Youth Livestock Safety - 2 - Horse Safety: Behavior Basics

Horse Safety Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Horse

To work safely with your horse, you should have a basic understanding of horse behavior.

A horse’s behavior is determined by many factors including breeding, upbringing, feeding, health care, training, and gender. Always treat your horse with respect, patience, and understanding. A horse learns by repetition so it is important to be consistent with commands and to immediately reward your horse when it responds correctly or to immediately correct it when it responds incorrectly to a command. Discipline the horse firmly, but without anger. Watch your horse’s ear radar. Its ears will point in the direction its attention is focused. Ears that are flattened back warn you the horse is getting ready to kick or bite. Horses detect danger through their senses – vision, smell, and hearing. Horses have wide angle vision with blind spots directly in front of and below their nose, and behind their tail. A horse will lift its head and prick its ears when focusing on something far away. It will lower its head when focusing on close objects. Horses respond to calm deliberate movements with calm behavior. Nervous handlers can make horses nervous, creating unsafe situations. Approach your horse carefully, speaking to it to get its attention and waiting until it turns and faces you before entering an enclosed space, like a stall. Quick movements startle a horse, so speak and keep your hands on it when moving around the horse. Horses have a well-developed sense of touch. Its eyes, ears, and nose are the most sensitive, followed by withers, flanks, ribs, and legs. When approaching a horse from behind, come in at an angle speaking to it. Gently touch the hindquarters as you pass. Do not tease, mistreat, or encourage bad behavior. It may become a lifelong habit for the horse. When you understand how your horse might act in different situations, you can use that understanding to help make horse shows safer for everyone – exhibitors as well as people who are watching the show.

Keeping your horse calm is a good start. Other strategies to keep in mind at the show include:

  • Be aware of where others are at the show – the general public (in the stands and walking around) and other exhibitors.
  • Move slowly to and from the show ring with your horse. When you become excited or in a hurry, your horse will sense the change in your behavior, which might scare it. Remember that fear causes an animal to run away. When a horse cannot run it defends itself by biting or kicking.
  • Horses have a strong desire to be with other horses. Sometimes a horse will become agitated when separated from other horses and may not respond to commands.
  • Get to know your horse’s behavior patterns and help it adjust to its new surroundings.
  • Do the best you can to keep away from crowded areas while leading or riding your horse to and from the show arena. Many people do not understand how easy it is to scare an animal, because they usually look so calm.
  • Practice, practice, practice show day activities – at home and again when you get to the show.Practice leading and riding to the show ring; leading and riding in the ring; tying and untying at the stall; leading to and from the stall; opening and closing gates; washing and grooming chores. Your horse will be much more comfortable doing activities it has practiced before and it will be less likely to be scared of the show ring if it’s been in there before the show.

Discussion Questions

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


What behavior characteristics did you look for when you bought or selected your 4-H horse? How did your horse act the day you bought it or handled it for the first time? How did it act the first time you led it on halter; the first time you rode it? How did you feel the first time you led it; the first time you rode it?


How does your behavior affect the way your horse behaves? How does its environment affect the way your horse behaves?


Why is it important to practice showing your horse? What can you do to make sure your horse is ready for a show?


List some ways you can you show others what you’ve learned about animal behavior?

GO ON TO HORSE SAFETY LESSON 3: Facilities and Equipment

Youth and trainers for horse fair/showing