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March 1, 2021

Safety Tips for Working with Horses

Be Prepared 

I often talk about the “tools in your toolbox”.  What I am referring to is the knowledge and ability to help your horse through any situation that might arise, whether it is behavioral such as spooking or environmental such as them getting stuck in a fence. 

A great example of this is your “emergency brake”…also called the one rein stop.  This is a maneuver that gets taught to most riders and they are told, “if you ever get into trouble and your horse bolts, pull their head around into a one rein stop.”  The problem with this, is that sometimes people forget to teach the horse this maneuver! 

If your horse doesn’t know how to bend softly around and focus on their body and feet, there is the possibility that 1) you won’t be able to pull the horse’s head around and they will just keep running; or 2) the horse will not be able to maneuver and get out of their own way and could flip.  This is why it is so important to build a foundation on your horse.  By teaching your horse how to be soft, respectful, and responsive it will add to the “tools” you have access to.  So, when you need that “emergency brake” it is there to safely use. 

People often say that if you get off your horse when they are misbehaving, you are teaching them to misbehave, and this is partially true (after all, release teaches); however, If you are uncomfortable and fearful, you will be transferring these feelings to your horse, which may only escalate the situation.  Know your limits and either find someone to ask for help or change the situation to one you can handle. 

Know Your Limits 

If your horse is misbehaving, don’t just jump off and put them away…this WILL teach them to misbehave.  The key to this is to find another job or focus for them to do, such as groundwork. 

Most issues can be resolved or minimized from the ground before you ever sit in the saddle, but sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.  So, there are two parts to this: 

1.      Test your horse from the ground…push the envelope and look for the holes in the foundation BEFORE you head out on your ride.  This probably means going outside your comfort zone.  Most people just warm their horse up by sending them in a couple circles, backing them up a couple steps, and calling it good.  Then they wonder why their horse panics when a deer jumps out of the bush on the trail. 

Find a way to bring out the “scary deer” in a safe environment while working on your groundwork.  Perhaps add the use of a flag or other things that bring more “pressure” to the situation.  Change direction in the sending often and work on bringing up their energy, but also bringing it back down.  Give your horse puzzles to work on and figure out.  Engage their mind, not just their body. 

2.      Sometimes we think we are prepared until we find ourselves in the situation and we are not.  If you need to get off to stay safe, DO; but then put your horse to work, do not let them bask in a release, because that is what teaches them.  Say to them, “Okay, if you want to act up, you go right ahead, but that means groundwork…emphasis on WORK.”  Then, once they are more focused on you and what they are supposed to be doing, get back on.  If they continue to act up, repeat.  Remember this is if you know that you can’t work them through it from the saddle. 

Proper Equipment 

I can’t stress enough the importance of proper equipment when working with your horse.  From your footwear that protects your toes from the “unintentional” misstep of a 1,200 lb. animal as well as getting stuck in a stirrup and dragged; to your tack that helps you not only stay on and/or control your horse but also affect your horse based on fit and type.  But this also stems all the way to the training equipment you use such as halters, partner sticks, lead ropes, etc. 

I have minimized my “go to” equipment and found the things that I can count on and that I feel are really necessary to effectively teach and communicate with your horse.  You need to have the right equipment for the job at hand, but you also need that equipment to be built properly and able to last so you can count on it.  You wouldn’t want to be riding your horse and all of a sudden have your saddle fall off. 

There is so much horse equipment available, make sure you are buying something that is going to help and not hinder your horsemanship and safety. 

One of the most common fears when working with horses is the fear of getting hurt.  I have seen many horses at clinics that I wonder how the rider (who says they have no confidence) can just jump right on.  The flip side of that is that the things that are causing the rider’s fear are the very same things that would be a reason not to get on in the first place.  This is why I offer programs (such as Horse Teacher U) and methods that teach the tools to work with horses safely, to take the “unpredictable” horse and make it predictable.  This is why I help riders and horses gain confidence so they can further their learning experiences.  And this is why I offer equipment that I have found to be quality, effective equipment…the very same equipment that I use with all of my horses. 

Images provided by Steve Rother Horsemanship

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Ride safe and enjoy the journey. 

Thank you.

-Steve Rother Horsemanship

Steve Rother
I have traveled across the country over the span of multiple decades building my knowledge of horses and finding ways to impart that wisdom to the people who look to me for guidance each year. My search for a better understanding of the horse brought me many horses that were considered untrainable, some of whom were on their last chance. My methods have never failed me, and I still have never come across the untrainable horse. It is in their heart to be our partner, and if the foundation and bond is built properly, there is no way to fail. Photo Credit: Pam Lehto

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