The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) has seven recommendations to maximise safety:
• To acknowledge that the horse’s size, power and potential flightiness present a significant risk
• Avoid provoking defensive and aggressive behaviour (kicking/biting)
• Ensure recognition of the horse’s dangerous zones (hindquarter)
• Safe use of tools, equipment and environment
• Recognise the dangers of being inconsistent or confusing
• Ensure horses and humans are appropriately matched
• Avoid using methods or equipment that cause pain, distress, or injury to the horse.
There is no surefire way to avoid an accident but there are things that you can do to reduce the risk. Protective clothing, safe equipment, correct handling and correct training will reduce risk.
Let’s start by looking at training. We can train our horses to be safer partners. The size, power and flightiness of a horse can be managed in a more predictable way if a horse is trained well to respond to cues, and if a horse is trained to respond to novel things with curiosity rather than flight. The flight reaction of a horse can be dangerous. People get knocked over, trampled etc. when a horse suddenly runs away in fear. If your horse is afraid of something, for example a tarp, don’t use flooding, like the old ‘sacking out’ technique, and don’t punish him for being afraid. Rather, reward him for approaching it, approach and let him settle and relax, then approach some more. Tristan Tucker recommends using the in-hand training pattern to train relaxation and then use this to teach a horse to approach something unknown. We put treats in all the scary things like umbrellas and plastic whales so the horses learn that if they go up to it, they may find a little piece of carrot.