Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University, Alabama 36849-5612

Agriculture & Natural Resources


Cindy McCall, Ph.D.
Extension Horse Specialist, Auburn University

Horses have earned a reputation for finding ways to injure themselves. Seemingly harmless situations often can be disastrous to horses because of their natural tendency to flee from danger (either real or perceived), their strength and their high mobility. There are many safety precautions that horse handlers can take to reduce the possibility of injuries to their horse. Many of these precautions are common sense rules that handlers disregard momentarily, exposing the horse to danger. This information sheet contains a few tips for reducing accidents to horses. Rider safety tips were discussed in a previous timely information sheet (Horseback Riding Safety Tips, H19-0395CM) and trailering safety and horse handling safety will be discussed in future information sheets.

  1. Never turn the horse out or leave the horse in the stall with its halter on. The horse easily could catch its halter on something resulting in injury or a broken neck. Young foals particularly are vulnerable to halter-induced injury because they are very curious and active. Broodmares with young foals should not be haltered while pastured or in the stall to prevent the foal from becoming entangled in its dam’s halter while playing around her head. If a horse must wear a halter because it is difficult to catch, use an old, leather halter that the horse can break easily or a specially designed “break-away” safety halter.
  2. Always have a halter and lead for each horse within easy reach of their stall or pasture. This allows you to move horses quickly into or out of an area in an emergency such as a fire or flood. Have an emergency plan and a place to tie, hold or evacuate horses to during an emergency. Let your neighbors know how to reach you during an emergency and what your basic emergency plan is (for example, run loose horses into any fenced area except the stallion’s paddock). Post emergency numbers, your veterinarian’s name and number and clear directions to your barn by the phone or where they are easily accessible if you do not have a phone in your barn.
  3. Keep equipment on the horse properly fastened. An unbuckled noseband or throat latch can seriously damage the horse’s eye if it shakes its head. English stirrups should always be run up the stirrup leather and secured when you are not on the horse because these light weight stirrups easily can catch in a fence or gate as you are leading the horse, or catch in the horse’s mouth or hind foot if it is scratching itself. Likewise slim, lightweight oxbow-type western stirrups should be thrown over the seat of the saddle if you dismount. Always fasten the front cinch before the back cinch on a western saddle and unfasten the back cinch first when unsaddling. If you use a breast collar, attach it after the saddle is secure and remove it before unsaddling. These procedures will prevent the saddle from slipping under the horse’s belly and spooking the horse if it moves suddenly during saddling or unsaddling.
  4. Never tie the horse up with the reins. If the horse pulls back it can damage its mouth and break your reins in the process. When tying the horse always use a sturdy halter and lead and tie with a quick release knot. The tie knot should be at or above the horse’s eye level so that the horse cannot get much leverage if it pulls back while tied. This prevents the horse from breaking free easily and may prevent it from breaking its neck. Keep the tie line fairly short – usually two feet is sufficient for the horse to comfortably move its head without getting its legs entangled in the line. When tying the horse, make sure that your tying area is free from hazards that the horse could bump into while tied and make sure that the horse is not tied to anything that it can move. Even quiet horses may panic when they find an object attached to their halter is “chasing” them. Many horses have been seriously injured when tied to moveable or breakable objects such as cinder blocks, automobile door handles, a unhitched two-horse trailer or stall doors.
  5. Keep pastures and turn-out areas safe. Use safe fencing materials. Fences should be constructed of a strong material that is highly visible to horses. Board fences, V-mesh wire fences with a board along the top, metal pipe fences , PVC and flexible vinyl fences generally are considered safe for horses. High tensile smooth wire is a relatively safe and economical fence when its visibility is improved by either plastic tie ribbons or a strand of white, electrified tape run down the fence line. Post and rail, split rail and stone fences are not recommended for horses because horses can knock down these fences easily by leaning on them. Barbed wire definitely is not recommended for horses. If horses must be kept in a barbed wire enclosure, white, electrified tape can be used to increase the visibility of the fence and teach horses to keep away from the fence. Using a highly visible electric tape along the inside of any fence is a good safety practice and can allow horse owners to utilize poor fencing until “horse” fencing can be installed.

    Pastures should be routinely inspected for dangerous conditions such as low overhanging tree branches, holes, poisonous plants (ACES circular ANR 975, “Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States” is an excellent guide to poisonous plants) and trash. Horse owners should avoid overgrazing pastures to reduce the incidence of sand colic and ingestion of poisonous plants by horses. Never leave buckets in the pasture. A horse can step between the handle and the bucket and panic when it realizes the bucket is attached to its foot.

  6. Make sure that gates and doorways are wide enough for the horse to pass through without hitting its side or hips. A horse which frequently hits its body going through openings often begins to hurry through openings; thus, increasing the chance of injury. Gate and stall latches should be opened completely so that the horse does not cut itself on a protruding latch when passing through the opening.
  7. Turn horses out into new areas when there are plenty of daylight hours for the horses to explore the pasture and find the fenceline. This also gives the owner a good chance to observe the horses in their new surroundings. Walking horses around the perimeter of the fence before turning them loose in a new area is also a good safety precaution. Gradually introduce new horses to an established herd. Separating the new horses from the herd over a safe fence or pairing the new horses with a few submissive horses from the herd in a separate pasture for a few days will reduce fighting when the new horse is introduced into the herd. Similarly, use care when separating horses that are used to being together so that they do not panic and run through fences or attempt to jump fences trying to get back together.
  8. Keep feed rooms off limits to horses. Feed room doors should have a latch which requires two separate movements of the human hand to open so that horses cannot open them easily. If possible, have the feed room entrance outside the paddock or stall area.
    These are just a few safety considerations that fit into most horse facilities and management schemes. Individual facilities may find many additional safety procedures that fit their situation. There will always be unexpected accidents to horses, but following proper safety precautions can reduce the occurrence of careless accidents to horses.