Today I bring you an article-posting from DVM Dr. Blair Lybbert. The topic: Defensive Horsemanship.
“Defensive horsemanship” is all about anticipating potential problems, then taking steps to prevent those problems from happening. Despite our best effort, horses manage to get themselves into trouble. This trouble can hurt people or animals. There is also the damage to property to think about and the inconvenience of dealing with the situations. These are all good reasons to evaluate how “defensive” you are. First, think about the horse’s instincts. They are a prey animal, therefore their primary instinct is to get away from what they perceive as threatening. When a horse spooks, are becomes trapped, they just want to get away. They will run into, bolt through, or pull against whatever obstacle they encounter. Therefore, be aware of potential hazards in a horse’s immediate surroundings that could become a problem if he becomes spooked. Second, develop a consistent, trusting relationship so that you can hopefully suppress some of those potentially harmful instincts. A large part of this relationship is ensuring that your horse respects you at all times. Getting your horse to respond the first time you say “whoa” or pull back on the reins could save his life or yours. A horse that crowds you on the ground will have no problem running over you if scared. Third, be on your guard at all times. Many accidents happen when we become casual. The mentality of “it won’t happen to me”, or “I don’t need to change how I do things; nothing bad has ever happened before” are harmful and will eventually lead to problems. Remember, that horses always find a way to hurt themselves – so be watching.
Here are some examples of how NOT to think:
1. It is easier if I leave my horse’s halter on all the time. It won’t snag on anything.
2. I’ll tie my horse to the trailer with a long line so that he can graze. He won’t catch his rope on anything or get his leg over the rope.
3. That wire has been loose for a long time. My horse knows where it is and won’t get caught in it.
4. I can lead my yearling past the wheel barrow, over the ditch, and through that brush without any problems. He is a calm type of horse.
5. I’ll just ride by two year-old next to the busy highway, rather than trailering him to the neighbors.
6. I don’t know any of these other horse, but I’ll turn my gelding out with them anyways. Nothing bad will happen.
7. My teenaged daughter can ride your green colt. She has a good seat and balance so nothing will happen to them.
8. It isn’t breeding season, so I’ll just put this mare across the fence from those young studs. She’s not in heat, so they’ll be fine.
9. It is easier to tie my horse to this low rail, than to find a whithers-high place to tie him. He has never pulled back before.
10. Leaving the straps on his blanket extra long makes it easier to do them up. It is pretty unlikely he will get them caught on anything.
There are so many scenarios. Accidents can be prevented. Please take the time to assess you, your horse, and your set up.
*NOTE on HALTERS*: Halters should only be left on under very specific situations. The stall/paddock/pasture should be free of anything a halter can get caught on. The halter should fit properly and ideally be designed to break if it does get caught. The only time I EVER recommend a halter be left on is when the horse isn't trained enough to be approached for haltering. (There are many that fit into this category at rescues.) A long lead rope left dragging is key. If there is no lead rope, then leaving the halter on is pointless. Focused training to get the horse quiet enough for haltering should be a priority. Within a few days or weeks the halter can be removed. A horse that can't be approached or haltered is problematic for many reasons. Of course, any time a halter is left on, the horse needs to be checked frequently to ensure that no injuries have occurred. Hope that helps. Dr. Blair Lybbert DVM
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