Equine Activity Risk Assessments - Expert Article

A myriad of exposures to hazards exist when riders engage in equine activities at horse show grounds, training/riding lesson barns, breeding operations, sales facilities/auctions, racing operations, trail riding facilities, and private farms. In this article, Equine Scientist and Horse Expert, J. Tim Potter, Ph.D., PAS outlines equine industry accepted best practices for assessing risks in equine activities and shares case examples.

EQUINE ACTIVITY RISK ASSESSMENTS – EXPERT ARTICLE

Physical hazards

Horse farms, riding centers, showgrounds, and any other facility hosting horseback riding lessons, clinics, or exhibitions should perform routine safety inspections for physical hazards to be mitigated or equipment/parts of the facility that require maintenance or repair. It is industry accepted best practice for routine safety inspections to be performed for the safety of the public and the animals on the site.

Below is a list of physical hazards particular to equine facilities. Some of these, like sweeping up loose hay or clearing equipment from a barn aisle floor, can be mitigated easily and quickly. The equine facilities hazards that are less of an easy fix should have both warnings and guarding if it is not possible to physically remove the hazard. Click here for more on Risk Assessment and Hazard Analysis.

  1. Exposed drainage pipes
  2. Exposed electrical outlets and meters
  3. Exposed electrical wiring
  4. Cobwebs, dirt, etc. that could interfere with electrical usage and become a fire hazard
  5. Improper hay storage that could cause spontaneous combustion
  6. Loose hay and debris in barn that could be a fire hazard
  7. Feed areas not properly secured
  8. Debris, equipment and other “junk” that people or horses can get tangled up in
  9. Equipment keys not taken out of vehicles
  10. Equipment and others that could become an “attractive nuisance”
  11. Procedures for starting equipment (tractors, vehicles) relative to when riders are mounting or riding
  12. Separation of participants and spectators

Fencing

As addressed in our article on Horse and Cattle Fencing, the type of fencing used at a facility should be based upon the type and number of animals to be enclosed, with consideration for the environment and topography of the property. The same principles apply to the gates used for fenced enclosures. All fencing types have an expected lifespan and requirements for routine inspection and maintenance to ascertain that they’re safe and in good working order to meet the requirement if enclosing the animal. Fencing risks include:

  1. Lack of inspection of fencing for broken wire, posts, insulators
  2. Lack of inspection for limbs, fallen trees that would affect the fencing
  3. Uneven terrain in areas for walking, riding, pastures (holes, drop offs)
  4. Fencing that is not visible (e.g. high tensile wire without ribbons, etc. to increase visibility)
  5. Gates with improper spacing between gate and post (enough space for animals to push through)
  6. Gates not properly secured at point of closure
  7. Gates hung incorrectly (both “L’s” of gate pins facing up rather than one up, one down)
  8. Gate pins protruding out the side of the post that person or animal could hang on
  9. Electric fencing not clearly designated
  10. Electric fencing improperly grounded
  11. Corral panels not properly secured if used
  12. Defective fence posts (rotted wood, bent posts, etc.)
  13. Lack of multiple gates and fail-safes to prevent egress of the enclosed animal to a roadway

CASE EXAMPLE

A horse escaped from its fenced enclosure and ran into the road where it was struck by an oncoming car, injuring the driver and the passenger. Dr. Tim Potter was retained to determine if the actions of the horse owner created a dangerous condition that allowed the horse to escape, in a way which was a cause the injuries to the vehicle driver and passenger.

An inspection of the defendant’s farm revealed that the fencing and gates on the property were improperly constructed and were poorly maintained, allowing for the horse to break out of the fenced enclosure. By applying industry accepted best practices for fence/gate maintenance, Dr. Potter was able to determine that the defendant created the dangerous condition which allowed the subject horses to enter the roadway and was a cause of the vehicle crash and injury of the plaintiff.

Horse Behavioral Factors

There are often multiple causative factors in an equine incident: for example the combination of improper rider footwear, a difficult horse to mount, and noise such as a nearby tractor starting up, can result in injury to the equine rider. There is an assumption of risk when engaging in equine activity, but this assumption of risk and the protection under the Equine Activity Liability Act does not absolve horse owners and facility operators of their responsibility to follow industry established best practices.

Diligence for the safety of the rider should be exercised by the facility when horses have a history of:

  1. Biting
  2. Kicking
  3. Bucking
  4. Difficult to Mount
  5. Aggression toward other horses
  6. Aggression toward people
  7. Spooks easily (afraid of their shadow)
  8. Hard to saddle or bridle
  9. “Cinchy” – extra care needed when cinching the saddle
  10. Difficulty in handling feet
  11. Difficulty in clipping, grooming, bathing
  12. Difficulty in trailering
  13. Horses’ attitude towards treats (food aggression)

A horse’s health will largely dictate their behavior and ability to work. Each horse at a facility should have a feeding plan geared towards their individual needs. Considerations regarding the health and fitness of a horse:

  1. Body condition score
  2. Type of feed used and amount
  3. Type of hay fed and amount
  4. Use of vitamins and dietary supplements
  5. Metabolic issues (Cushing’s, Insulin Resistance, PSSM)
  6. Vaccination, deworming and dental care
  7. Foot care (trimmed, shod, frequency)
  8. Veterinary history

Instructional Factors for Riding Programs

  1. Use of approved, protective headgear
  2. Use of proper footwear and riding attire
  3. Use of functional tack and equipment
  4. Appropriate matching the skill to the rider to the horse
  5. Instruction to the rider prior to riding
  6. Discussion of dealing with emergency scenarios (runaway horse)
  7. Horses with behavioral issues out of areas where passersby might encounter them
  8. How are horses disciplined and how will that be perceived by the inexperienced person
  9. Turnout (being outdoors) procedures and warnings to people that are in the area when turn out occurs

CASE EXAMPLE

In this case, a novice rider fell off while attempting a lead change maneuver during a riding lesson and was injured. Dr. Potter was retained to determine if the barn and the instructor had complied with industry best practices.

As part of the lesson program procedure, the instructor had addressed the rules of the barn and assessed the rider’s level of experience with horses before the first lesson. The rider signed the waiver and release of liability form provided by the barn, thereby acknowledging that she knew that horses are large animals and can be dangerous when participating in riding lessons. RFI’s investigation found that the barn and the trainer had complied with industry established best practice and had not contributed to the rider’s fall.

A postulated sequence or development of events should be carefully evaluated with regards to identifying hazards and risks that create a dangerous condition when engaging in equine activities or operating an equine facility. Minimizing exposure to hazards by removing them of controlling them through the use of protective equipment and administrative controls mitigate the likelihood of causative factors that result in personal injuries to equine riders.

EQUINE & ANIMAL SCIENCE INVESTIGATIONS

Robson Forensic provides specialized forensic experts to investigate a variety of issues involving animals, animal facilities, and their interactions with people. Our experts approach this casework from the perspectives of trainers, facilities owners, nutritional specialists, veterinarians, and more.

Contact us at 866.658.3569 or submit an inquiry to discuss your case with an expert.

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