Leading in more than two horses at a time – You only have two arms so leading two horses at once is enough. In a perfect world, you should only lead one horse at a time. But leading three horses is asking for trouble. If one horse spooks, it will trigger a chain reaction and there is not a chance in hell that you can control three running horses. It is wise to make an extra trip and only lead in two horses at the most.
4) Standing in front of horses while putting boots on – Most people know not to stand directly behind a horse when putting hind boots on, but standing in front of a horse while putting on front boots can be just as dangerous. If a horse stomps its leg because it has a fly on it, you will be getting a knee in your face. People have lost teeth and received concussions from making this simple mistake. Save yourself a dentist bill by always standing beside your horse.
5) Leaving stall doors open and unattended with only a bar stall guard – I have personally caught loose horses at shows and handed them back to their owners who were surprised that their horse was able to duck under its stall guard. There is a reason that stalls are built with doors and not stall guards. If you are going to leave your horse’s stall area, close its door before you go. You do not want your horse gallivanting around the show grounds solo.
6) Horses on a trailer at an event with zero supervision – I know it is hard at shows to have someone watching your horse on the trailer at all times when you are at an event. But try to park near someone reliable that you know or bring a friend to your event. If your horse gets itself into trouble (which all horses are great at) on the trailer, it is critical that someone is there either to help it or alert other people to help. I have seen a horse at neighboring trailer try to jump out its window and get hung up. I did not know the owner, but managed to start calling for help until some random people showed up to assist. If I was not there, who knows how long the horse could have been stuck before the owner returned or another rider spotted the poor guy. Do your best to ensure that someone is keeping an eye on your precious cargo.
7) Rope hay nets – Obviously, many of people use rope hay nets and horses are not getting harmed left, right and centre as a result. But once when during a short trailer ride, I had a mare get her foot through the hay net and the hay net wrapped around her leg several times. The hay net was not hung low; I am still not sure what she did to get her foot high enough to get caught in it. I still remember arriving at my destination, opening the trailer door and the shock of seeing my mare standing calmly (luckily) with her leg suspended in the air. We had to cut the hay net with a pocketknife to free her. She was unharmed but if she panicked, who knows how bad the situation could have been. Now I only use hay bags because if a horse puts a leg in the hole it will probably just rip the hay bag and it is less likely the hay bag can get tangled around a leg.
Shortcuts and saving time are never worth the risk. Before you do anything with your horse, ask yourself, “Is there a safer way of doing this?” I am sure I do unsafe things with my horses that I am not aware of so if you have some tips please share. What handling/riding safety pet peeves do you have so you can help us all be safer riders?