Every activity has risks, and horse riding is no exception
When I began horseback riding seriously, I was often crippled by fear. As much as I genuinely loved horses and riding, my pre-teen self was racked with anxieties and “what-ifs.”
What if I didn’t make my trainer happy? What if my horse couldn’t understand me? What if something bad just …happened?
My “what-if” mentality persisted well into adulthood until I finally realized that there was a lot I could do to decrease the chances of dangerous horse experiences.
Of course, horseback riding comes with inherent risks. (If you’re new to the sport, it’s especially common to spend a lot of time thinking about them!) However, don’t let these risks scare you away from the equestrian world.
While horses can be dangerous, risks can be substantially mitigated with things like knowledge, situational awareness, and safety equipment.
Furthermore, staying away from horses just because of these potential dangers would be a far greater tragedy.
Is Horseback Riding Dangerous?
Anyone who considers horseback riding, whether for a single vacation trail ride or a lifetime hobby, must acknowledge that horses are half-ton animals with the ability to cause tremendous harm.
The three most common causes of injury associated with horse riding are falling off, being kicked, and being bitten.
Yet, if you ask any seasoned equestrian about how the risks associated with horses influence their decisions to ride, the vast majority will tell you that danger and injury are a negligible part of horse riding and pale in comparison to the appeal of horse/human partnership.
Moreover, you can minimize risk in horseback riding by:
Let’s dig into each one of these preventative measures.
The first and most important way to reduce danger around horses is to be prepared and safety conscious.
Practical preparedness includes, at minimum, a proper-fitting helmet, safe footwear, and a qualified coach or mentor.
Though rare in comparison to the overall number of riders out there and the time they spend in the saddle, head injuries account for more than half of equine-associated deaths.
Investing in an ASTM-SEI-certified helmet, like the Tipperary Sportage, is well worth the money. Helmets dramatically reduce the chances of concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and death in horse-related accidents.
What you wear on your feet is almost as important as what you wear on your head. Boots that are safe for horseback riding have at least a 1″ heel that minimizes the chances of accidentally getting stuck in the stirrups during a fall and causing you to be dragged by the horse.
Boots with heels also help you keep your feet securely in the stirrups, increasing your balance, while riding.
Safety gear is essential, but finding a qualified and knowledgeable equestrian guide also is critical.
Whether that person is a friend with a lot of horse experience, or a professional riding instructor, they can help to show you the basics of handling and riding a horse safely.
The first lesson you’ll want to learn is the emergency dismount.
The emergency dismount is a method of jumping off a horse’s back quickly in case things get out of hand. Though it is hardly ever necessary with a trained horse, any horse is capable of becoming afraid and acting unpredictably.
Check out this short video for a demonstration:
Check out Horse Rookie’s list of horse riding safety gear that’s worth every penny to minimize your risk of injury.
If you haven’t noticed already, you will soon find that horses are incredibly intuitive animals. They are also flight animals, meaning that whatever uneasiness they pick up on in their surrounding “herd” (horse or human) will affect their own mental and emotional state.
Whenever I introduce someone to horseback riding, my first tip is always a single word: “Relax.”
When you act nervous, the horse will often become nervous, too. Horses don’t know that you’re afraid of them. Instead, they simply sense your fear, and think that your emotions are cueing them in on a greater danger… like tigers!
When you relax, however, you signal to the horse that all is well. Calm horses are happy horses, and relaxing helps them associate you with a positive and safe experience.
Here’s a short video about how to relax so your horse can relax:
Need to quiet those butterflies in your stomach? Read about 32 things you can do today to calm your riding nerves forever.
Learn to “Speak Horse”
Understanding how a horse is mentally wired is an ongoing journey for all equestrians, not just beginners. There are several things that new horse riders can learn from basic equine psychology.
The first and most important thing to know is that horses are herd animals.
In the wild, the constant question arises: “Who is the leader?” Herd dynamics are always subject to change, but this question remains because the hierarchy of the herd determines the safety of the herd.
For domesticated horses, this most often means that the horse you ride is looking for you to be its leader. No matter how little you know about horses, simply asserting your boundaries will go a long way in establishing your horse’s respect and trust.
Horses feel most secure when they don’t have to be the leader. Yet it is in their nature to test the boundaries from time to time.
Another thing you need to realize is that horses can be startled easily, so don’t make big, sudden movements around them. Likewise, don’t make loud and unprecedented noises that might scare them.
A strong but peaceful presence will foster trust between you and any horse you encounter.
One of the most beautiful things about horses is that they desire connection. They are wired towards partnership, which means that they want to be at peace with their riders.
This partnership is why many of us equestrians continue with the sport decades after our first rides. We don’t just get to hone a skill and explore knowledge of a hobby.
We get to interact with remarkable, profoundly intuitive creatures that genuinely want to be our friends.
About Lindsey Rains
Lindsey is an equestrian blogger and creator of Alta Mira Horsemanship. She focuses on communication between horse and rider, with an emphasis in kind training tactics. She resides in Auburn, WA, USA, with her husband, and daylights as a non-profit administrator.
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