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Marissa Raymo will discuss everything about horses, including horse health care tips, training tips, equestrian friendly trails, horse buying info and much more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

By Special Request ~ Approaching a Horse

One of the questions I'm often asked by my non-horse friends is "What is the best way to approach a horse?" Whether you have Hippophobia, the fear of horses, or just want to learn how to respect the space of that 1000 plus pound animal, the first step in equine safety is learning to approach.

So today we'll go over the ground basics of horse safety.

Horses will begin picking up non-verbal cues through your body language long before you get within reach, so its important to know what those signals mean to ensure that you aren't giving them the wrong idea about your intentions. 

For example, looking a horse hard in the eyes can be interpreted as an aggressive approach, and may result in the horse fleeing or worse - trying to defend itself. But that doesn't mean you can never look a horse in the eye. You should focus more on approaching the horse slowly and with a soft confidence to let the horse know that you mean no harm.

Also, it can be tempting to approach with an outstretched hand to pet the horse's soft, fuzzy muzzle. Some horses are headshy, and may act out when approached at the face. Or worse yet, your fingers could be mistaken for a treat. Instead, you should first approach with your hands to your sides, and once you are sure the horse is aware of your presence and not showing signs of fear or aggression, pet the horse's neck or shoulder first.

Another important key to horse safety is knowing what the horse's body language means. In the image to the right, the left horse is displaying several aggressive cues to warn the horse on the right to step away. With ears pinned back to his head and eyes and nostrils flared, this is a clear cue to stay away. And though the horse on the right also has his ears turned back, his body language is displaying an awareness, not aggression. Other signs of aggression are teeth grinding, tail twitching, hoof stomping and curling up the rear leg to kick.
It’s also important to know that horses have two main blind spots – one directly in front of their nose and the other directly behind them. Check out this diagram of horse blind spots from Michigan State University for more information. When dealing with a horse, it is important to avoid those blind spots to keep from surprising the horse and causing an unexpected "flight" reaction.

Check out this article from the National Ag Safety Database for more information on horse safety.



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