Keeping Your Children Safe Around Horses

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Keeping your children safer around horses can be a full-time occupation in itself. One minute they are right there, and the next minute they are gone.

Instilling practical, safe habits and a healthy respect for the potential dangers from the very beginning is as crucial as always being mindful of your actions and leading by example. Kids are very inclined to “monkey see, monkey do.”

Teaching your children the joys of being around and learning to ride horses is one of the greatest gifts in life. It helps to teach responsibility and compassion and offers an invaluable skill set.

Horses are fight or flight animals, and the horse can be the quietest horse you have ever known, but in an instant, they can get a fright, and everything can change. It is not that they mean to hurt anyone, but we have to remember that they are large animals with minds of their own.

What are the benefits of teaching kids to be around and ride horses?

Horses have been part of our lives for centuries, and in these modern times, they still play a significant role in our lives. Horse riding can teach your children to be independent, give them responsibility, boost their confidence, all while having fun.

The are many pluses to teaching your kids to care for and ride horses. Riding for the disabled is a wonderful program that has proven that horses make a massive difference in the lives of children and adults living with intellectual, physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

Many other programs like Healing with Horses also utilise connecting people with horses as a way of self-discovery.

The benefits of riding horses can include but are not limited to;

  • Boosting Self Confidence
  • Boosting Self Esteem
  • Teaches responsibility
  • Can improve academic performance
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
  • Develops balance and coordination
  • Forms a strong core, back and muscles

How do I teach my kids to be safe around horses?

  • Always lead by example and be consistent when handling horses yourself
  • Remain on high alert when your children are around their horses
  • Ensure that the horse is suitable for the child’s level of experience
  • Communicate what to do in a way that your child understands
  • If you are not experienced with horses, hire an instructor for riding lessons
  • Join a riding club that allows your child to interact with other kids the same age
  • Lather, rinse, repeat, repetition, repetition and repetition
  • Understand that children will also want to figure things out for themselves. It is important to supervise, but trying to protect them from making mistakes is not the answer.

Rules for being on the ground around horses

  • Setting some basic but necessary ground rules is vital.
  • Always use a calm voice when approaching the horse
  • Always approach the horse from the side so they can clearly see you
  • Beside the shoulder is a safe place
  • Never approach the horse from the rear
  • Never walk behind the horse
  • Always approach calmly, never run
  • Always keep your hand on the horse while grooming
  • Never wrap the lead around any part of your body
  • Never sit down in the proximity of the horse, and always be prepared to move out of the way quickly
  • Don’t attempt to pick up the horses feet unsupervised
  • Always give treats in the flat palm of your hand

Catching a horse

 1. Let them know you are near, by talking calmly 

Centuries of being a prey animal have led to the horse having a well-developed fight or flight response. Horses have both binocular and monocular vision. When they use their monocular vision, they can see different objects with each eye simultaneously and look both forward and back. Their wide-set eyes create a wide field of view which helps protect horses from predators that approach. While horses have excellent peripheral vision, they also have blind spots in front of and directly behind them. These blind spots create the perfect places for kids to get lost or missed.

Always talking calmly when approaching the horse is the best way to ensure that the horse hears you, can focus and see you, and by speaking in a calm, friendly manner, they understand that you are not a threat.

2. Never catch a horse with a bridle; always use a halter and be prepared 

Depending on your child’s age and size, they may not be left to their own devices for some time when it comes to catching their horse. This is where leading by example comes in. Horses learn very quickly that a jingle of a bridle can mean work, and they can become difficult to catch over time.

Using a bucket with a tasty treat and catching only with a halter will eliminate creating this habit and therefore make it easier for your child to catch their horse on their own when the time comes. 

3. Always approach a horse at the shoulder, never front on or from the rear

 Take the horses vision into consideration; it is important to approach the horse in their line of sight and not in a blind spot. While it is not as crucial for experienced horse people, it is an important lesson to instil from an early age. Approaching the horse’s shoulder with their arm extended, with the back of their hand facing the horse’s nose, this is a less threatening approach, and it allows the horse to smell who it is.

4. Leave the horse alone during feeding 

If you have ever spent time watching horses in a pasture or wild environment, it is evident that there is a boss or dominant horse in the herd. There is a strict pecking order, and those that don’t respect the pecking order often get reprimanded.

Feeding time is no different, and if the horse has the inclination to be bossy around feed time, it is essential to teach your child a healthy respect for the horse during mealtime.

Placing a feed bin/tub in a space that is easily accessible for your child so that they don’t have to enter the horses’ yard is important. This allows a safe distance and space for the child to do their chores. If this cannot be avoided, then it is important to supervise and assist your child while they feed their horse.

5. Always be aware of what the horse is doing 

Horses are naturally curious and playful, and some are bred for sorting, so it’s not unusual to find a horse chasing another animal such as a dog or goat or lapping cattle in the paddock.

Teaching your child to always keep an eye on and be aware of where their horse is important. If your child is lucky enough to have pride and place with one of your old retired been there done that horses, the inclination to chase things has probably long gone. Nevertheless, it is an important safety lesson to instil.

6. Teach the child the basics of a horse’s body language

Teaching your child the basics of a horse’s body language is crucial.

Stomping either front hoof, baring teeth, flattening ears are all signs that the horse either feels threatened or are signs of aggressive behaviour. 

The horse with its ears pricked forward, lowering its head and sniffing are signs they are curious and want to know more. However you perceive your horse’s behaviour, it is important to teach your child these signs too.

7. Letting the horse go 

 For those of us experienced with horses, we have all seen. The halter coming off means freedom, and if the horse has had a long and maybe challenging day they really can’t wait to get up the paddock. Sometimes, they’re so excited to be let go that they will pull away and gallop off.

A small child with a small pony or Shetland may be different, but if they have a bigger horse, you should always assist with letting the horse go until they are big enough and aware of the potential risks to let the horse go themselves.

Safety in the Saddle

 1. Ensure that the saddle fits both horse and rider

 This is a bit of a contentious issue amongst parents, as many children learnt to ride bareback. Many families throughout the years didn’t necessarily have the funds to purchase small saddles.

Regardless of your stance and whether or not your child learns to ride bareback or in the saddle, if you choose to have a saddle, it is important that they have a saddle that is suitable both for the horse they are riding to eliminate problems for the horse, and a one that is suitable for the size of the child. Ensuring that the stirrup length is the correct length is crucial, due to the ease with which they can lose their balance if the stirrups are too long or short. Making sure that the stirrup size is adequate is also important – safety stirrups or foot stoppers for kids are a great little addition to reduce the risk of little feet slipping through.

Seat size also plays a part in ensuring the correct fit. Too small and the child will get popped out of the saddle constantly and it would be extremely uncomfortable, too large allows room for the child to slip and potentially fall out of the saddle and off the horse.

2. Teach your child to check their tack and make sure that the girth/cinch is fastened appropriately

Teaching your child this important factor could mean the difference between a safe ride and a ride that ends in disaster, with the saddle either falling off, slipping up over the horses’ neck or worse, slipping underneath the horse.

The girth or cinch is what holds the saddle in place, preventing it from slipping around during a ride. It is essential that the tack is checked to ensure the integrity is intact and to ensure that it is done up tight enough so that the saddle doesn’t slip forward, backwards or sideways.

You should always tighten the saddle in 3-4 stages so that it is more comfortable for the horse and so that if they puff their tummy out, leading them around encourages them to breathe normally and you can tighten the girth/cinch adequately with no problem.

3. Wear appropriate riding clothes and wear a helmet

The chosen discipline will determine what type of attire your child wears, but the basic principles are the same

  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Long Pants or Jeans
  • Appropriate riding boots
  • An approved safety helmet
  • A riding vest for added safety 

Out of all of these, the safety helmet or hard hat is absolutely essential. Head trauma is the most common cause of serious injury and death for horse riders, and the percentage of head injuries and death is higher in young riders. Ensure that the helmet fits appropriately and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and replace any damaged or aged helmet.

4. Horses are animals with a mind of their own 

Regardless of whether your child is on the ground or riding, it is important to teach your child to always be prepared. It is your responsibility as the parent and or guardian to ensure that the horse your child rides is as quiet as possible and is a horse you can trust with your child.

Because no matter how much you repeat yourself, kids will be kids, they will get tired; they will lose concentration, their minds will wander, and sometimes accidents happen. The best that you can do is be consistent, lead by example and be there to kiss the booboos when they happen.

Sometimes irrespective of how quiet the horse is, they can get a fright and jump sideways. There is always the potential for something to go wrong. Ensuring you have a suitable horse for your child, ensuring you have a safe environment for them to learn in and always being there in the event something goes wrong is critical.