From the barn to the trail, and everywhere in between, preventing injury is a major consideration. Horses are big animals, and forgetting to take those extra safety precautions to protect yourself and your equine partner from injury could have serious consequences. An accident can happen fast, and afterwards is not the time to be thinking about how you could have prevented it. To help remind you what to keep in mind, clip this article of simple but invaluable tips, and keep it in a prominent place for frequent reference.
In the barn
• Horses are curious and like to check out new things, so keep all chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, paints and medications securely locked in a storage room or cabinet.
• Ensure barn doors and aisles are unobstructed and there are no projections that could injure you or your equine partner.
• Tack, brooms, forks, shovels, wheelbarrows and other equipment and tools should be stored in their own space away from your horses. Tack rooms should be large enough to safely and conveniently store all your gear, without clutter.
• Keep flooring surfaces clean, level, and free of ropes, halters and other equipment, and make sure the surface provides adequate traction to prevent slippage and falls. Consider slip resistant flooring if necessary.
• Stalls for washing and grooming should be well lit and have crossties with safety release snaps to secure the horse. They should also be equipped with adequate drainage and ventilation. Keep these areas clean and neat.
• Double check that all water sources inside the barn are properly grounded. Electrical outlets in wash stalls or other areas where water is used should be equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters.
• It should go without saying that working fire extinguishers and a sprinkler system are musts in the barn.
• Both the interior and exterior of the barn should be amply illuminated with UL or CSA approved lighting. All wiring and switches needs to be encased in weather proof metal boxes and metal conduit, while light fixtures should be protected with heavy duty screening wire.
• Consider motion detector lights outside the barn to warn of potential intruders, or even a closed circuit video monitoring/security system.
• Store hay away from sources of heat and electricity. In fact, it’s wise to keep all combustible material in a separate storage building away from horses, and keep a fire extinguisher there.
• If your barn has a hayloft, ensure the ladder or stairs have handrails that are firmly secured and in good condition. Rails should also be installed around the loft area. All stall doors and latches should open easily.
• Get rodent and weatherproof containers to store feed, grain, and treats in. Take further steps to rodent proof the barn by trimming trees, weeds and grass near the barn.
• Are there any areas where moisture collects and puddles? Consider installing rain gutters and downspouts if you haven’t already.
• Disposing of garbage promptly helps prevent rodents and reduces the risk of fire. Have several garbage cans or bins both inside and outside the barn.
• Use safety glass or Plexiglas covered with metal screening or steel bars in stall windows.
• Do regular safety checks of your barn, stalls and other outbuildings. Look for things like loose or protruding nails, splintered boards, curled stall mats, broken latches, etc.
• Carry a cell phone on you at all times when you are at the barn, and have emergency numbers programmed into it.
• Keep a close eye on any children or dogs around the horses.
• Inside or outside the barn, stay aware when handling your horse. Lead him from the side, not in front. Do not walk directly behind him or under his neck. Make sure you let the horse know where you are at all times so you do not surprise him, and pay attention to how he is reacting to things.
• Make sure you’re riding a horse that’s suited to your skill and experience, and that you always can maintain control of.
• Ride with a friend whenever possible. If you’re riding alone, let someone at home know your trail route, and give them your cell phone number and the time you expect to be back.
• Carry your cell phone on your person. Do not pack it on your horse, as it will be useless to you if you fall off and your horse runs away, or you can’t get up.
• Bring along emergency reins and a GPS. •If you’re riding with a group of people at different skill levels, stick to the speed of the least experienced rider and maintain a safe distance between horses.
• Make sure your gear is in good shape.
• Wear your safety gear, including your helmet and proper riding boots (a 1II heel is recommended). Additional gear could include reflective wear for riding on the trails/roads and/or a safety vest.
• Check out the weather forecast, and avoid riding if storms are imminent.
• Bring water – for you and your horse.
• Take along a basic first aid kit in your saddlebag.
• Stick to marked trails; you don’t know what obstacles or hazards you might encounter in unknown areas.
• Make sure your trailer has brakes and that they meet state or provincial regulations. Electric brakes are the most common and more widely accepted than the hydraulic variety. In the U.S., two wheel brakes are required on trailers over 3,000 pounds in 31 states, while 11 states require brakes on both axles.
• A breakaway brake is almost always required. Located on the coupler of the trailer, it activates the trailer brakes if the trailer separates from your vehicle. It must have a fully charged battery that will engage the brakes for 15 minutes.
• All U.S. states either require or recommend safety chains on your trailer, whether it’s a tagalong or gooseneck type.
• If you’re transporting one horse in a two-horse trailer, put him on the left side. This might seem less safe, but because most roads are higher in the middle, having the weight on the driver’s side will help keep your trailer more stable. It follows that if you’re traveling with two horses, you should put the heaviest one on the left.
• Before heading out, check everything over carefully. Inspect the trailer hitch, ensure ramps are up and and that doors are securely closed. Check that your horses are tied.
• If you’re traveling a long distance, stop every five hours or so, depending on the weather, and give your horse a break.
• Make sure your horse has water in the trailer, and check the levels every time you stop. •Your horse should be tied so that he can comfortably lower his head.
• Do your homework when putting together your rig. First, consider your horses, then fit the trailer to the horses, and finally fit the tow vehicle to the loaded trailer. Always buy a trailer that fits your current horses while also considering the size of your future horses. Consider the climate in which you live. Dark colors, single wall trailers and aluminum all hold heat. Insulated walls and roofs can help control the interior temperatures in colder climates.
• When buying a new trailer, make sure it’s large enough to comfortably accommodate your equine partner. Horses don’t like being in enclosed spaces, so it’s important that the trailer has adequate space, light and ventilation. Your horse should have enough room to move his legs back and forth to keep his balance while the trailer is moving. Horses that stand more than 15.3h need 7’ of stall length and 3’ of headroom.
• Consider a trailer that combines a variety of today’s technologically advanced materials, rather than one that’s all steel or all aluminum. A composite built trailer uses steel for the frame and chassis and aluminum or fiberglass for the parts that don’t get as stressed. This helps reduce the overall weight of the trailer without compromising on the strength and safety.
Trailering tips courtesy of EquiSpirit Trailer Company (www.equispirit.com), owned and operated by Neva and Tom Scheve in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Tom and Neva promote horse trailer safety through clinics and articles, and have produced three books on horse trailers, including the industry-accepted text The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. For more info, contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-575-1771.