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Horse Safety Tips:  Approaching And Positioning

By Jeffrey Rolo

In a previous article I discussed some general horse safety tips concerning choice of clothing as well as the importance of vocalization when interacting with your horse. This article will focus on safety tips regarding the approach and handling of your horse.

Always approach your horse from his front in a diagonal pattern so that he sees you coming. If you approach in a straight line directly in front of his nose he may not be able to see you as well (remember that unlike ours, horses' eyes are set to the side and monocular). Never approach a horse from the rear as he can startle easily and has plenty of room to send a devastating kick your way.

Telegraph your movements and intentions slowly and methodically so that you do not catch your horse by surprise. If you want to lift his front leg then slowly trace your hand down the length of his leg, don't just snatch his ankle. If you want to grab his tail you would trace your hand along the length of his back, up his rear thigh and finally grab his tail.

Try not to position yourself directly in front or directly to the rear of a horse as both positions are easy strike zones. If you wish to brush a horse's tail, for example, stand parallel to his rear haunch and draw his tail to you. The safest place near a horse is parallel to his shoulder or haunch. In this position a horse's ability to kick you is effectively neutered.

This is important to remember if you ever find yourself in an enclosed space with a violent horse, and I'll provide a personal example to illustrate. A new horse arrived at the barn, a mare in foal. I took the mare to her stall without a problem and left to get some hay. I entered her stall, tossed her a flake of hay and before I could blink she snapped.

She fired off a series of kicks that slammed into the stall wall, and because I was in the corner opposite to the stall door she had me exactly where she wanted. Rather than try and get away from her, thereby giving her the potential leverage to spin and really nail me good, I leapt right up against her rear haunch, made my way up the length of her body and finally jumped out the stall door when an opening presented itself.

During the quick exchange she was circled in an attempt to catch me with her rear feet, but because I placed myself against her body, each time she circled her rear I could follow along and lessen the danger to me. Had I tried to hug the wall to get away I would have inadvertently given her the range and leverage she needed to hit me, but since I was right up against her side she could not effectively kick me.

Of course Lady Luck was still smiling upon me that day since had the first kick not missed me I could very well have been killed right there. That good old girl left a series of hoof marks imbedded along the length of the thick wooden wall!

I should emphasize that the above tip is for times when you are in an enclosed space or you must be near your horse to groom him, etc. Had this occurred in a paddock or an area where I could have leapt backwards out of range, you can bet that's exactly what I would have done!

The above example presented two safety tips, one that I followed (stay close to the shoulders or haunches when in close quarters to minimize chances of getting kicked) and one that I accidentally neglected! Care to guess what the neglected rule was?

Know Your Horse!

Since the horse came from a seller I purchased many horses from previously, and not only was the seller a friend but also a woman who dealt with remarkably calm and wonderful stock, I let my guard down. I assumed the horse would be as docile as my past ones and put myself in a position where I couldn't make a hasty exit should the horse not respond to me kindly. Having had no experience with this horse I should have been far more cautious and left myself with enough room to maneuver in case things turned sour.

As a side note, the above example should not vilify the horse because I don't blame her for her actions… the incident shocked us all! I later discovered the horse was significantly abused and nearly starved to death by her ex-owner, who happened to be a guy. So whereas the mare was passable with women, she really had it out for men. Lucky me! In addition since she was starved in the past she learned to fight to "protect" her food, so once I had tossed her a flake of hay her survival instincts kicked in.

Try to develop a relationship with your horse before you lower your guard around him/her. Following this horse safety tip could have prevented the above scenario for me, and hopefully it can stop you from ever finding yourself in any similar circumstance.

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