January is Baby Safety month; what better time to review tips for keeping the littlest cowboys (and cowgirls) safe and secure as they enjoy their first horseback adventures?
Before we move into safe riding advice, let’s start with ground safety; make sure little ones understand that they must be extra careful when walking around horses. There are some essential do and don't lessons that kids should comprehend right away;
Don't get kicked. Horses do kick. They cannot see directly behind them. If something is behind them, they are likely to become startled and kick out. A hard, well-place kick can be very damaging to an adult. To a small child, it can be deadly. No need to be paranoid, but do be aware.
Don't get stepped on. Walking or crawling underneath a horse is never okay. This is extremely dangerous.
Don't get run over. No one (of any age) should ever walk directly in front of a horse. Walking in front of a horse is an excellent way to get run over. Being run over by an animal that weighs 800+ pounds is not an enjoyable experience.
Do be in the safest place. Walking next to the horse’s shoulder is generally the safest place to be. While they may send their handler flying to the side if they shy and leap laterally, it’s less likely that anyone will be trampled from this position.
Find the safest horse. Before we put baby on board, remember that little kids need very safe and very experienced horses. The size of the horse isn’t as important as its calm demeanor, reliable training and trustworthy sensibilities.
A horse that has not had ample professional training and has proven to be tolerant of, and gentle with, beginners is NOT suitable for a child. The idea that a youngster and a young, green horse can “learn together” is both stupid and dangerous.
Heads up for safety! Helmets are highly recommended. Most responsible stables ask that they be worn by riders under the age of 18 (some facilities implement rules for all, children and adults alike). 4H now requires that all participants put on an approved horse-riding helmet. Make sure the helmet is designed for horseback riding, that it fits (not too tight but certainly not too large) and that it is adjusted properly. You can find affordable models in fun colors at most tack shops or online.
Learn from safety-conscious teachers. Riding lessons with a truly experienced trainer of good repute are always a great idea. Talk to other knowledgeable parents. Check out riding facilities and watch an instructor’s lessons before you put your baby in their hands.
Observe safe practices. Do people in the arena have out-of-control horses on a lunge line while lessons are in progress? Are horses loose in the arena? Look for kids riding double on a bareback horse or galloping around without head protection. These are all unsafe behaviors that may well endanger your kids; leave immediately and seek out a barn that is more responsible and safety-conscious.
Horseback experiences that are kept safe are both fun and confidence-building. Focus on safety to create a lasting foundation of equine enjoyment for your little ones!