Safety Hazards Involving Horses Expert Article

This article addresses common safety issues related to horses and equestrian activities like horse shows, riding lessons, trail rides, and pony rides. We discuss horse safety issues that frequently result in injuries to riders, spectators, and the general public.

For each scenario, we provide an explanation of the hazard with guidance on how exposure to the hazard should be prevented by following the applicable standard of care for equestrian activities and equine facilities.

Safety Hazards Involving Horses - Expert Article

Many potential hazards exist at equine facilities, horse shows, and equine events that pose a risk of exposure to an unreasonably dangerous condition resulting in personal or animal injuries.

While it is impossible to illustrate every scenario, the following are examples of the most common hazards we have encountered in our investigations.

Proximity of Spectators/Participants to Horses

Participants are individuals physically engaged with the horse (e.g., leading, riding, handling). Spectators are individuals who are not physically engaged with the horse. Spectators who may have little to no knowledge of equine behavior can enter the “horse area,” potentially and unknowingly putting themselves at risk for injury.

Facilities should be constructed and managed in such a way that spectators are separated from participants. For example, at a horse show where competition rings are separated by a walkway, the width should be adequate to separate horse traffic from spectator traffic. 

Moving Near Horses

No level of domestication and training of horses will ever remove their basic survival instinct, referred to as “fight or flight.” In approaching horses, it is important to understand that they should always be approached from the side.

Horses have two blind spots: one directly in front of, and one directly behind, them. Approaching them from their blind spots should be avoided. Horses are perceptive creatures that are constantly scanning their environment for perceived threats. Approaching them from their blind spots is likely to startle the animal.

Leading Horses

When leading a horse, it is important to keep the horse relatively close to one’s body. The most common position is for the handler to be on the horse’s left side, shoulders even with the horse’s throat latch.

If a horse becomes frightened, the handler should always pull the horse’s head toward their body until the horse is calmed and restrained. This is the best method to ensure the handler’s safety, as pulling the head toward themselves sends the hindquarters of the horse away, thus protecting them from kick injuries.

The most common mistake when leading horses is that the handler is out in front of the horse, holding the end of the lead rope, and not paying attention to the horse’s location or actions. In that scenario, if the horse becomes frightened, the handler could be run over by the horse, or the horse could kick the handler while running by. It is important to be in the proper and safe position whenever leading horses.

Horse Safety Hazards Expert - Leading horses image

Mounting and Dismounting 

Many injuries result from horses running away while the rider is attempting to mount or dismount. The rider should ensure that they maintain light contact with the horse’s mouth (via a bridle, for example) before attempting to mount or dismount. This enables the individual to correct the horse easily and quickly if necessary. 

Mounting or dismounting a moving horse is dangerous and can have disastrous consequences. This scenario predisposes a rider to getting a foot stuck in the stirrup, falling, and being dragged by the horse. Care should be taken to ensure the stirrups appropriately fit the rider’s feet. If a rider’s foot goes through the stirrup, the stirrup should be changed to an appropriate size to prevent the rider’s foot from becoming trapped if the rider falls from the saddle

Mismatch of Horse with Rider’s Ability

Pairing a young, inexperienced, or green horse with an inexperienced rider is a dangerous condition waiting to happen. Horses and ponies used for novice riding lessons or pony rides are generally older animals that have been desensitized to external stimuli by years of experience in the show ring or lesson environment.

The size of the horse is not as important as the temperament, training, and experience level of the horse, which is of utmost importance.

Lack of Situational Awareness when Riding

It is important for riders to be aware of their surroundings as they ride and avoid crowding other horses. When riding in groups, riders and event coordinators must be sure to keep at least two horse lengths between riders.

If there is a horse in the group that is a known kicker, that horse should be identified, and the riders should be notified. One common way to identify kickers is tying a red ribbon on their tail.

Horse Kick Injury Expert Image

Riders must also be alert when riding alone. Horses can and will spook at almost anything, especially if they are a younger, inexperienced horse. When riding in the arena or on the trail, riders must be aware of stimuli such as other animals, vehicles, or other structures which might cause the horse to spook.

Just as unexpected noises can cause riders to jump or flinch (gunshots, aircraft, drones, vehicles backfiring, etc.), it is normal equine behavior for a horse to react to an unexpected noise and spook or bolt.

Horse Safety Expert Witness Investigations

Robson Forensic provides specialized forensic experts to investigate injuries to humans as well as claims of neglect and abuse toward animals. Our experts can approach these investigations from the perspectives of veterinarians, equestrians, facilities owners, and more.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Kenyon Conklin, Veterinary Expert

Kenyon Conklin, VMD

Veterinary Expert
Dr. Kenyon Conklin is a licensed veterinarian with over 20 years of experience in the private practice, corporate, military, and research sectors. She provides technical investigations, analysis,… read more.


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