Keep a safe distance! ~ photo by Trevor Woerner

Allison Wood adopts and retrains off the track thoroughbreds (she rides Bob and Lurch and sold Colby to HJU blogger Carrie). Today, she has a public service announcement for us. Thank you Allison!

Keep a safe distance, please!

I hope you will allow me to vent and if you take the time to read this I hope it will help remind you of some simple rules which will keep you and your horse safe.

The first time I took Lurch cross country schooling, another girl and her pony were having trouble over a ditch.  A couple other people used their horses as ‘wings’ on either side to help encourage the pony over the ditch and not to avoid it by jumping to one side or the other.

On one attempt, he managed to squeeze between the ditch and the ‘wing’ and headed towards Lurch and I who were standing uphill out of the way.  Even though the pony was only headed in our general direction and wasn’t coming right at us, Lurch reared up, pinned his ears, bared his teeth and struck out with his front legs. No exaggeration, he went full out Zorro (or war horse?) on poor little Hugs the pony.  That was the first indication that Lurch does not play well with others.

For the most part, when my boss and I think back on what his behaviour was like at shows last year, we think he is improving.  But he is still not comfortable with other horses in his personal space.  This is especially true if they are approaching head on and passing too close left to left.  And if two horses are approaching us on either side at the same time, forget it.  Usually, he simply jumps sideways or tries to back up or run the other way.

On one level, I find it funny that horses are said to have a fight or flight instinct and yet Lurch invokes both at the same time.  As he is trying to escape he is also turning his hind end in position to kick out if need be.  Mostly I just find it frustrating.  Frustrating that I am trying to keep a safe distance and others are not, frustrating that my horse is giving very obvious signs that he is not happy with your close proximity and you ignore them or smile or laugh at them, frustrating that you keep putting yourself in a situation where you could cause serious harm to you or your horse and you are clueless.  Where did common sense and common courtesy go?  If I saw another horse behaving like this one, I would stay as far away as possible and yet I continue to be amazed at how close others come.  It isn’t just other riders either, it is spectators and their dogs, coaches etc.

I owned a mare for a very long time that ‘threatened’ to kick often enough that I was always careful to keep her hind end away from potential targets.  But I cannot always avoid people who are doing the right thing and passing left to left just a bit too close.  Basic horsemanship 101, one of the first things you should learn when starting to work around horses is to be careful approaching their hind ends.  This is not only about avoiding a horse’s hind end, it is keeping a safe distance in general.  At this time of year when many people will be riding in indoor arenas, please keep this in mind.  Be safe people!

Did instructors stop teaching their students to keep at least one horse length between themselves and others?  Or have we become too complacent?  Do you assume because you are at a show or in a group lesson or that the horse does not have a red ribbon in its tail that it will not hurt you?  Would you attempt to pet a dog when its snarling and barring its teeth at you?  You have heard of defensive driving right?  On the road it doesn’t matter if you are obeying all the traffic signs, speed limits and rules, some idiot can still cause an accident.

Take advantage of the crowded indoor arena this winter to practise LOOKing WHERE YOU ARE GOING instead of looking at your horse.

  • Speak up when you are doing something that requires you to pass others and it is not the traditional left to left.  Be aware of others around you and what they are doing.
  • Be aware of the horse’s body language, that is how they communicate!
  • Don’t park your horse with its butt facing the arena wall within kicking distance of anyone trying to ride by.
  • Don’t slow down or stop suddenly when there is someone behind you.
  • Ride with your eyes open, brains in gear, thinking and planning ahead.

I could go on and on but you get the idea I hope.