Let’s face it: Horses are large, powerful and potentially dangerous. But if you understand equine behavior—and learn to “think like a horse”—you'll spend less time nursing bruises and broken bones.
Why the worry? Horses are endowed with an uncanny awareness of their surroundings. They startle easily and will flee from a perceived predator—or, if cornered, lash out with teeth and hooves. Because they’re herd animals, they'll seek safety in numbers. When one reacts to a threat (whether real or bogus), others generally follow suit. Indeed, in the horse world, a totally harmless object can morph into a Horse Eating Monster overnight.
Here are some rules to remember:
Approach Horses Carefully. Speak first and move toward him from the side, touching him on the neck or shoulder. Steer clear of his hind end and his blind spots. The term "cow kick" is a misnomer.
Don’t Get Caught in the Middle. When catching a horse, skip the grain or treats. Treats can spark a fight between pasturemates.
Lead a horse right. Use a lead rope attached to the halter and fold the excess rope in your hand (not around your hand). Avoid leading your horse within reach of other horses, who might be tempted to take a bite.
Never tie a horse with reins. Use a rope with a quick-release knot or a breakaway string on the end. Tie the rope level with the horse's head, ensuring that it’s no longer than your arm (because a tangled-up horse is an unhappy horse).
Groom carefully. When grooming, remember those blind spots and that kicking zone. Go easy around the ticklish belly, and beware carelessly placed hooves (broken toes, anyone?) When bandaging or applying hoof dressing, squat instead of kneeling (or, heaven forbid, sitting). And always be ready to skedaddle, if necessary.
Pre-Ride Tack Check. Before tacking up, ensure that your saddle and bridle are still properly stitched together. Warm the bit in your hand before bridling (yep, metal is cold), and tighten the girth or cinch gradually. A girth that's too loose can cause a fall, but one that's too tight can hurt the horse and cause him to nip or kick.
Helmets save lives. Before mounting, don your safety helmet and proper footwear. Mount in an area with ample overhead clearance, because a helmet can only protect you so much. As you swing slowly into the saddle, keep one hand on both reins to prevent your horse from moving off or turning around to ... you guessed it: bite you.
Finally, be observant and use common (horse) sense.