Horse Safety Lesson

Horse Safety

4-H Lifeskills: Managing self, solving problems, making decisions


Horse project members will:

  • Describe how you can be hurt while working with and riding horses.
  • Recognize how work habits affect your personal safety and the animals you work with.
  • Demonstrate use of appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing choices for working with and riding horses at home and at shows.
  • Understand how to keep yourself and others safe at public shows.
  • Be familiar with how to include members with disabilities in horse project activities.


Lesson 1: Take Good Care of Yourself

Animals are involved in many youth injury incidents every year. Because of their size and strength compared to the size and strength of the youth who own and work with them, horses can be particularly dangerous. This lesson is designed to teach best practices for personal safety when working with horses raised or purchased for the purpose of showing at livestock exhibitions.  It should be used with other Horse Project materials.

Common injuries from working with and showing horses can be divided into two categories – mounted and dismounted. The most common dismounted injuries are typically the result of being kicked or stepped on by a horse and include:

  • Head injuries
  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Muscle and/or back strain from heavy lifting or grooming

The most common mounted injuries occur from falling off or being thrown from the horse and include:

  • Head injuries
  • Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and broken bones

Less common injuries from working with and/or showing horses:

  • Breathing problems from inhaling dust, animal dander, or chemicals

The most important safety decision you will make is selecting the right horse for you. Select a horse that matches your horse handling and riding abilities. Once you have the right animal, safe working habits include protecting yourself, your horse, and others.

Practice personal safety by using personal protection equipment and developing safe working habits. Protecting your head is very important. The most common injury related to horse activities – mounted or dismounted – is head injury which accounts for more serious injuries and deaths than any other cause. Basic personal protection equipment for riding includes:

  • Riding helmet – Certified by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) to meet the current standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM); must fit snugly, not move around on the head, and have a harness strap that buckles under the chin.
  • Boots – Sturdy, leather, hard-toed, designed for riding with ankle support and at least a ½ inch heel to keep foot from slipping through stirrups
  • Gloves – Riding gloves protect hands from cuts, and rope burns
  • Snugly-fitted clothing that will not get snagged on equipment, well-fitted, not baggy pants and shirts; long hair tied back
  • No rings or dangling jewelry that can catch on equipment

When working around and caring for your horse (not riding) your personal protection equipment should include:

  • Sturdy, leather, hard-toed boots or shoes; be sure to remove spurs when you are not mounted because they can trip you
  • Latex or rubber gloves protect hands from infectious organisms while grooming and washing your horse
  • Safety glasses to protect your eyes from hair clippings, dirt, and grooming products. When working in bright sunlight, try tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
  • Ear plugs protect your ears when using motorized equipment, such as the clippers or blower and when working in an enclosed area where noises are loud.

Frequent hand washing with soap protects your skin when you work with your horse. Animals can easily spread disease to humans. Frequent contact with the animal’s hide, dander, and feces – especially from washing, grooming, and cleaning tasks – creates an opportunity for disease to pass from your horse to you. .

Learn first aid and keep a first aid kit in your tack box and in the barn or building where you stall your horse.

Do I Really Need Protection? – How You Can Be Hurt Working with Horses

  • The horse gets frightened and runs, jumps, or kicks – while you are mounted or dismounted.
  • You can be thrown or fall from the horse while mounted.
  • The horse may bite you.
  • You can get kicked, stepped on, or tripped while leading, moving, feeding, or grooming your horse.
  • You can slip, trip, or fall over things left laying around, on a slick walkway, in a stall, or on an uneven surface (such as sand in the show ring or uneven surfaces).
  • You can get a rope burn from the lead rope.
  • Your fingers can get pinched in a gate latch; you can be poked by a wire, the blades on the clippers, or teeth of a grooming comb.
  • You can strain muscles in your arms, legs, or back by carrying heavy tack boxes or buckets of feed. Frequent washing and grooming can cause muscle strains from frequently repeated movements, as in the up and down, back and forth of clipping and combing.

Try This!

Practice safe lifting and carrying to protect your back. Here’s how:

  • Stand close to object to be lifted, such as the tack box or a bucket of feed;
  • Spread your feet wide enough to straddle the object;
  • Squat, bending your knees and hips;
  • Keep your head up and your back straight;
  • Hold in your stomach muscles;
  • Lift using your leg muscles;
  • Keep the load close to your body with a firm grip;
  • Turn your feet, not your back, in the direction you are going

Did You Know?

Ergonomists (scientists who study human body function) say the three worst problems for agriculture are: full body stoop (bending forward and down from the waist, as when picking up feed bags, buckets, or show boxes); lifting/moving heavy objects (greater than 15% of body weight, i.e. feed bags, tack boxes, pulling on a horse’s lead rope); and repetitive handwork (as when you are washing and grooming).

You are more likely to hurt your back when:

  • Lifting more than 15% of your body weight
  • Carrying a load more than 10-15 yards

Use wheels to help carry loads; such as a wheeled dolly, a feed cart, a wheel barrow, wheeled utility cart, or tack box with wheels.

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your horse.


  • How did you feel the first time you worked with your horse?
  • What do you wear when feeding or grooming your horse and why?
  • What do you wear when riding your horse and why?


  • How can you be injured when working with your horse?
  • Describe how you keep yourself and people helping you safe while working with your horse?
  • How do you determine how much you can safely carry without hurting your back? Hint: 15 % of your body weight is the most you should lift.
  • ________  X  0.15  =  ______________
  • Example: 100 lbs.  X  0.15  =  15 pounds


  • Why is personal protection important?
  • What other activities do you participate in that require you to protect yourself and how do you protect yourself?


  • How can you use what you’ve learned in this lesson to help you with other activities?


Horse Safety

Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Horse

To work safely with your horse, you should have a basic understanding of horse behavior.

  • A horse’s behavior is determined by many factors including breeding, upbringing, feeding, health care, training, and gender. Always treat your horse with respect, patience, and understanding.
  • A horse learns by repetition so it is important to be consistent with commands and to immediately reward your horse when it responds correctly or to immediately correct it when it responds incorrectly to a command. Discipline the horse firmly, but without anger.
  • Watch your horse’s ear radar. Its ears will point in the direction its attention is focused. Ears that are flattened back warn you the horse is getting ready to kick or bite.
  • Horses detect danger through their senses – vision, smell, and hearing.
  • Horses have wide angle vision with blind spots directly in front of and below their nose, and behind their tail.
  • A horse will lift its head and prick its ears when focusing on something far away. It will lower its head when focusing on close objects.
  • Horses respond to calm deliberate movements with calm behavior. Nervous handlers can make horses nervous, creating unsafe situations.
  • Approach your horse carefully, speaking to it to get its attention and waiting until it turns and faces you before entering an enclosed space, like a stall. Quick movements startle a horse, so speak and keep your hands on it when moving around the horse.
  • Horses have a well-developed sense of touch. Its eyes, ears, and nose are the most sensitive, followed by withers, flanks, ribs, and legs.
  • When approaching a horse from behind, come in at an angle speaking to it. Gently touch the hindquarters as you pass.
  • Do not tease, mistreat, or encourage bad behavior. It may become a lifelong habit for the horse.

When you understand how your horse might act in different situations, you can use that understanding to help make horse shows safer for everyone – exhibitors as well as people who are watching the show. Keeping your horse calm is a good start. Other strategies to keep in mind at the show include:

  • Be aware of where others are at the show – the general public (in the stands and walking around) and other exhibitors.
  • Move slowly to and from the show ring with your horse. When you become excited or in a hurry, your horse will sense the change in your behavior, which might scare it. Remember that fear causes an animal to run away. When a horse cannot run it defends itself by biting or kicking.
  • Horses have a strong desire to be with other horses. Sometimes a horse will become agitated when separated from other horses and may not respond to commands.
  • Get to know your horse’s behavior patterns and help it adjust to its new surroundings.
  • Do the best you can to keep away from crowded areas while leading or riding your horse to and from the show arena. Many people do not understand how easy it is to scare an animal, because they usually look so calm.
  • Practice, practice, practice show day activities – at home and again when you get to the show. Practice leading and riding to the show ring; leading and riding in the ring; tying and untying at the stall; leading to and from the stall; opening and closing gates; washing and grooming chores. Your horse will be much more comfortable doing activities it has practiced before and it will be less likely to be scared of the show ring if it’s been in there before the show.

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your horse.


  • What behavior characteristics did you look for when you bought or selected your 4-H horse?
  • How did your horse act the day you bought it or handled it for the first time?
  • How did it act the first time you led it on halter; the first time you rode it?
  • How did you feel the first time you led it; the first time you rode it?


  • How does your behavior affect the way your horse behaves?
  • How does its environment affect the way your horse behaves?


  • Why is it important to practice showing your horse?
  • What can you do to make sure your horse is ready for a show?


  • List some ways you can you show others what you’ve learned about animal behavior?


Horse Safety

Lesson 3: Facilities and Equipment

Keeping yourself and your horse safe includes making sure buildings, stalls, trailers, and equipment are well maintained and in good working order. The facilities used to stall and work your horse should be well designed, strong, and safe for you and your animals.

  • Keep buildings, stalls, alleys, and lots neat and tidy. Remember: Slips, trips, and falls cause many injuries when working with animals. Make sure you have a place to put all supplies, equipment, and feed and keep all of those items in their proper place. Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Don’t allow manure, feed, or bedding material to accumulate in alleyways or pens.
  • Clean stalls and barns regularly to avoid accumulation of manure and flies. Make sure there aren’t any splinters, protruding nails or latches, or sharp edges on the walls of  the horse stall.
  • Keep mechanical equipment clean and well maintained. Clean and sanitize grooming tools regularly, not only to keep them operating properly, but also to remove any organisms that can spread disease.
  • Inspect electrical cords on clippers often. Replace cords that have exposed wires.
  • Use only electrical outlets with three-pronged receptacles. When outlets are located outdoors, make sure they are waterproof and have ground fault circuit interrupters to keep you and your horse from getting an electric shock.
  • Lighting should be bright and not create shadowy areas in areas (indoors and outdoors) where you work with your horse. A horse can get scared when it goes from a brightly lit area to a dark shadowy area, such as going from sunlight into a trailer or building. Be patient and allow the horse time to adjust to a change in lighting.
  • Keep fences, gates, doors, etc. repaired. Replace or repair equipment that doesn’t work. Gates that are hard to open can cause muscle strains or can pinch if you have to push hard on them and they open or close unexpectedly. Wire ties or nails poking out of fence boards can cause scrapes or puncture wounds – to you and your horse.
  • Inspect all tack before saddling the horse. Check the stitching on each piece of tack. Check for signs of wear on stirrup leathers, billet straps, and girth buckles. Use only clean blankets and pads.
  • Check the cinch at least three times before riding. 1) After saddling; 2) After walking the horse and before mounting; 3) After riding a short distance.

Discussion Questions


  • What do you do in your buildings and stalls to help you stay safe when working with your horse?
  • How do you care for equipment to help you and your horse stay safe?


  • How can facilities contribute to a safer environment for you and your horse?
  • How does properly maintaining equipment contribute to keeping you and your horse safe?


  • Why are good housekeeping and proper maintenance necessary for personal safety?


  • List some of the safety practices you do each day – in your home, at work or school?


Suggested Activities:
Set up a practice show at a project meeting to practice show ring safety.

Take the Horse Safety Quiz

Evaluate the safety of your livestock facilities using the Safety Audit Checklist. Make note of potential dangers and work with your parents to correct the dangers.

Visit and evaluate project members’ facilities with an eye on safety preparedness.