Youth Livestock Safety - 1 - Horse Safety: Take Good Care of Yourself

Horse Safety

4-H Lifeskills: Managing self, solving problems, making decisions


Horse project members will:

  • Describe how you can be hurt while working with and riding horses.
  • Recognize how work habits affect your personal safety and the animals you work with.
  • Demonstrate use of appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing choices for working with and riding horses at home and at shows.
  • Understand how to keep yourself and others safe at public shows.
  • Be familiar with how to include members with disabilities in horse project activities.

Lesson 1: Take Good Care of Yourself

Animals are involved in many youth injury incidents every year. Because of their size and strength compared to the size and strength of the youth who own and work with them, horses can be particularly dangerous. This lesson is designed to teach best practices for personal safety when working with horses raised or purchased for the purpose of showing at livestock exhibitions. It should be used with other Horse Project materials.

Common injuries from working with and showing horses can be divided into two categories – mounted and dismounted. The most common dismounted injuries are typically the result of being kicked or stepped on by a horse and include:

  • Head injuries
  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Muscle and/or back strain from heavy lifting or grooming

The most common mounted injuries occur from falling off or being thrown from the horse and include:

  • Head injuries
  • Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and broken bones

Less common injuries from working with and/or showing horses:

Breathing problems from inhaling dust, animal dander, or chemicals

The most important safety decision you will make is selecting the right horse for you. Select a horse that matches your horse handling and riding abilities. Once you have the right animal, safe working habits include protecting yourself, your horse, and others.

Practice personal safety by using personal protection equipment and developing safe working habits. Protecting your head is very important. The most common injury related to horse activities – mounted or dismounted – is head injury which accounts for more serious injuries and deaths than any other cause. Basic personal protection equipment for riding includes:

  • Riding helmet – Certified by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) to meet the current standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM); must fit snugly, not move around on the head, and have a harness strap that buckles under the chin.
  • Boots – Sturdy, leather, hard-toed, designed for riding with ankle support and at least a ½ inch heel to keep foot from slipping through stirrups
  • Gloves – Riding gloves protect hands from cuts, and rope burns
  • Snugly-fitted clothing that will not get snagged on equipment, well-fitted, not baggy pants and shirts; long hair tied back
  • No rings or dangling jewelry that can catch on equipment

When working around and caring for your horse (not riding) your personal protection equipment should include:

Sturdy, leather, hard-toed boots or shoes; be sure to remove spurs when you are not mounted because they can trip you Latex or rubber gloves protect hands from infectious organisms while grooming and washing your horse Safety glasses to protect your eyes from hair clippings, dirt, and grooming products. When working in bright sunlight, try tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays. Ear plugs protect your ears when using motorized equipment, such as the clippers or blower and when working in an enclosed area where noises are loud. Frequent hand washing with soap protects your skin when you work with your horse. Animals can easily spread disease to humans. Frequent contact with the animal’s hide, dander, and feces – especially from washing, grooming, and cleaning tasks – creates an opportunity for disease to pass from your horse to you.

Learn first aid and keep a first aid kit in your tack box and in the barn or building where you stall your horse.

Do I Really Need Protection? – How You Can Be Hurt Working with Horses

The horse gets frightened and runs, jumps, or kicks – while you are mounted or dismounted. You can be thrown or fall from the horse while mounted. The horse may bite you. You can get kicked, stepped on, or tripped while leading, moving, feeding, or grooming your horse. You can slip, trip, or fall over things left laying around, on a slick walkway, in a stall, or on an uneven surface (such as sand in the show ring or uneven surfaces). You can get a rope burn from the lead rope. Your fingers can get pinched in a gate latch; you can be poked by a wire, the blades on the clippers, or teeth of a grooming comb. You can strain muscles in your arms, legs, or back by carrying heavy tack boxes or buckets of feed. Frequent washing and grooming can cause muscle strains from frequently repeated movements, as in the up and down, back and forth of clipping and combing.

Try This!

Practice safe lifting and carrying to protect your back. Here’s how:

  1. Stand close to object to be lifted, such as the tack box or a bucket of feed;
  2. Spread your feet wide enough to straddle the object;
  3. Squat, bending your knees and hips;
  4. Keep your head up and your back straight;
  5. Hold in your stomach muscles;
  6. Lift using your leg muscles;
  7. Keep the load close to your body with a firm grip;
  8. Turn your feet, not your back, in the direction you are going

Did You Know?

Ergonomists (scientists who study human body function) say the three worst problems for agriculture are: full body stoop (bending forward and down from the waist, as when picking up feed bags, buckets, or show boxes); lifting/moving heavy objects (greater than 15% of body weight, i.e. feed bags, tack boxes, pulling on a horse’s lead rope); and repetitive handwork (as when you are washing and grooming).

You are more likely to hurt your back when:

Lifting more than 15% of your body weight Carrying a load more than 10-15 yards Use wheels to help carry loads; such as a wheeled dolly, a feed cart, a wheel barrow, wheeled utility cart, or tack box with wheels.

Discussion Questions

With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your horse.


How did you feel the first time you worked with your horse? What do you wear when feeding or grooming your horse and why? What do you wear when riding your horse and why?


How can you be injured when working with your horse? Describe how you keep yourself and people helping you safe while working with your horse? How do you determine how much you can safely carry without hurting your back?
Hint: 15 % of your body weight is the most you should lift.
________ X 0.15 = ______________
Example: 100 lbs. X 0.15 = 15 pounds


Why is personal protection important? What other activities do you participate in that require you to protect yourself and how do you protect yourself?


How can you use what you’ve learned in this lesson to help you with other activities?

GO ON TO HORSE SAFETY LESSON 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Horse

Youth and trainers for horse fair/showing