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Safety Rules for Kids Around Horses

Make sure your child (and you!) follow these basic guidelines to enhance safety while riding and at the barn.

In the "Riding Family" column in the June 2008 issue of Horse & Rider magazine, Jenny Meyer offers suggestions for keeping your small children safe around the barn.

Here, we give you a comprehensive set of safety rules for handling and riding horses, especially slanted for kids.


  • When in doubt about the proper way of doing anything, or the advisability of a planned activity, ask for expert help and/or advice before proceeding.
  • Use common sense. Plan ahead and troubleshoot to avoid mishaps. Be thinking always of how to minimize risk.
  • Make a habit of every safety rule and correct method of doing things. Don't hurry, and avoid shortcuts. Do things the right way every time.

Safety on the Ground

  • Approaching, catching. Always speak to a horse to alert him of your presence before walking near; this avoids provoking his startle reflex. Approach from the side, to avoid his "blind" spots (directly in front of and behind him). Touch him first on the neck or shoulder, with a firm but gentle stroking motion.Be especially careful when entering a pasture or paddock containing several horses (they can inadvertently jostle or step on you, or even kick). Also, don't take grain or other food into a group of horses--this just entices them to crowd around you and could incite a "food fight," with you caught in the middle.
  • Leading. Always use a lead rope attached to the horse's halter, rather than grasping the halter itself, which provides no options if the horse were to startle. Don't coil the end of the lead rope around your hand, where the loops could tighten; instead, fold it back and forth and grasp the middle of the folds. To avoid being pulled over and dragged, never wrap a lead rope or any other line attached to a horse around any part of your body,Don't allow the horse you're leading to touch noses with an unfamiliar horse, as this can lead the "strangers" to suddenly bite or strike at one another. (This applies when you're mounted, as well.)
  • Tying. Tie a horse "eye high and no longer than your arm," meaning the tie knot should be at least as high as the horse's eye, and the distance from the knot to the halter should be no more than the length of your arm. Tie only to a safe, solid object, using a quick-release knot or breakaway string (your child's instructor will explain how). Keep your fingers out of the loops as you tie the knot. Tie only with a halter and lead, never with bridle reins.
  • Photo by Lourie Zipf

    Grooming/handling. Stand near the shoulder or next to the hindquarters rather than directly in front of or directly behind a horse when grooming his head or brushing or braiding his tail. To walk behind a horse, go either (1) close enough to brush against him (where a kick would have no real force), keeping one hand on his rump as you pass around; or (2) far enough away to be well out of kicking range. Avoid ducking under the tie rope; you might cause the horse to pull back, and you'd be extremely vulnerable to injury if he did.Be mindful of a horse's feet while you're working around him, as horses are often careless about where they step. When releasing a horse's foot after cleaning it, make sure your own foot isn't in the hoof's spot as it returns to the ground. When tending to a horse's lower leg or hoof (as in applying a bandage), never kneel or sit on the ground. Remain squatting, so you can jump away in the event he startles.


    When blanketing a horse, fasten the chest straps first, then the girth strap, then the hind-leg straps. When you remove the blanket, unfasten straps in the reverse order. This makes it impossible for the blanket to slip and become entangled with a horse's hind legs.

  • Trailering. Never fight with a reluctant horse to get him into a trailer; seek professional help and retraining, if necessary. Once a horse is in the trailer, close the back door or ramp before you hitch him to the trailer tie. When unloading, untie the horse before opening the back of the trailer, so he doesn't begin to back out on his own and hit the end of the rope, causing him to panic and pull back.
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