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Better Safe than Sorry

Your Safety Horse Checklist in Preparation for Safety Riding & Teaching

Horse Safety – The Gear Check

Checking the saddlery and equipment (a.k.a gear check) for horse safety and comfort as well as preparation for the rider for comfort and safety riding. This means physically checking the student (and horse if it is a mounted lesson) to ensure it is safe and appropriate for the lesson and of the correct fit and comfortable.

It is essential that you are thorough in performing the gear check as a failure to recognise unsuitable or incorrect gear may result in you being liable should an incident occur as a result of unsuitable or incorrect gear being used.

If you have saddled the horse then you should be checking these items as you put them on the horse and you should re-check the girth prior to mounting a rider. If you are unfamiliar with the horse you need to ask the rider if it is safe to approach the horse before you do so:-

“Is it safe to approach your horse?” If it is ok then you can proceed with the gear check, if it is not safe to approach then you should get the rider to dismount before proceeding.

Gear that is frayed, torn or damaged poses the risk of breaking while it is being used and should be replaced. Your safety is also important so take care when checking the bridle and the girth of horses you are unfamilar with. When checking the girth you again need to ask the rider if it is safe to do so (this is only for unfamiliar horses as it would be pointless to ask the novice rider if it was safe to check the girth of a school horse as it would be unlikely they would know. For information into the habits of school horses you should check with horse records):

“Is it safe to check your girth?”

If it is safe then proceed to check the girth. Position yourself where you can keep an eye on the horses’ head and the closest hind leg.

There should be two centimetres or one inch of clearance between the riders foot and the stirrup. Check where the stirrup rests on the end of the leather as this spot often becomes worn thin. If the saddle is positioned incorrectly the rider will need to dismount, unbuckle the girth and correct it. To check the fit of the saddle you should be able to fit three fingers (vertical) between the wither of the horse and the pommel of the saddle. You need to do a gear check on both sides of the horse. Never walk around behind the horse during a gear check.

If the rider has their own helmet you need to ask them if the helmet is of the current standard (Check your own country for their regulations) and if it is under five years old. If they are unsure they must dismount to check.  Sunglasses should be shatter-proof so that if the rider falls off they will not break and injure the wearers eye.

The following items will need to be checked for safety and comfort before your student safely mounts their horse:-

  • fit and positioning of the bit
  • fit of the noseband, throatlatch and browband
  • stitching on the bridle including the reins, noseband and cheek pieces
  • check the reins for fraying, tears and damage
  • the position of the saddle on the horse i.e., too far back, too far forward etc
  • the fit of the saddle on the horse
  • the fit of the saddle for the rider
  • the positioning of the saddle over the saddle cloth
  • the stitching on the girth points
  • the condition of the girth i.e., wear, damage, cleanliness
  • the stitching on the stirrup leathers
  • the stirrup leathers for wear, tear or damage
  • the width of the stirrup in comparision to the riders foot
  • the fit and standard of the riders helmet
  • the rider/student attire
  • if the rider is wearing sunglasses they need to be shatter-proof

By the time you are an instructor, you should be aware of rider and horse safety at all times. Going through this checklist is a great place to start at the beginning of the lesson for safety riding. Remember that when you are considering riding safety, horse and rider are both high priorities but the rider safety must come first.