Volunteer Guide – Safety First

Safety First,
Last & Always

Horse SafetyThis guide provides tips for safety around horses. Nothing is more important to Swingin’ D than your safety and the safety of our horses. That’s why we require all new volunteers to go through basic training to ensure you’re comfortable before handling horses alone. Until you’re approved by Swingin’ D to work alone with horses, please only work with an experienced volunteer, or a member of Swingin’ D staff.

Horses are prey animals, which means their natural instinct is to always be on the lookout for predators. Horses value two things above all else: Their next meal, and survival. While typically docile, their size, speed and singular focus make them exceedingly dangerous. Always be aware of your proximity to a horse, and never take for granted your safety. Nothing is more dangerous than a horse trying to get to food.

To maintain safety around horses, think of them as giant toddlers. If there’s even the remotest possibility they could get into something, they will get into it. Our horses are literally trouble magnets.

Approaching a Horse

  1. First and foremost, to ensure your safety around horses, avoid sudden movements. Horses live in “fight or flight” mode, so never run up on a horse, and always ensures it knows where you are.
  2. Horses are more comfortable with humans they know, so meet them for the first time accompanied by a familiar face. This gives you an opportunity to learn more about each horse’s personality and quirks.
  3. Make sure the horse sees and hears you as you approach from the front (never from the rear). Remember that horses’ eyes are on the sides of their head, so they don’t see straight in front of them. Move in toward the shoulder. (If the horse’s rear is pointed toward you on approach, move to an angle where it can see you.) Speak in a calm voice. Watch for its ears to flick in response.
  4. Place a hand firmly on the horse’s neck or shoulder. (Most horses don’t like being touched on the face.) The horse’s nose is sensitive, and many rescued horses are head-shy. When petting a horse, use a rubbing or soft scratching motion – never a slap-like or pat-like motion. Slapping and patting can startle a horse.
  5. Because horses can (and do) startle at anything, it’s essential for you to always be focused on the horse. Be aware it could spook at the slightest sight, smell or sound. Things you may never perceive may cause the horse to bolt or charge with you in the way!
  6. Try to anticipate the horse’s feet. The last thing you want is broken toes, so always be aware of where your feet are when working near horses. If you ever find one on your foot, do not try to pull your foot out. Instead, move the horse so it steps off your foot.

Working Around Horses

  1. Wear boots or solid, closed-toed shoes to protect your toes from heavy hooves. (I wear steel-toed cowboy boots.) Please avoid jewelry that can get caught on things.
  2. To maintain safety around horses, be aware of their multiple blind spots. Always make sure the horse knows where you are by speaking to it or keeping a hand on its body as you move around it.
  3. Because of the horse’s restrictive vision, it’s up to you to ensure the horse is aware of you. Never stand directly in front of or behind a horse because it may not be able to see you.
  4. The safest place to stand when working with a horse is close to its side near its shoulder.
  5. Never walk under a horse’s neck. That’s a blind spot, so you’ll disappear from his view. When you suddenly reappear on the other side of its head, you may freak him out and cause him to jump.
  6. To pass behind a horse, either walk at least 12 feet away so you’re not in kicking range, or so close that you can’t receive a full blow if the horse kicks. If you decide to stay close, be sure to keep your hand on the horse’s rear when you walk behind him so he’s always aware you’re there.
  7. Avoid making sudden movements or sudden loud noises around the horses. Many horses startle at sudden actions or sounds. A startled horse can set off a dangerous chain reaction.
  8. Always let a horse know what you intend to do. For example, when picking up its feet, run your hand down its leg, starting at its shoulder and down to its pastern and the horse should pick up its foot for you. When you’re going to halter a horse, hold it in front of his nose or rub it on the side of his face to let him know what you’re getting ready to do.
  9. Never leave a tied horse unattended. If the horse startles, or if another horse starts harassing it, it may injure itself trying to get loose.

Other Precautions

  1. Make sure that all gates and doors are always closed and secured. If it opens, it closes. Always check and double check. There’s no such thing as too much safety around horses.
  2. Keep tack and equipment off the ground. If it’s in a horse’s path, it WILL get caught in it.
  3. Don’t give treats to the horses unless you have permission. Some horses can’t have them for health reasons; others don’t know how to act when they get them.
  4. Please let us know of any injuries, swelling, or symptoms you not in any horse.