While horses are an amazing experience for kids there are also risks involved so safety has to be paramount. However, with care and attention, it’s easy to instil respect for the dangers without making children fearful and spoiling their enjoyment.
By laying down ground rules from the start, using the right kit and equipment and ensuring children are fully aware of all the issues, horse riding can be a safe and beneficial experience for all ages and families.
The basics of wearing an appropriate fitting safety helmet, having the right size saddle and appropriately supervised riding sessions should go without saying to keep children safe at all times while riding horses.
However, there are also a number of key areas which children should know about when spending time around horses and handling them, to keep them safe and accident-free. We spoke to Russ from Australia’s top equine classified website, Horseseller, for his advice. Here are his top five safety tips for kids who are spending time with horses:
- Advise children to always approach a horse shoulder on
Horses don’t have great vision and have strong blind spots, particularly in the front of their heads. So children need to learn early on that it’s very dangerous to approach a horse head on and they should always approach the animal shoulder on instead. Anyone standing in a horse’s blind spot can cause it to spook and run, which can be incredibly dangerous.
Children should also be taught never to duck underneath a horse’s neck as the horse might not see them and could spook. Unfortunately, children do have a tendency to want to go underneath horses so it’s really important they understand the dangers from the beginning.
Likewise, children often want to sit or crawl around at ground level but around horses, they need to understand that the horse might not be able to see them so it’s important they stand up at all times near a horse. If they make a horse jump it can be incredibly dangerous.
- Tell children not to run away from a horse, but to face it and back away
Horses like to play and chase and if a child runs away from them they make think it’s time to play and give chase, which could be dangerous. Children should face the horse and back away, so they can keep their eyes on the animal and show the horse they are not playing, just leaving the field.
If a child backs away slowly, the horse will think they are easy to catch and will, therefore, be less likely to start playing chase with them, reducing the risk of danger and potential accident to them.
- Make sure children know what ears back means
When a horse pins its ears back it means the horse is upset or angry so it’s important that children understand this warning sign. Children are generally good at understanding body language so they won’t have any difficulty making sense of this signal from a horse either.
The best way to teach children is to show them when a horse puts its ears back, so they can see and recognise what ears back looks like first hand.
- Teach children the dangers of wrapping ropes around hands or limbs
Children need to understand the danger of wrapping the horse’s lead rope around their hands or arms when holding a horse. Any kind of lead rope or rein around fingers, arms or hands could cause a break or major injury if the horse were to spook and pull the rope tight.
The same goes for never leading a horse by its halter with their fingers through the straps – they need to always use a rope and hold the loose bundle of rope within their palm, not wrapped around them.
- The back end of a horse can kick hard
It’s vital for children to understand they should never go behind a horse as the power of a horse’s kick can kill an adult so make sure children know from the start, to stay away from a horse’s hind legs at all times.
Children do sometimes get tempted to duck under a horse’s belly as it’s about the right height but they need to understand the dangers of doing this. Children can be too small for a horse to see, so it might not know they are there and get spooked.
Children and horses can be a fantastic combination, with many health and fitness benefits associated with riding, as well as the companionship and responsibility of looking after an animal of their own.
By providing all of the right equipment during riding, and instilling rules and guidelines for safe behaviour around horses, from the outset, there is no reason why horseback riding can’t become a safe and enjoyable activity for the whole family.