We horses, like dogs and cats, are living creatures with minds of our own and feelings that should be respected by humans. In your K4C lessons, you learn about ways to act around dogs and cats to keep them and yourselves safe. For example, always ask the owner before petting a strange dog. You learned that this is important, so you do not get hurt by an unfriendly or scared animal. Follow these rules in order to stay safe around me and my horse friends!
1. NEVER approach a horse from behind. Why?
Vision: this diagram shows you where a horses’ blind spot is. They have wide peripheral vision but cannot see directly behind them. If you sneak up behind them, they could easily spook, or scare.
Back leg strength: A horse’s hind legs are very powerful, and a typical horse can exert over 2,000 pounds of pressure with one kick. When a horse feels scared or threatened (like when someone sneaks up on them), sometimes, they will kick with their back legs. An upset horse will use a powerful kick directed straight behind themselves as a defensive measure.
Flight instinct: Horses are flight animals, this means they will run away from anything they think is dangerous. If someone sneaks up behind a horse they may start running without thinking and this can be dangerous to you and the horse. They can run into things like fences or wire, or if they are tied up, they can break equipment.
2. Never pet a horse without permission from the owner and direct supervision.
Every horse, like dogs and people, has a different personality. It is important to ask and make sure the horse is friendly before approaching it.
3. Understand horse body language and behavior:
Ears: The best place to check how a horse is feeling is by looking at its ears. The chart to the right shows some of the positions horses will put their ears in, and how they are feeling. Note the difference in emotion when a horse has their ears pinned back versus pointed to the side. When a horse lays their ears flat they will often open their mouth as if to bite. This is a sign of an angry or upset horse, so be careful! The best thing you can do is back away while still facing the horse.
Tail: The tail is also a good place to look to understand a horse’s emotions. If a horse swishes its tail back and forth, it often means the horse is annoyed. It could be annoyed at flies biting them, at another horse, or at a human. It is important to recognize why the horse is swishing its tail.
4. Your behavior matters too!
Voice and Body Language: The volume of your voice matters! Remember, horses are flight animals. If you yell or scream near them, they will become frightened and try to run. Horses can harm themselves or you when they try to run away. It is important to have a firm voice if a horse is not listening, but your voice should never be loud. Never run towards or around a horse, they may see this as a threat.
Clothes: Please remember to wear hard toed shoes when interacting with horses. Tennis shoes will not protect your toes from a hoof stepping on you!
Riding is a very small part of horsemanship. Being comfortable around horses will take lots of practice and help from someone who knows what they are doing. The best way to learn how to be safe around horses is to practice. Join a 4-H group or visit a local barn where you can learn these rules and many more!