Child Safety With Horses and Ponies
I got my first pony when I was eight years old. It was a surprise Christmas gift and turned out to be my best childhood Christmas. When I was twelve, I got a horse for Christmas. I’ve had horses all my life up until the last few years, and my kids grew up riding. That’s before most folks used riding helmets. When I gave my granddaughter a pony for her sixth birthday, however, I made sure she had a riding helmet to go with her other equipment. Seems I was more concerned with child safety as I aged.
For those of you who are familiar with equines, you don’t need to read this article. This information is more for people who aren’t used to being around horses and don’t understand how equines think and behave. For these people who might be buying a first horse or pony for their kids, I’m providing some tips. Hope you enjoy the pictures! Some of them are of my kids and grandkids and their mounts.
Horses have powerful jaws—they have to in order to grind dried corn and other grains. That’s all fine and good until the jaws and teeth are used on you or on a child. A horse bite is usually very painful. I still have a scar on my left arm where one of our cow horses took out a plug of flesh. She had injured her head at the time, but I didn’t know it. It was dark, so I couldn’t see the injury. As I went to grab her halter, she bit me.
- Some horses are biters, but there are ways you can turn a non-biting one into a biter. Of course, you don’t want to do this. Don’t tease when you’re giving it a treat. Like offering it and then pulling the treat away. Also, unless you know them, it’s better to give larger treats like carrots and apples. Don’t keep small treats in your pocket, either. The horse or pony will smell them and investigate with its mouth.
- Whenever you need to reach for the animal's head, do so gently. Making sudden movements might alarm them, and if that happens, the equine might bite as a defense mechanism.
A kick can be serious! Equines have some powerful hindquarters, and when they’re used on you— ouch! Even a gentle, well trained horse will sometimes kick when frightened.
- It’s best not to approach a horse or pony from the rear. But if you do, make sure the horse knows you’re there.
- Speak to it in a low, calm voice before you get into kicking range.
- If you have more than one, or if your horse is in with other horses, be careful at feeding time when the horses are eating as a group. Horses and ponies can get pretty possessive of their chow. This isn’t usually directed at humans, but you can easily get caught in between two or more angry equines.
- If yours is stabled with other equines, feed it separately. Take the horse to a stall or outside the fence that encloses the rest of the herd.
Please consider riding helmets carefully! I used to scoff at them, thinking they were for “wusses.” When my grandkids began riding, however, I changed my tune. When I was two years old, I received a head injury that required ten stitches, thanks to falling from a horse. When I was twelve or thirteen, I got a fractured skull from falling off during a race. The same thing happened to my middle daughter when she was about the same age. Even worse, she had amnesia for a day or so. Scary!
A riding helmet will go a long way in protecting your child’s noggin. The proper riding gear is paramount.
Riding Safety Tips
- Don’t allow your son or daughter to take off for trail riding until you’ve gotten to know the equine and until your child has adequate riding skills. Hopefully, he’s taken plenty of riding lessons.
- It’s best for kids to always ride with a buddy. Horses are unpredictable—even well trained mounts, and riding them can sometimes be dangerous. You never know what might happen on the trail. The steed could get spooked, it could fall, or it could buck or rear. If your child is all alone when this happens, things could turn deadly.
- It’s also a good idea to send the kids out with a cell phone. Also, make sure you know where they’ll be trail riding and what time to expect them back.
- Please, teach your child to never run the horse back to the barn! My riding pals and I learned this the hard way. The equine will become “barn sour,” which can become a dangerous situation. Some barn-sour horses will run pell-mell for the barn, with no other thought than to get home to rest, relaxation, food, and its buddies. In such a case, the mount will be extremely difficult for the child to control, and child safety will go out the proverbial window.
School Your Kids!
Before turning your child loose on or around equines, please review basic safety with them. Horses and horseback riding are awesome! There are, however, pitfalls and inherent dangers. Horses and ponies are incredibly strong, and they can easily overpower a child. And as I’ve already mentioned, equines can be very unpredictable.
By addressing safety and issues from the start, your kid will be well on his way to having a safe, enjoyable experience.