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Getting Back Out to Ride: Horse Riding Safety Tips


May 2, 2021

Horseback Training Tips

You may feel at one with your horse. A deep connection with your horses is no replacement for following proper safety measures. Even if you have ridden your horse 100 times, there is no guarantee that the next time will go smoothly.

As your excitement builds up to the day you can finally go out and ride again, do not overlook common horse safety guidelines so you can avoid accidents. With the right preparation, you can have peace of mind while having the time of your life.

Whether it is your first time riding horses or you have been itching to ride and need a refresher, our horse riding safety guide has got you covered. Learn the basics of horse riding safety, safety equipment needed, and other horse riding tips to help you handle any bumps in the road.

Why Horseback Riding Safety Should Be Your #1 Priority

We hate to sound like a killjoy, but horse riding injuries are pretty serious. Mistakes happen and could result in injuries to you or your horse. Like any sport, riding horses comes with a risk for riding accidents, injury, or worse, death.

Acute head injuries alone can have long term effects and expensive . While some may feel comfortable going out for a quick ride without taking into account all the proper horse safety measures, we recommend to always keep safety top-of-mind.

Even with experienced riders, there is still the risk of falling from the horse or being thrown off. Horse-related injuries can happen anytime, including when riders are in the saddle just having a leisurely ride.

Despite the high risk for injury during this activity, an astonishing percentage of equestrians do not wear protective headgear on every ride. As a safe rider, it is our duty to follow safety precautions at all times to minimize the risks outdoors.

No matter how experienced you are, a horse is an animal that can act on its own free will. It can get spooked or display unpredictable behavior. Its decisions can, sometimes, not be to your benefit. Whether it is spooked or trips, a frazzled horse can lead to a rider sustaining a serious injury.

Other factors that can affect the severity of an injury include the gait speed, the height of the horse, the trail type, and other environmental factors.

Having the right type of safety equipment and following common-sense horse safety rules can help you reduce the risk of injury, cut down its severity, and keep you riding horses for another day.

Horse Riding Gear to Keep You Safe

Having the right type of horseback riding equipment can help you have a safe and fun ride time and time again. Always check that you have the right type of gear in place for your horses. Regularly check that the equipment does not show any signs of wear that would reduce their function.

Helmet

Equestrian Helmet on Post

A helmet is a necessity. When looking for the right horse riding helmet you want hard shell with dense foam lining that fits properly to your head. An SEI/ASTM-certified riding helmet is recommended. A helmet capable of handling common dangers is worth the money to keep riders safe.

Just remember to buy a replacement helmet after a fall. A cracked helmet will not offer the same level of protection after a hard fall. The hard outer shell of the helmet is important to protect against your head rocks, the hard ground, and horse hooves.

Make sure your chin strap keeps your helmet firmly in place while you are on the horse. Helmets have a smooth surface to allow your head to safely skid across the ground without any jerking movements that may injure your neck even more after a fall.

Our recommendation: For a sleek and comfortable look, shop the Ovation Protege helmet made of lightweight, high-density ABS material. Its low profile design features and extended back shell for added protection. 

Ovation Protege Helmet

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Gloves

Gloves are an indispensable part of your horse safety gear. Horse riding gloves can ensure you maintain a secure grip on the reins and avoid any harsh blisters. In wet weather, the reins can become slippery, so you are going to need all the grip you can get.

Heritage Gloves Performance Tack Glove

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Boots

Riding on Horse With Spurs

What is your favorite type of riding? Western style or English style? Your answer will determine the type of riding boots you should invest in. Above all, ensure they have at least a one inch heel to keep your foot from sliding out of the stirrups.

For Western-style riding, authentic cowboy boots with a heel can keep your foot sturdy in the stirrup. For English-style riding, half chaps and paddock boots are recommended. Tall boots may also work, just make sure they have a heel big enough to keep your foot from sliding through the stirrup.

Now, there is such a thing as too big of a heel or not enough heel. Not enough of a heel will let your boots slide out. Too big of a heel can get your boots stuck.

For added foot protection, your boots can be hard-toe to protect your toes. Avoid wearing regular sneakers or even riding without shoes since you will be left without protection from your animal or the elements.

TuffRider Ladies' Zip Paddock Boot, 3037

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Ariat Ladies Fatbaby Heritage Dapper Western Boot, 10029492

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Ariat Men's Sport Western Wide Square Toe Boots, 10019958

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Safety Stirrups

It can be hard choosing the right type of safety stirrups due to the sheer abundance of types available. Make sure to properly research this component to ensure you can ride comfortably with them.

Safety stirrups are an important piece of gear that can help you release your foot quicker in the event of a fall. Stirrups are particularly vital in disciplines such as show jumping and eventing. Do not skimp on this piece of gear.

If your foot gets caught in the stirrup in the event of a fall, you can be dragged around by your horse and sustain excessive injuries.

Cashel Slanted Aluminum Stirrup

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Compositi Stirrups

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Compositi Iron Stirrups

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Body Protector

For the ultimate in horse riding protection, body armor protects the most vital organs, bones, and joints in your body.

Invest in a safety vest that can protect your spine, ribs, and internal organs if you fall. While this personal protection equipment is mainly used by rodeo riders and eventers, it is a crucial component for nearly every horse rider.

A protective shield across your torso and tailbone ensures you do not suffer a life-threatening injury.

During a fall, the ground absorbs a lot of that force of impact, but some of it radiates through your body. A high-quality body armor can cut down on that shock and dampen the force.  Body protectors can not only absorb but also spread the force to reduce local impact.

Pro tip: Worried about ventilation on the trail while wearing body armor? Wear a quick-dry top to keep you cool and safe when horseback riding.

Inflatable Air Vest

One can never be too safe when horseback riding. If you want to reduce your risk of injury, an inflatable air vest is one of the most innovative and effective personal protection products you can buy.

Similar to an airbag in your car, an air vest can inflate in the event you are separated from your saddle. Essentially, the air cushion reduces the force of the fall.

An air vest will be lightweight and offer the right amount of ventilation for a comfortable ride. It may also feature a CO2 canister pocket and hook to secure it to your saddle.

Unlike body armor, an air vest does not absorb or spread out the force on impact. So, it is important to wear a body protector even if you are wearing an air vest.

Compression Apparel

One of the newest forms of horse riding protection is compression tops with built-in neck protection. This additional level of protection can prevent acceleration and deceleration injuries such as whiplash.

Originally intended for contact sports where the risk of injury is high, this smart protection apparel can feature a collar made from rate sensitive foam that hardens on impact.

Chaps or Half Chaps

Half chaps or chaps are not the most important piece of safety gear, but they can keep your legs from rubbing up against the saddle during your long ride. Avoid scratches, chafing, and scrapes with this additional gear.

Medical ID Bracelet

In a worst-case scenario, a medical ID bracelet contains all your pertinent information including your emergency contact’s phone number, allergies, and medical conditions. In the event you cannot communicate your special needs, medical ID bracelets give rescue personnel all the information they need.

First Aid Kit

Bringing along a first aid kit is a non-negotiable. You can create your own or buy ready-made first aid kits but need to regularly replace items when they run out or expire. It is not enough to just have the kit, you must know how to use it in case of an emergency.

While you will not need your entire first aid arsenal on every ride, bringing along a smaller kit  should be enough.

Here are some first aid essentials you need for you and your horse:

  • Water
  • Vet wrap
  • Treats
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Antiseptic wipe packets
  • Extra screws for the bridle
  • Old pieces of leather/bale twine to mend the rein
  • Hoof pick
  • Pocket knife

ANSI A+ First Aid Kit, Plastic Case

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Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Dog Chews, 30 count

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Horse Riding Safety Tips

Horse Riding Through Woods

Now, let us get to the actual horse riding techniques to keep you safe. Many of these skills can become second nature with regular practice. Make sure to follow these safety tips to reduce the prevent accidents.

Confidence and Preparation Matters

A big part of horse safety comes from the confidence you have when riding.

A confident mindset counts for a lot when it comes to keeping you and your animal safe. Remaining centered without overly worrying about what could go wrong can put your horse at ease.

If you are nervous about it being your first time, forget about how you think you look and focus on the training you have learned. Similar to driving a car, the fundamentals will keep you safe while trail riding as long as you remain focused and aware.

Some may say awareness and preparation are the most important things when it comes to horseback riding. Double-check your girth before mounting and heading out. Mount in a smooth and seamless manner to keep your horse relaxed.

Trust in yourself and in your horse can go a long way when getting back out to ride.

Approach with Caution

Every ride starts off by you approaching your horse. When approaching your animals, speak softly to them to let them know you are close. Walking up without a peep can startle your animals and cause them to kick you.

On a similar note, you should approach the horse from the front and make eye contact if possible to let them see you coming. If they are faced the other way, call to them. If needed, use a treat to get their attention. Avoid approaching your horse from the rear. If you must do so, approach them at an angle not directly behind them.

You should be gentle when handling or petting a horse. Always monitor your horse’s mood and expression to ensure they are ready for the trail ride. Before heading out, pick out its feet to remove rocks or other debris that can make the journey uncomfortable for them.

Practice All Gaits

A horse can move steadily and smoothly or swiftly and forcefully, depending on its natural gait and unique training. Being comfortable while riding your horse at any speed can help you handle every situation you encounter and prevent a riding accident.

  • Walk: 4-beat gait averaging about 4.3 mph without a moment of suspension
  • Trot: 2-beat gait averaging 8.1 mph with a slight moment of suspension
  • Canter: 3-beat gait averaging 10 to 17 mph with a moment of suspension
  • Gallop: 3-beat fast canter averaging  25 to 30 mph with a moment of suspension

Horse Training

A major element of horseback riding safety is your training and experience. Before heading out on, it is important to train your horse before heading out on a full-on trail. If riding in a group on the trail, your inexperience can inconvenience the rest of the riding group and have to slow down the pace.

Start off by teaching your horse how to feel comfortable away from home. Practice close to your home and gradually ride out further and further all the while making sure your horse is comfortable. Eventually they will feel comfortable being further and further away from home.

Once your horse is comfortable being away from home, practice on easier trails and riding locations before building up to more difficult riding areas where you may encounter more challenging obstacles.

Hiring a riding instructor for a novice rider can be a safe way to master the basics of riding horses. Common mistakes include wrapping the reins or lead rope around your hand.

Never try to ride a horse for the first time alone. Instructors are able to get you riding as soon as possible as safely as possible.

For horses that must regularly handle emergency situations, trainers can use desensitization horse training to help these animals remain calm if exposed to frightening stimuli or other dangers.

Trail Riding

Horse Riding Through Hills

Ready to hit the trails? Not so fast. Before you head out, make a map of where you will be heading and when you can be expected back. In the event of an accident, others will know when they can start to look for you.

Ideally, you will be riding out with a friend or group to watch out for each other. Finally, a cell phone or two-way radio can keep the lines of communication open between your peaceful retreat and the real world.

When riding the trails, make sure to bring along a calm and experienced horse. Beginners should start off with a quiet and reliable horse that is not known for being easily frazzled. Avoid bringing an untrained horse, especially without supervision or on new trails.

If riding with small children, make sure to keep them from running around the horse. Teach them proper horse handling etiquette such as using indoor voices and approaching them with caution. Keeping a good distance between themselves and the horse should be top of mind.

If your horse is known for kicking or unpredictable behavior, tie a red ribbon around its tail making it easily visible by neighboring horse riders.

Avoid going fast speeds since trails can have uneven surfaces which can lead to a fall. Ideally, a safe gait is recommended. Similarly, never run past another rider since it risks spooking the horse in front of you. If you have to pass, announce your approach.

If riding through a relatively dense thicket, take notice of overhanging branches. If there is a rider in front of you, make sure that the branch does not snap back at you or your horse. Give yourself enough space (one horse length) in between you and the other rider ahead.  This helps your horse avoid getting kicked by accident.

If you are leading the expedition, make sure to warn riders behind you of any obstacles such as holes, low branches, or sharp objects on the trail.

Out on the trail, you may encounter bridges or narrow spaces. When approaching these paths, do not stop. Keep approaching them at a steady pace. If you slow down, the horse may stop to look and shift its hind end increasing the risk of falling off.

Returning Home

After a full day of riding, do not let your guard down. On your way home, do not run your horse to the end. As you approach the last half-mile of your destination, walk to avoid developing a habit of rushing towards the finish line.

One of the basic riding skills you must have to learn to ride a horse is knowing how to halt or stop your horse. For beginners, closing your grip and squeezing the reins backwards gives your horse the signal to stop.

For more experienced riders, the cue to stop can be done using the body, legs, and seat. Advanced riders can push their seat deep in the saddle, stiffen their back, gently wrap their legs around the horse, and pull back on the reins

Once the horse stops, you can end the cue naturally.

If the horse does not stop, try pulling back the reins, then easing up as it strides, Keep doing this until the horse comes to a full stop.

Some horse riders use the command “whoa” to get their horse to stop.

Above all, your stopping cues should be controlled and smooth instead of jerky and abrupt. Ideally, the cues should be subtle but obvious enough to take effect.

After you safely dismount, give your horse some praise and encouragement. Give them a scratch or pat on the neck.

Night Riding

Man on Horse With Lantern

An evening or night ride can be a peaceful way to unwind after a long day. However, riding at night can be a bit more dangerous than riding during the day. Of course, visibility is worse at night meaning you cannot spot any obstacles and other people cannot spot you or your horse.

If you are confident enough to ride out at night, make sure to go at a leisurely gait. Fast gates at night are a recipe for disaster. Fast gaits can result in not seeing obstacles directly in front of you such as low-lying branches.

Riding on the side of the road is not recommended since the bright headlights can affect the horse’s visibility and can disorient them. If riding at night near roads or highways, wear high visibility and brightly-colored clothing.

In addition, a flashlight or a headlamp and reflectors can help you see others and others see you. As always, check your local regulations for riding guidelines.

For night rides, you will want to go on familiar and open paths. This is no time for exploring a path for the first time since you do not know what lies ahead.

Emergency Dismount

Emergency dismounting is an invaluable skill that can keep you safe on the trails. In the event that you need to jump off your horse, there is a certain way to do so without getting tangled up or landing on a vulnerable part of your body.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to perform a safe emergency dismount:

  1. Place hands on the horse’s neck to get stable before dismounting
  2. Slide your feet out of the stirrups to prepare for the final part of the dismount.
  3. Push against the horse’s neck and swing your leg over the rump
  4. Push away from the horse as you jump off

Falling Down and Getting Back Up Again

It is better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. No matter how experienced you are at riding horses, you will inevitably have a close call or experience a fall throughout your riding career. Even on that quiet and open trail, a horse can trip or get spooked.

In the event that you fall from your horse, one of the most important things you can do is to remain still. Do not immediately jump back up. Make sure you do not feel dizzy or in pain. Even if your horse starts to run away, just stay calm and worry about yourself first.

If there are other riders around, they can check up on you and ensure there are no major injuries or concussions. Unless you are absolutely sure you are okay, it is best to visit a doctor or head to the nearest emergency room to confirm.

If you feel okay, you can go ahead and catch your horse and make sure they are not injured. In addition, check that their tack is not broken. If it is, it may be unsafe to remount.

After a fall, it can hurt your confidence and your horse’s but moving forward can help you regain that confidence. After catching your breath, hop back on the saddle and keep riding. It is no one’s fault that this all happened. Consider it a learning experience.

One of the best ways to learn how to fall from horses is to practice it.

If possible, practice falling in a soft and sandy area to avoid injury. From a standing position, tuck your chin to your chest and practice falling on your shoulder and performing a roll to safety. Tucking your body into a ball reduces the surface area to avoid getting stepped on.

Equine Supplies at Wilco

Explore a wide range of equine supplies such as tack, roping gear, feed, toys, and much more at Wilco Farm Stores.

Wilco gives you peace of mind so you can ride into the sunset safely.

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