You really need to understand the psychology of the horse to understand its actions and reactions in certain circumstances and its mental attitude to people in general.
Common sense should be used around horses but, unfortunately, familiarity breeds contempt. Unless something happens to a handler, he or she often presumes “my horse won’t bite or kick”.
If safety rules are followed, no one should be kicked, or have toes broken from being trodden on.
The horse’s natural means of defense is to kick, bite, rear, strike and run away. It must be remembered that every horse is an individual. No two horses will act or react identically to certain circumstances and situations.
Experts say that horses see only in black and white and that every thing seems larger than life. Their eyes are set wide apart, providing a broader field of vision, for a swift escape from predators.
While grazing, horses have 360 degree vision. The only restriction is when they look directly ahead; then they are virtually “blind” for up to 120 cm and their sight is blurred for up to 3 m. This explains why, when approached from the front or when a hand is outstretched towards it, a horse will toss its head and move backwards.
Never approach a horse from the rear. He must always be able to see the handler and know that someone is coming. The correct way to approach a horse is to walk towards the shoulder from the side, so the horse knows you are there, and to speak in a kind manner.
It is bad practice to crouch or kneel around any horse. Make sure you bend from the waist, with the weight always on your legs for a fast exit if the horse is startled.
Horses tend to swing their heads to scratch, and a butt in the ribs is very painful. So is having your feet trodden on, so ensure you have the correct footwear, such as sneaker. Thongs and bare feet are not acceptable.
When passing behind a tethered or ridden horse, make sure the distance is sufficient to be out of range or close enough not to be harmed if the horse should kick. It is a good idea when passing behind a horse to have a hand on the horse’s tail, since the horse must raise his tail as his back lifts to kick.
Do not leave young children unsupervised around horses. A child or inexperienced adult should be exposed only to the oldest, quietest pony that can be found. Only when they have learned how to handle a horse properly should they be allowed to deal with younger animals.
Some people refuse to go riding on windy days because the noise of the wind makes hearing difficult for horses and has an unsettling effect on them. It is not a good idea to go riding alone. Ride with a companion; then if something happens there is someone to go for help.
When you are on a trail with other horses, don’t gallop up to the lead riders, this could result in a horse bucking or bolting.
Dress is a very important facet of riding. Always wear the correct gear, good boots and a safety helmet.
Always make sure your horse’s gear is fitted correctly. An uncomfortable girth, pinching a horse’s back could result in a rodeo performance.
The care of saddles and bridles is just as important as looking after the horse, and should be checked regularly for wear and tear.
Stirrup leathers should be of good quality and not allowed to become worn. For children, the safety stirrup irons are most suitable, as these can be released, freeing the foot, if the rider falls.
Both the safety and regular stirrup irons should be large enough to allow 1 cm of space on either side of the rider’s foot. A too-small iron is dangerous, as the foot may get caught during a fall and the rider may be dragged along by the horse or pony. A too-large iron is also dangerous, because the whole foot can slip through it.
A badly worn girth is extremely dangerous. Bits should always be kept clean and fitted correctly.
A horse or pony can be a lethal weapon. A horse can weigh half a tonne and move at about 30 km/h and, therefore, needs to be under control.
Some people find riding frightening, and for this reason are nervous around horses. This nervousness is quickly conveyed to the horse which, in turn, becomes nervous.
Most cases of mean behavior in horses can be traced back to mistreatment by previous owners. A bad-tempered horse is a complete waste of time; a well-mannered one is an absolute joy.
Patience, kindness, forethought, the use of psychology, the ability to create a rapport, a sense of timing and consistency should all be in the horse handler’s repertoire. One of the most desirable talents is the control of the human temper and, above all, respect for the horse as a living being which has the right to react to procedures to which he may be subjected.
Remember, when danger threatens, a horse’s natural instinct is to flee. This is in contrast to our human assessment of the situation which might be completely different.
So when out riding, be prepared for the unexpected. It pays off.
Always be aware of safety and treat your horse with kindness and respect.