Basic safety rules around horses

This guest post is by Victoria S and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

1. Never run around horses. While there are occasional exceptions, in most cases, running (as opposed to walking really fast) generally only gets horses excited and makes them misbehave more. Running AT a horse often will result in either the horse running away or it getting frightened.

2. When approaching a horse, never approach directly from the rear. You can almost always approach at an angle. Approaching from directly behind puts you in the horse’s blind spot, and just like driving in a semi’s blind spot is bad, a horse that is startled by a noise from behind will often kick with its hind legs first before running away.

3. The best way to approach a loose horse is heading towards their shoulder. Approaching them head on will often make them think you’re about to play the fun game of “Let’s play tag and the human’s it!” and approaching from behind is bad because of the chances of getting kicked.

4. When approaching a horse, always talk to it in a low calm voice to let it know you’re there.

5. Never ever wrap a lead rope or reins around your hands, arms, or body. If the horse startles, the rope will tighten and you could be severely injured.

6. Try to never move around a horse’s rear end. If you need to move to the other side of the horse, try to go around their front end, not their rear. If you cannot do that, you should move as close as possible to their butt while touching the horse gently to let it know where you are. The reason for staying close to their butt (I tell students to actually move so close that your body is touching theirs…) is because the horse’s rear legs are designed such that if it kicks with its rear legs the most force is created about 2 to 6 feet beyond the horse’s butt. If you’re right on their butt, they can’t do nearly as much damage as they can if you’re about 4 feet behind them. Unfortunately, most folks think about 4 feet behind a horse is the safest spot to walk – it’s not.

7. Never ever go under a horse’s belly to move from one side to another. Also don’t move under their neck. Like a lot of safety rules, you’ll see lots of horse people doing this, but as a beginner, it’s best to not do it as you won’t be able to judge whether the horse will put up with it or not.

8. Never make loud noises or sudden movements when working with horses. (This is a rule you’ll see broken by a lot of experienced horse people – especially when they are correcting bad behavior of horses. This is a case of “Do-as-I-say-Not-as-I-do” … )

9. Most horse activity (saddling, grooming, etc) starts on the horse’s left side. Horses are used to people doing things on their left sides first, so if at all possible, approach from the horse’s left, and start all work with horses from the animal’s left side. You lead horses from their left side also.

10. Never mount a horse under a tree, inside a low building, etc.

11. When leading a horse, try to use a halter or bridle rather than just a rope looped around the horse’s neck.

12. When leading a horse, stand at their shoulder or their head, and hold the excess rope in your right hand (without wrapping it around your hand!) and hold the lead rope/reins right under the horse’s head.

13. Never put your fingers and hand under a horse’s halter or in one of the rings of the halter. Although those metal rings look like great hand holds, if the horse gets startled and pulls its head up, your fingers or hand will be caught in the halter and the horse will drag you up in the air.

14. Never tie a horse up by its reins, especially with a bit attached. Reins are not designed to hold up to any stress and will break. If there is a bit attached to the reins and the horse pulls back, it can severely injure its mouth.

15. Never leave a nylon halter on a horse that is loose. They can get caught on any obstruction in the pasture and strangle the horse. Nylon doesn’t break under stress. If you cannot easily catch your horse and you need to leave a halter on it, use a leather halter or a specially designed “breakaway” halter that has some leather designed to give way under pressure.

16. It’s your job to keep your feet out from under a horse’s hoof. Be aware of where your feet are at all times and don’t let them get too close to the horse’s feet.

17. When feeding a treat to a horse, hold it on the flat of your hand, keeping your fingers together and your thumb in close to your hand. You don’t want you fingers or thumbs to stick out and make the horse think it’s a carrot. Remember, the horse can’t see where it’s mouth is and it relies on its sense of feel to determine what to eat … if your fingers stick out they will “feel” like a carrot and might get eaten.

18. While this is not really related to “safety” … it’s something that everyone involved with horses or out in the country should know. If you open a gate, shut it. Never, ever leave a gate open that was shut when you went through it. Conversely, don’t shut gates that were open unless you know it should be shut. If you shut a gate, you may be cutting off animals from their food or water supplies.

There are many other safety rules and such, but most of them are common sense.

This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place winner will receive a Go Berkey Kit valued at $150.
  • Second Place: $100 Cash.
  • Third Place: $50 Cash.

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules first… Yes

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Thanks for the article. I don’t have horses, but have friends that do, so this info is valuable.

  2. Xtexanwannabe says:

    Very useful information for beginners around horses…nicely done.

  3. SurvivorDan says:

    Great safety rules. These alone will prevent many injuries to the novice horse owner.
    I know these well as I have broken most of them in my amateurish bungling introduction to owning a horse. 9 years ago I bought my horse and learned to pick his hooves and groom him. And I read a book about owning and caring for a horse and the safety practices such as these. Then I broke all these rules and suffered the consequences. Did you ever see a western movie where the hero runs and leaps on the horse from behind? I have. Don’t ever do something as dumb as that. The horse will likely object, vigorously. I’m fortunate that nothing was ever broken (other than a rib) and that I have all my fingers and did not get my brains kicked in {Hey! I am technically, sane}.
    Nice article. Very thorough and well written.

    • I could do mount my pony from behind, before I got a real horse – who was too tall for me to mount that way. In fact, my pony would hold real still while I was standing on his back to pick blackberries – except once.

      My worst adventure with a horse was when I was hired to break one to ride that had a very impressive pedigree, and a very mild temperament. I started slow, getting him used to my weight in the stirrup, etc, but when I finally got on his back, it spooked him, and he reared up. My weight unbalanced him, and he landed on his back with me under him and the saddle horn into my chest. I knew I wasn’t dead, because it hurt so bad. He was a real sweetie after that, guess the fall onto his back scared him, and he never gave me another ounce of trouble.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        I only vaulted onto Quinn’s back from the rear…..once. He objected.
        Glad you were not badly hurt. When breaking a horse I will try a different technique. I would crack like an egg under the same circumstances. 🙂

  4. SurvivorDan says:

    Horses are marvelous creatures but those who are thinking about making the plunge to ownership should talk to horsemen and read books about the proper care of a horse and their health and safety issues.
    Volunteer to help around horses. Most owners will let you help around their horses if you seem sincere about learning the proper care of the horses. You will learn a lot and then whatever your impression of the time and effort required to care for a horse – double that! If it still doesn’t intimidate you then – go for it!

  5. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    That was a very informative post – thanks. Many of us (myself included) have a lot to learn about draft animals and livestock.

  6. I have been around horses some and appreciate this list of safety rules. Not wrapping the reins around your hand makes perfect sense and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone do that. I think some experienced horse folks tend to break the rules because they and their horses have become comfortable with each other. Unfortunately, even with the comfort level horses can get startled. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Now you tell me rule 13! You couldn’t have done it 42 years ago????

    I got a young stallion just before my 8th grade graduation, but was not allowed to break him to ride until after the ceremony (mom said she didn’t want me in a body cast for the ceremony 🙂 So I was walking him one day and just so happened to pass the pasture of a mare in heat. He was acting up, so to keep him under control, I put my hand under the halter to better control his head. Well, he didn’t like that, and reared up – taking my arm and shoulder with him – and it pulled my shoulder out of the socket.

    For some reason, that is beyond me :-), my parents called the vet the next day to geld him.

  8. Oh and maybe rule 19 should be, don’t attempt to jump on a horse when riding bareback with a paper sack in your hand. The noise frightens the horse, who starts bucking and dumps you off into a pile of wood, straining most of the muscles in your back.

  9. And rule 20. Always use the right equipment (cowboy boots) and NEVER wear sneakers when riding in a saddle. A few years ago, I went riding with a girlfriend on her horse, who was part draft horse, and his back was higher than my head (and I’m 5’7″). I hadn’t ridden in many years, so stopped on the way to her house and bought a $110 pair of cowboy boots, because I didn’t want him to step on my foot. While watching Stephanie put her boy through his paces in an arena, the horse I was on apparently forgot I was on his back and decided to roll in the soft dirt. I yelled and then he remembered, and stood back up right away, but my foot was caught in the stirrup over his back. Had I not had boots on, I would have been pulled up by my right leg, and probably ripped my hip out of joint. Fortunately the smooth edge of the boot came out of the stirrup, and the worst thing that happened to me, was a racing heart, and having to go to the fence to remount.

  10. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Good info Victoria S,
    Like JP, I don’t have horses but my neighbors do.

  11. As a kid, and around brood mares & a stud…the girls in the family (or any other females) were never allowed in the barn where the stud was…or in any corral. They get VERY hard to handle!

  12. cosmolined says:

    Victoria S:
    A great article! Thank you very much! The big buggers scare me, but I’ve had them step on my foot, knock me over the food trough and buck me off into cactus…. Thanks for the information. God Bless!, Cos

  13. Victoria,
    Coincidentally, as I’m reading this, my DW is out in the barn with the farrier. Just a couple of additional comments. On rule #3 approaching directly from the front is similar to approaching from the back, in that there is a blind spot there also. In any case, making some noise (soft gentle noise) will allow the horse to know you’re there and not startle. Rule #6 is one that I violate all of the time, to the point where we’ve pretty much modified it out of existence. If you know that the horse has a tendency to kick, and there are some that do, then this rule should always be followed; otherwise, you’re generally only likely to be kicked if the horse is startled, so when you walk around behind the horse keeping and sliding your hand along the horses side and buttocks while speaking softly, most horses will not be a problem.
    When we talk about a horse which can weight well north of 1000 pounds being startled, you might wonder why. It’s primarily because a horse is a prey animal, and while it is generally big enough to take on most predators, psychologically horses may as well be rabbits, always watching and listening for danger, so it’s best to make sure the horse knows your intentions and actions are not that of a predator.
    Excellent article!!!

  14. Thanks for all the comments – I will admit I’ve broken most of these rules at one point or another – all except 14 and 15. I’m one of those bad people that wears sandals in the barn and when working with horses – but really – do as I say, not as I do! My farrier’s on my case about my footwear all the time… and then I caught her at a horse show in flipflops so…

  15. Everyone should be warned that horses require ALOT of care and attention. They are also money pits, very expensive to keep. JMO. I think mules may be a better choice for me…. This was a wonderful article and anyone dealing with a horse or mule should memorize every bit of it. Thank you!!

    • A horse is more forgiving than a mule. A mule will kill you to save itself. Some claim that a mule is “smarter”, personally I would rather have obedience of a good horse rather than a mule making it’s own decisions! Also mules DO need a mule saddle they will NOT tolerate an ill fitting horse saddle very long before you become a casualty. Many behavior problems stem from ill fitting gear in both a horse and/or a mule…I could write a book on it! Mules DO make better pack animals.

  16. Great advice! I have a quote to add, it’s from Monty Roberts, “around horses, slow is fast.” I.E., the slower you go at things with a horse the faster you will get things done with them. And I’m guilty of going to the barn lot in bare feet! I know, I know I’m just asking for it. he he

  17. Wellrounded says:

    Good article. I’d like to add another to the list. Always ask the owners permission before approaching any horse and if they say NO, stay away. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had someone try to pat one of our brood mares even after they’ve been told the girls don’t play nice.

  18. Adjust the length of the stirrups for the rider. They should be high enough that your knee will bend slightly and – with only your toes in the stirrup, NEVER your whole foot – your heels will hang down. With your heels down, your foot will not have a tendency to slide deeper into the stirrup. That way, if you are thrown or come out of the saddle for any reason, your foot will come out too, instead of getting caught and causing you to get dragged.

    Also, if you get snow in your area, take your horses shoes off unless they are kept in the barn. With shoes on, the snow will build up into a ball on the horses hooves. They will be unable to remain standing due to the fatigue of trying to balance on that “ball”, and will go down. If they are down on cold ground or snow for any length of time, they can get pneumonia and die.

    If you ride a shod horse in the snow, be prepared to clean their hooves of snow frequently (especially if it is a wet snow). Otherwise they will tire quickly and may even come up lame.

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