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Horse Safety: Start with Basic Horsemanship and the Right Gear

Jun 13, 2023
child with horse

Horses have been both useful and fascinating to both kids and adults for centuries. Most of us are a long way from a carriage or plow, but every summer, ponies at a fair or festival will have children of all ages asking for a ride. In those supervised settings, the animals are tightly controlled. But what do you need to know when considering riding lessons for your child, signing them up for camp, or just safely living next to the horses in a neighbor’s backyard?

If your family is new to the world of horses, start with books or videos on horsemanship. Horsemanship is the care and handling of horses, and a big part is knowing how to keep both the horses and humans safe. Basics such as how to approach horses and how to move around them stay the same no matter what type of horse it is or what type of activity you do. Depending on what you’re doing with horses, there will be additional safety practices, but basic horsemanship provides a solid foundation for every equestrian.

The other major part of safety around horses is gear. Horses are large, strong, heavy animals that can scare easily, so risks must be identified and managed to keep the activity fun. Everyone, even adults, should wear a properly fitted helmet that meets riding safety standards when they’re sitting on a horse.

Injuries don’t just happen while on horseback, though, so wearing a helmet even when on the ground will help protect people from head injuries.

Riders should also wear sturdy shoes or boots with closed toes to help keep feet safer from stepping hooves and sharp objects around the barn. Long pants and gloves are recommended to protect against scrapes and skin irritation.

Magnificent and fun, horses can be wonderful friends for your kids. But whether it’s at riding lessons or camp, on a field trip, or in someone’s backyard, interacting safely with horses requires caution and respect. Here are some basic rules to get you started:

  1. Listen to everything the horse owner says. If possible, set up a visit to the barn to meet the horses with your child and learn about any rules and requirements. Make it clear to your child that you expect rules to be followed, no exceptions.
  2. Give horses plenty of space. Don’t assume all horses are friendly, and don’t touch horses you aren’t given permission to touch. Horses scare easily, and many horses bite.
  3. On the ground, approach every horse slowly, and don’t walk behind horses if possible. Watch out for stepping hooves, kicking, and biting. Even their heads can cause serious injuries if you get hit.
  4. Wear safety gear: A properly fitted helmet that meets riding safety standards and sturdy closed-toe shoes or boots are must-haves. Gloves help protect hands and grip reins and lead ropes.
  5. Know your child: One principle of horsemanship is matching the skill and energy of the horse and rider. If you are uncomfortable about the horse selected for your child, bring up your concern with the owner or trainer.
Center for Injury Research and Policy
Learn more about horse-related injuries

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Katrina Boylan
Katrina Boylan
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Katrina Boylan is a senior research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. She develops messaging and outreach strategies for child injury prevention campaigns as well as education and training on public health and research communications. She loves to work with researchers, staff, students, and others to find the best way to reach their communication goals.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.