Every equestrian has at least one scary story of an accident or injury that occurred while working with horses. Despite this, many equestrians would never dream of giving up their passion for the sport. Learning about equestrian safety and horse safety can help riders of all experience levels stay safe.
If you’re new to the equestrian world, how to groom a horse is one of the first things you’ll learn. This simple task teaches you a lot of skills, particularly about equestrian safety! Some basic rules that you’ll need to keep in mind when working around horses are:
These five basic rules will become the foundation of your relationship with your horse. They’re designed to keep both you and the horse safe in a variety of situations. But they’re not all-inclusive!
The most important thing to remember is that you must respect their space, and they yours, at all times. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. You would probably think it was rude if someone came running up behind you and started yelling for no reason, right? Horses think so, too.
Also remember to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground at all times. No kneeling or sitting down on the ground near the horse. This ensures that you can move quickly out of the way of these large animals at all times.
Speaking of large animals, watch your feet! If a horse steps on one of your feet, it will hurt. Be aware of where your feet are at all times, as well as where your horse is putting their hooves.
As you become more experienced with horses, you’ll be able to accurately read their body language and act accordingly. For example, if your horse has their ears pinned to their head and is swishing their tail back and forth, they’re in a bad mood and you’ll probably have to tread carefully that day.
As equestrians, we all love to spoil our horses with treats. Always feed treats with an open flat hand. Place the treat in the middle of your open palm so the horse can easily grab it without your fingers in the way.
Now that your horse is nice and shiny clean, let’s find out how we can stay safe while riding.
Did you know that equestrian sports are the biggest contributor to sports-related traumatic brain injuries? A study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery found that horseback riding contributed to 45.2 percent of all sports-related brain injuries. As horseback riders, we love our sport, but it can be very dangerous. One of the best ways to stay safe is to wear an equestrian safety helmet every time you ride.
Many equestrians don’t recognize the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries. Over the past decade, new scientific research has shown us just how serious these injuries are. According to the Journal of Neurosurgery, “Emerging research suggests that even comparatively mild injury—especially when repetitive—is not without cognitive or neuropsychiatric consequences and may contribute to the development of neurodegeneration known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
Patients that have suffered from a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) have reduced cognitive performance on tasks that assess attention, memory, executive function, and information processing, even more than 3 months out from the initial injury. Some impacts of a traumatic brain injury can last months or even years after the initial injury.
It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a concussion. Call emergency medical services right away if you think someone has suffered from a traumatic brain injury.
According to the Center for Disease Control, a mild TBI can appear as:
Signs of a severe traumatic brain injury include:
If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms after a riding accident, call 911 right away.
Horseback riding causes twice the amount of traumatic brain injuries as compared to other contact sports. Whereas equestrian sports caused 45.2 percent of TBIs, contact sports like football and soccer accounted for just 20.2 percent. Due to a lack of public awareness, the association between traumatic brain injuries and horseback riding remains a well-kept secret, despite the fact that equestrian sport carries a higher injury rate per hour of exposure than downhill ski racing, football, hang-gliding and motorcycle racing according to the University of Connecticut.
Head injuries cause more than 60 percent of equine-related deaths. A helmet could save your life. The American Medical Equestrian Association has estimated that ASTM/SEI approved helmets decrease all riding-related head injuries by 30 percent and severe head injuries by 50 percent. Unfortunately, as little as 9 percent of adult riders wear equestrian helmets on a regular basis and of those that do wear them, even fewer take proper care of them. Over 40 percent of respondents to one survey had no plans to replace their current helmet within the manufacturer-recommended 5-year time frame, and only 4.8 percent of those involved in a riding accident replaced the helmet they wore after the incident.
Helmets aren’t just for beginner riders. You’re at risk of injury when you get on a horse, no matter how experienced you are. Think of Courtney King-Dye, who was the youngest member of the United States Dressage team. By all accounts, she was an amazing, experienced rider who was going to go far. Unfortunately, her horse tripped and she wasn’t wearing a helmet. Courtney hit her head, went into a coma, and injured all four lobes of her brain. Years later, she now has limited use of her body, but is hoping to represent the United States in the para-dressage ring. One small trip can change your life in a heartbeat.
The risk for head injuries is statistically similar across all riding disciplines. For example, world champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor suffered from a fall that left her paralyzed for three days and with a fractured C-2 vertebrae. After reteaching herself how to walk and talk, she is back in the ring winning championships. A pioneer, Fallon is a helmet and equestrian safety advocate and has collaborated with Troxel to create her own line of helmets.
Even the most laid-back horse can trip, fall, or spook. Your horse is not a lawn mower or car. It has a thinking, feeling brain and is able to make its own decisions and mistakes. Horses developed strong fight or flight instincts in order to keep themselves safe. Unfortunately, this definition of safety doesn’t always include keeping you on their back.
Even the most sane and bombproof horse can shy, spook, or move in unexpected directions when startled. This risk can be decreased by desensitizing your horse and by choosing to ride horses with generally calm dispositions. However, it can never be eliminated completely as even the best laid plans can go awry thanks to a tree root, rock, or soft spot in the arena that causes your horse to trip.
To learn more about equestrian safety helmets, check out this blog.
Riding arenas can be busy, hectic places. Sometimes everyone is moving at a different pace, with one horse galloping by while another walks through the middle. All of this hectic movement can quickly become an equestrian safety hazard if you don’t clearly communicate your plans to other riders.
Clear communication starts before you’ve even entered the ring. Some horses can spook at a door or gate that opens too quickly. Before opening the door or gate into the arena, clearly call out “gate” or “door” and wait for permission that it’s okay to enter.
Now that you’ve entered the arena, it’s time to ride. When riding in a busy enclosed space, always call out where you’re going. If the other riders clearly understand what your plans are, they’ll be able to stay clear of you and your horse and avoid an accident or crash.
Many stables use the terms “inside” and “outside” to warn other riders where they’re going. Inside refers to closer to the middle of the arena, while outside means closer to the outer wall of the arena. For example, if you’re going to pass another rider, you would call out clearly “Inside” to warn them that you’ll be passing them by going closer to the middle of the arena.
At the end of the day it’s mostly common sense. Just as you would when you’re walking, you want to respect everyone else’s space, which will reduce the risk of crashing into each other or spooking someone else’s horse by galloping up behind them. Call which jumps or patterns you’re going to so that others will be able to stay out of your way.
If you see that a rider is having trouble with their horse, give them plenty of room and stay far away. This will ensure that your horse stays calm and gives the other rider room to work with their horse. In an emergency situation, such as a rider falling off, calmly stop your horse, dismount, and see how you can help.
What safety equipment you use will vary based on your chosen riding discipline. What one rider will need to protect their horse in the dressage ring will be very different from what equestrian safety equipment another rider will use on the cross country course.
Dressage is almost like weightlifting for horses. It involves lots of repetitive movements and strength. When training for dressage, it’s important to protect your horse’s legs. Just because they are not jumping over poles where they could knock their legs, doesn’t mean they can’t knock their legs against each other.
Another consideration when looking for safety equipment for the dressage ring, is the strain on your horse’s tendons and ligaments. The repetitive movements and difficult motions could require some tendon support for your horse’s legs.
The solution is polo wraps. Polo wraps are great for equestrian safety, as they provide extra padding to protect your horse from bumps and bruises, while also providing compression support for your horse’s tendons.
Check out the TuffRider Fleece Polo Bandages. These polo wraps come in a variety of colors that are sure to match any tack set. Made of anti-pill fleece, they feature hook and loop closures making them easy to secure on your horse's legs.
Most often seen in the eventing world, riding safety vests are quickly becoming more and more popular. These vests offer protection for your abdomen, ribs, and spine, while still allowing you to move freely and effectively in the saddle. One study found that wearing a vest during cross country training or competition reduced the relative risk of injury by 56 percent. A riding safety vest could mean the difference between going home in an ambulance with a broken rib or riding in your dressage test!
If you’re a beginner or intermediate rider, the Tipperary Ride-Lite Riding Safety Vest is a good option for you. With a molded padding system for shock absorption and a molded foam channel system for maximum airflow and flexibility, this vest combines comfort and safety for ultimate performance.
EquiFit has an excellent line of beautiful and protective boots. If you have a horse with sensitive skin, you may want to try the Eq-Teq Front and Hind Boots. The ImpactEQ liner is an excellent complement to the durable EverLeather outer shell, as it forms a protective shield upon impact..
Or, if you aren’t a fan of wool liners, try the EXP3 Front and Hind Boots. These boots have the same durable EverLeather outer shell, but have an interior lining made of neoprene. EquiFit prioritizes your horse’s comfort and protection with a smart cut-out design behind the knee that offers greater freedom of movement and comfort.
Very similar to English riding, Western riders will need different protective equipment depending on what they’re training and competing in.
A dramatic sliding stop can be awe-inspiring, but it does require some extra horse safety equipment. Boots that go below the fetlock can protect your horse’s heel bulbs and pasterns from rubs, chafing, and even burns that may result from performing a sliding stop.
Slide-Tec Skid boots keep dirt from penetrating the boot and causing burns during sliding stops or tight turns. The ventilated neoprene allows heat and moisture to dissipate, which keeps your horse cool and comfortable.
Tight turns around a barrel can make it easy for your horse to pull a shoe or bruise their heels. Bell boots can reduce the risk of your horse pulling a shoe or hurting themselves and keep you and your horse safe!
The Pro Choice Spartan Bell Boots are durable and rugged enough to stand up to whatever you throw at them. Available in a variety of colors, this piece of horse safety equipment is designed with a high-quality TPU outer layer, shock absorbing neoprene interior, and soft nylon lining for comfort.
If you need full coverage protection and tendon support, try the Professional’s Choice line of boots. A favorite of Western riders, these sport medicine boots have an UltraShock lining that protects and supports the cannon bone, tendons, and soft tissue, while absorbing energy from hoof impact.
Few things are more fun than hitting the trail with your horse and some friends. Before you leave the barn, it’s important to be prepared with the right horse safety equipment and knowledge.
Few things are more dangerous than riding on roads in poor light or weather conditions. Make sure your horse is visible at all times with reflective horse safety gear.
The Horze Reflective Riding Blanket will ensure that your horse is visible, no matter the weather. Although, you should still strive to only ride in safe weather conditions! Pair the Riding Blanket with the Reflective boots for head to toe reflective gear for your horse.
Be sure to bring at least one, if not a pair, of hoof boots with you on your next trail ride. This essential piece of horse safety equipment can save you and your horse a lot of pain and struggle in an emergency situation. For example, if your horse steps on a nail or other sharp object, the hoof boot will add extra cushion between your horse’s foot and the ground until you get home. Or, if your horse pulls off a horseshoe, the hoof boot can protect the sole of their foot and provide support.
An extra halter and lead rope are also good to add to your saddle bags. If your bridle or reins break while on a trail ride, you can still maintain full control of your horse with the halter and lead rope in your bags. These pieces of horse safety equipment are also nice to have in case you come across another rider who needs help or a loose horse. Be sure that the halter you bring with you is a breakaway or quick-release halter.
Now that we’ve covered horse safety, we can’t forget about equestrian safety on the trail, too!
Just like your horse in their reflective riding blanket, you should wear bright or neon colors when you trail ride as well. The safest outfit includes a reflective safety vest. A brightly-colored outfit will ensure that you’re easily visible to the hunters, cyclists, and drivers that you may run into while you trail ride. The last thing you want to happen is to be shot at because a hunter mistook you for a deer!
The TuffRider Ventilated Long Sleeve Shirt is available in a variety of colors, including hot pink and aqua. Both of these colors will stand out against a woodsy background of green and brown. Plus, thanks to the mesh inserts, you’ll stay cool while you ride as well.
Take full advantage of your saddle bag the next time you hit the trail. Spacious saddle bags can carry extra equestrian safety gear like your spare halter and lead rope, a med kit, and a knife or sharp pair of scissors to cut bandaging supplies or to free your horse if they become tangled in rope or wire.
You may be tempted to put your cell phone in your saddle bags as well. Resist the temptation! You want to keep your cell phone on your person at all times, not on your horse. That way if you fall off and your horse runs away, you’ll still be able to call for help.
Wear a pair of breeches that has a pocket for your cell phone. For example, the TuffRider Minerva Camo Tights has mesh pockets along the upper thigh that are designed to hold your cell phone and other essentials. The stretchy fabric will keep them tight against your body and prevent them from falling out.
Trail riding safety isn’t just about the clothing you wear or the equipment you carry. Equestrian safety also relies on this handy to-do list. Be sure to check off everything on this list before you leave the barn.
These four simple steps will ensure that someone is either there to help you in an emergency or will know to go looking for you if you don’t return home.
As equestrians, there are a variety of situations we may find ourselves in where it’s important to have the know-how and equipment to stay safe. Now that we’ve covered trail riding, let’s move on to horse shows.
Equestrian competitions are inherently more risky than riding at home. Not only is it a new environment for you and your horse, but it’s full of new stimuli and distractions. Vendors may have brightly-colored merchandise hanging from tents or trailers. Flapping flags are not uncommon on the roofs of buildings or at the entrance to the show grounds. Trainers are yelling at their students while wild horses are being lunged in the warm-up ring. On top of all this, your own nerves can have a big impact on your horse, as well.
The right safety equipment for both horse and rider adds that extra layer of protection that can mean the difference between spending the evening relaxing at home or in the hospital.
Does your horse flinch or spook at the slightest sound? If you own a nervous or reactive horse, one cracking crop or yelling trainer at the wrong moment may cause your horse to spook and you to fall. Luckily, the right equestrian safety equipment can make your show day a whole lot safer for both you and your horse. Some horse shows allow ear plugs or ear bonnets with built-in sound proofing to deaden loud noises and help your horse relax.
For example, EquiFit has a line of fly bonnets with silencing technology built into the ear pieces. These SilentFit Ear Bonnets are lined with an antimicrobial, neoprene-free, open cell foam that inhibits sound to help your horse focus and stay calm.
If you’d rather have a sound-deadening ear bonnet with a cord for added security, the Plughz Sound Off Ear Bonnet with Cord might be a better option for you. Similar to the EquiFit SilentFit Ear Bonnets, the Plughz version has ears that are lined with a sound-proofing fabric, which is covered with a stretch fabric that resists dirt and provides ease of movement.
When choosing a pair of boots for your next horse show, it’s important that you understand the tack and equipment laws for your division. Not all classes allow all types of leg protection. Some, like the hunter/jumper division, don’t allow any leg protection at all. But, if you’re allowed to have boots on your horse’s legs, you should strongly consider adding them to your gear list.
Next time you drive to an equestrian competition, make sure you put shipping boots or similar protective wraps on your horse’s legs before they get on the trailer. The extra padding could mean the difference between your horse walking away from a trailer accident or obtaining a career-ending injury.
The Baker Fleece Trailering Boots are functional and stylish. These beautiful plaid boots offer complete lower leg coverage, from above the knee all the way down to the hoof.
If you prefer to use standing wraps, check out the Lettia No-Bow Wraps and EQ Standing Bandages. The Lettia No-Bow Wraps are designed to limit pressure points and reduce the possibility of tendon damage. Finish off your wrap with the EQ Standing Bandages for a time-honored way to protect your horse’s legs in the trailer.
To learn more about Equestrian Competition Safety, check out this blog.
While we all love our sport no matter the dangers, we must do what we can to prioritize the safety of our riders and horses. Putting equestrian and horse safety first allows us to enjoy our sport to its fullest, while reducing the risk of injury and accident.
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