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3rd July 2005


By Carolyn Jarman

There is no such thing (in my opinion) as a foolproof horse.

I have taught riding and handling of horses most of my life and there will always be an element of doubt.  Some horses can be trusted completely but the human element cannot.  Take for example an Arabian gelding that I hand reared after his mother died.  When he was two years old, I was walking past him with hay under my arm.  He got too close, unknowingly crowding me against a fence and I wrongly nudged him with the hay to move him over.  We both got a shock when the hay spiked his flank and he kicked out.  No harm was done but I learnt a lesson.  This same horse was seen to gently brush chickens aside when eating and didn’t move a muscle when my one year old daughter walked between his legs.

I hope the following tips will be of help.

When tying a horse up:
Be sure the rope is not long enough for the horse to reach the ground and get a foot caught, or to reach another horse to get bitten or kicked.  Tie it to a strong post that doesn’t move, and in an area that is quiet (not near a road, loudspeaker, children playing, umbrellas, flapping flags etc.  Just use common sense).  If the horse has not been properly trained to be tied up, seek professional help.  If in doubt ask someone to show you how to tie a quick release knot.  It is not a bad idea to always use quick release knots for all horses but some horses learn to undo them.  This can be overcome by hiding the knot behind the post.

Always check on the horse frequently if tied up.  It is safer to leave them loose in a stable or small yard where possible.

When walking behind a horse:
Start from the left shoulder (as most horses are trained from this side).  With your left hand on the horse’s back slide along the back and rump as you walk very close to the tail and around the horse.  The hand lets the horse know what you are doing and where you are.  It also lets you feel what he is doing via any movement of his muscles and you will be able to push him away with that hand.

Walking very close is safer should he kick as it will only bruise you but if you are a metre away a kick will break bones.

When bridling and unbridling a horse:
Keep a rein around his neck for control.  Hold the bridle over the forehead and with your thumb in the gap between his teeth gentle pressure will open his mouth for the bit and you can place the bridle smoothly over the ears.

I’ve seen a rider pull a bridle off and the horse hold onto the bit, pulling back and hurting his teeth.  This makes him wary for next time.

With your right hand holding the rein around the neck for control, slowly remove the bridle over the ears, holding it over the face until he drops the bit out and then you can take the bridle off completely.  Now either release the horse and walk away or put a halter on in place of the bridle to tie the horse up.

When leading a horse:
Wear safe shoes so you don’t trip over and in case you get trod on.  Stand at the horse’s left shoulder with its head in a straight line with its body.  This way you can see its head and know if it is happy or frightened and you are in control.  If the horse was following behind you and got a fright, it could run over you.  Your right hand should be close to the bit or halter and your left hand holding the rein/lead rope at two thirds of its length so it doesn’t reach the ground.

Never wrap a lead around your hand, only fold it in your hand if necessary then you won’t get caught if anything goes wrong.

To turn right, you will push the horse’s head away from you and you will walk around the horse.  Turning left, the horse will walk around you while you remain at its shoulder.  If the horse is a little slow you can give it a gentle flick with the end of the lead in your left hand by reaching behind your back aiming at his girth.

When saddling a horse:
Brush thoroughly around the saddle and girth area and use a clean, thick padding under the saddle.

Put the saddle on well forward and slide back into position, this way the hair is smoothed and comfortable.  Do the girth up firmly, checking from both sides that it is not twisted.

When mounting:
If you have trouble with your horse sidling away from you when mounting, put him next to a wall or timber fence.  Don’t use a wire fence.  Hold your reins a little tighter if he wants to rush off as you mount, but not too tight or he will back up or even rear.

It is wise to have the near side (left) rein shorter than the other so if he moves, it will be around you in a circle and you will still get aboard.  If he was to move away from you a kick is possible and you could get knocked over with your foot caught in the stirrup.

Don’t hold onto the back of the saddle as you mount as this could move and hurt his back causing him to retaliate.  Grab a piece of mane; grip the neck of the pommel (front) of the saddle if necessary.

When feeding two or more horses:
If feeding out hay, put an extra bundle out (or divide the amount for say four mouths into five bundles) to prevent any one horse missing out due to quarrels.

When feeding supplements, the dominant or boss horse should be fed first.

It is best to tie the horses up a metre or more away from each other on short leads that just let them reach into the bottom of their feed bins.  This way they can’t reach the ground to get their feet tangled, can’t reach each other to fight and you’ll know exactly what each horse eats.

If you have separate yards to feed them in that would be even better, although I brush them and clean out feet while they are tied up – it can be handy.

When cleaning hoofs:
Have your horse tied up or someone holding him.  Remember to wear safe shoes yourself in case you are accidentally trodden on.

By pushing on the horse’s shoulder with your own shoulder as you touch the lower leg, you will encourage the horse to take the weight off that foot.  With practice he will learn to pick up the foot as soon as you bend over and say “lift up”.  The only difference with the back feet is the position in which you’ll hold the foot – further back behind the tail.  You don’t need to put the leg between your knees as your farrier does, just hold it in your left hand, using your right hand to clean the hoof out.  Using a hoof pick, move from the heel towards the toe so that if you slip you won’t hurt the bulb of the heel or yourself.  I’ve seen a nasty bruised arm from a slipped hoof pick used in the wrong direction.

When using a rug:
Safety for the horse means a well fitting rug with leg and chest straps as well as a surcingle (belly strap).  Webbing straps are the most comfortable.

If you are unsure that he has been rugged before, only rug him while he’s confined to a stable/yard for the first couple of nights until he gets used to it.  Either tie him up or have a helper hold him while you place the folded rug over the withers.  Then gradually unfold it along his back, do up the chest strap followed by other fittings.

Soon you’ll be throwing the rug on, but first up it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Nothing is more frightening to observe than a horse tearing around a paddock with rug flapping and possibly running into a fence.

When changing paddocks:
I try to pick a moonlit night whenever I change paddocks.  This way the horses can easily see their new surroundings for the first few nights.

Try not to have one horse on its own in a paddock even if its mate is a goat, donkey or cow.

Lead the horses into the paddock in the morning and show them the water source, and walk them once around the fences.  That afternoon call them up for a small feed or a treat and show them the water again (unless you’ve seen them drink).  If you are using someone else’s paddock, you’ll have to pre walk the entire area to check for holes, hidden wire, poisonous weeds and low branches.

When there is a storm:
At home, ensure electric fences are turned off if possible.  The unit can be damaged by lightning and the horses (or people) standing near electric fences can be killed.

In case of hail, lock horses into stables (they may not go into their shelter by themselves for fear of the noisy hail on the roof) or at least put heavy rugs and hoods on them.

If you are out riding – don’t stand under trees, or near electricity poles.  Dismount and get under a roof if possible (any garage, shop, school or whatever is available).

Never be shy at asking for help as we were all novices once and the horse knows it!

With thanks and acknowledgment to “Town and Country Farmer” Magazine reprinted from Winter ’05 Vol 22 No 2.