MANITOULIN—Horses are known for being gentle and kind creatures, but those who are not accustomed to being around horses, and even those familiar with these beautiful animals, need to always practice proper horse safety for both their wellbeing, and the horse’s.
“Horses are generally not aggressive,” explained Kyla Jansen, owner of Honora Riding Stable in Honora Bay, “but they are large and only have two reactions when they feel threatened or trapped—flight or fight.”
Ms. Jansen said when first approaching a horse it is important to talk to them and let them know you are there.
“The safest place to approach a horse is at their shoulder,” continued Ms. Jansen. “When two horses meet in a pasture they meet shoulder to shoulder—it’s a friendly spot. It also allows them to see you. A lot of people approach a horse’s face. This can be very scary for them as their eyes are located on the sides of their head and they can’t see you if you are too close. This is made worse when someone pets their face—it is comparable to a stranger approaching you and petting your face.”
After voicing to the horse that you are approaching them, and approaching them at their shoulder where they can see you, you can touch their shoulder and neck.
“Make sure you read a horse’s reaction,” said Ms. Jansen. “If they are moving away and turning their butt towards you it is a sign they are claiming their space.
“Often you see horses in pastures, but it is not recommended to pet someone else’s horse or feed them without the owner giving you the go ahead,” she noted, adding that carrots are not a natural part of a horse’s diet and that some horses may have specialized diets or could be insulin resistant.
Ms. Jansen said when interacting with horses it is always important to be calm and firm, not tentative.
“If you are tentative it will make the horse nervous,” Ms. Jansen explained.
When prepping a horse for riding, ensure they are never tied to anything solid, warned Ms. Jansen. Using a safety release knot or safety release clip will ensure that if the horse tries to pull away it won’t be stopped suddenly, which can cause the horse to panic.
“Before saddling a horse, ensure that the equipment is in good condition and that that tack is in good repair—oiling each spring and fall will help make sure the leather doesn’t crack,” said Ms. Jansen. “It is also important to make sure no equipment is dragging.”
“Standing to the left side of the horse, at its shoulder and facing the bum, will allow you to see any movement the horse is going to make. Hold the saddle on your hip until ready to smoothly swing it into position by lifting the front panel and rear side of the back of the saddle and in a smooth movement, lightly setting it onto the horse’s back,” Ms. Jansen explains.
Another area to practice proper horse safety is approaching horses in their stalls.
“With standing stalls, they are designed to walk the horse in and tie them, so when you approach them (to groom them or remove them from the stall) it will be butt first,” she said. “Because of this, it is especially important to talk to them before you approach the horse and let them know you are there. You want to call out their name and place a hand on them and keeping your hand on them, slowly move it up to their neck. In the stalls, they have nowhere to go so this puts them in a vulnerable position.”
Ms. Jansen stressed proper fencing and a clean paddock are other important elements of horse safety.
“You need to ensure that fences are in good repair,” said Ms. Jansen. “And the paddock needs to be clean and free from debris like old nails, tires and equipment. Horses are curious and love to chew so you need to get rid of old cars, old equipment—anything that horses could get into and possibly hurt themselves by chewing.”
Horse safety is important for everyone, Ms. Jansen said.
“It is easy for people who are around horses all the time to become complacent,” concluded Ms. Jansen. “When you are with horses all the time and familiar with them you can sometimes forget some of the most basic horse safety—this is when most injuries will occur.”