What could be more invigorating than clipping along through a wide open meadow on a sturdy steed? What could be more thrilling than an early morning cattle round up or more peaceful and thought provoking than riding fences? Can you imagine a farm or ranch without horses? Horses have stood the test of time as valuable resources for the farmer/rancher.
While being one of the most versatile animals on the farm, horses are also potentially the most dangerous farm animals, because they are used for both work and recreation.
Country singer Dwight Yokum was riding a horse in a parade when the cinch strap on his saddle broke and he slipped, along with the saddle, off the horse. Luckily someone in the crowd was knowledgeable about saddles and helped make repairs so Yokum could continue on the parade route. He was also lucky that he was only trotting along in the parade, because had he been going any faster it could have resulted in a serious accident.
Most farmers realize there are numerous risk factors involved in the everyday care of horses. Some risks are minor. Others can be life threatening if proper management procedures are not used. Horses are responsible for most animal-caused injuries, both work-related and recreational on the farm. Horse related injuries also tend to be the most costly of all livestock injuries.
Thinking can minimize potential problems with horses.
Using the proper equipment and having a working knowledge of animal behavior can go a long way toward preventing accidents. Horses, like cattle and sheep, have wide-angle vision with blind spots directly behind them and at their nose. To catch a horse, avoid approaching in its blind spot and steer clear of its flight zone. Always speak to a horse before approaching it. Startled horses are likely to kick or jump. Because its nose is a blind spot, pat the horse on its shoulder or neck.
Be sure to have the halter fitted and ready to use, for your safety and the horse's.
When working in confined areas, minimize stress on the horse and potential danger to you, by making sure the horse knows where you are at all times. Either stay close to the horse so you will not receive the full impact of a kick or stay out of kicking range whenever possible. Allow the horse to become accustomed to your presence. Keep noise levels to a minimum. If you remain calm, so will the horse.
Beware of stallions. They are usually temperamental and unpredictable, particularly around mares in season. It takes years of experience to work safely with stallions.
Lead a horse from the left and turn the horse to your right so you keep it on the inside. Use a long lead rope folded accordion-style in your left hand, not wrapped around your wrist, hand, or body. Never walk under the tie rope or step over it.
Most work-related horse accidents result from the rider falling or being thrown from the horse. Riding a horse to catch a steer is exhilarating. It is also exciting to the horse and an excited horse is more apt to falter, and perhaps fall, causing injury to both the horse and rider. To reduce the chances of injury to everyone involved, keep the horse under your control at all times.
Livestock recreation accidents often involve the horse. Generally, the would-be rider is young and/or inexperienced, and is riding a horse more spirited than he can control. How a horse is handled early on will, for the most part, determine its temperament. It is advisable to use only an aged horse, 10 to 12 years old, for young, and/or inexperienced riders.
Equipment And Facilities
Two important components of developing and maintaining a good working relationship with a horse are good tack and good facilities.
Equipment should be sturdy and in good repair. The saddle should have a solid tree. Stirrup leathers, bridle reins, and cinch straps showing signs of wear should be replaced. All leather should be flexible, not rigid. Equipment should fit the horse properly and be properly adjusted so that the horse and rider will be comfortable. Even skilled riders can be seriously injured by accidents that are caused by equipment that breaks. Regularly inspect tack for cracks and weak areas. If equipment is in need of repair, take it to an experienced saddlesmith.
When mounting, use caution. Avoid mounting near fences, trees, and overhanging projections. Never mount a horse in the barn.
Facilities for horses, as for all farm livestock, should be well maintained and well kept.
Fencing, too, should be in good repair. Barbed wire is acceptable, but smooth wire is preferred and does less damage to the horse if it collides with the fence. Poly/plastic fencing works very well. Electric fencing works well, also, as does one hot strand on a standard fence, but run the hot strand somewhere in the middle of the fence, rather than on top.
Proper tying is also very important when handling a horse. Tie the horse to something sturdy, like a fenceline post or a tree, and use a quick release knot. NEVER tie a horse to a trailer with a lead long enough to graze. This is the cause of many serious accidents. The horse should be tied at eye level with enough lead to allow free motion of the head, but not so long that the horse can get a leg over it. Approach a tied horse the same way you would a loose horse. Let it know you are there and never approach from its blind spot. Also, once you have reached the tied horse, never cross in front of it or directly behind it.
No doubt, if you own a horse, you will eventually need to trailer that horse. Common sense will go a long way for making trailering a pleasant experience for you and your horse.
Horses can be a source of tremendous enjoyment and help on the farm. It is advisable to test ride a horse before you buy. Always go to a reputable seller and familiarize yourself with the horse before you take it home. Allow the seller to show and tell you how to work with the animal so that you can know the customs and commands the horse is familiar with. Have respect for the horse and it will respect you.
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