Five ways to keep horse shows and other equine activities safe and enjoyable for everyone

Spectators and visitors can play a role on keeping equine activities safe and enjoyable.

Use caution when introducing small children and horses. Photo by Tom Guthrie, Michigan State University Extension.

Use caution when introducing small children and horses. Photo by Tom Guthrie, Michigan State University Extension.

With summer under way, people are enjoying warm weather and time with family, friends and their equine partners. These are the things horse people work for and look forward to all year long, but with equine events like horse shows, fairs and trail rides come new, exciting and sometimes unfamiliar experiences for both horses and humans. These experiences can be very useful from a horse training perspective and often riders can prepare horses for many of them. Sometimes equine activities can be dangerous not just to riders, but also to spectators and visitors. This article will share tips that can make equine activities safe and enjoyable for everyone involved. We will emphasize not on riding, but on how to behave around animals.

1. Once you enter the show grounds or staging area, give animals the right of way. Whether you are at an event with your own horse or to visit someone else, remember that animals have different perspectives than humans – they see the world differently and they react to unfamiliar situations differently than humans. In the case of a scared or panicked horse, they will try to run first. If they can’t get away, they may kick, buck or bite. Most experienced show or trail horses learn to tolerate all sorts of situations, but remember they are still animals. Just because you see them, do not assume that they see you! A solid understanding of horse behavior can take you a long way toward preventing accidents at equine events.

2. Drive your car, golf cart or bicycle as though you were in a school zone. Most horses get used to things like cars, bikes and golf carts after regular exposure to them. However, sometimes the initial reaction can be dramatic, which poses a potential danger to those riding or handling horses, or to the horses themselves. Cars, bikes and golf carts move more quickly than humans. As prey species, horses may perceive them as a predator. In addition, when trucks are pulling empty trailers or campers, they often make unusual sounds that can startle or spook a horse. When you drive or bike through a campground or stabling area, go slowly and cautiously especially when animals and children are present or when they might come out from in between barns.

3. Keep an eye on children, and help them understand that they need to be calm and quiet around animals. Children love animals, and horses seem high on their list. Unfortunately, horses don’t always understand that fast moving, squealing children mean them no harm and are simply happy to see them. Older, experienced animals often adapt to the presence of children who they are able to see. Younger horses, however, may be frightened by running or loud children, especially when they come out from behind trailers, barns, or other buildings and may react in such a way that the rider falls off the horse or is otherwise injured.

Based on the placement of their eyes, horses also struggle to see what is placed under their mouths or feet and this includes people’s hands or feet. Most horses will not intentionally bite or step on a person, but the person can prevent this by making sure that their own hands and feet stay away from the mouths and hooves of horses.

4. Keep dogs under control (and comfortable). Dogs are often a big part of horse activities. Unfortunately, sometimes dogs cause problems and injuries at horse events that may be easily avoided. In addition to dog bites, something as simple as a dog’s toenails on metal bleachers could scare a horse such that they spook or bolt. Further, dogs make messes that when not picked up, can make a facility unsightly in a hurry. Some facilities and events have chosen to prohibit dogs to address these concerns. When dogs are allowed in a facility, keep them away from show arenas out of respect for the exhibitors who have worked hard to get their horses to the show. Understand that dogs often behave differently and sometimes aggressively around unfamiliar dogs or people when they are scared no matter how pleasant they are at home. There is plenty of information available on how to prevent dog bites and injuries.

5. Loose horses. When horses get loose in a crowded, chaotic, or unfamiliar environment, it can be a recipe for disaster. Some people will step in front of a horse and wave or yell “whoa” in an attempt to stop it, and depending on the person’s position, the horse may not see them and may knock the individual down, causing injury. Sometimes people will try to chase a loose horse while riding another horse, which will only cause the loose horse to become even more frightened. In the event that a horse gets loose, the best thing to do for the safety of the humans involved is to herd the horse into an enclosed area and close the gate until a familiar person can approach the animal if possible. Often, loose horses will try to get to other horses or to a grassy area and will stop on their own. Approaching a horse slowly and calmly in this scenario will often end in a positive way. If you are riding and a horse gets loose nearby, try to safely dismount, and stand close to your horse until the loose animal is caught.

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