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Horse training fatality

In October 2020, a self-employed horse trainer died whilst handling a horse at his rural property. It appears the man was using a trotting buggy when something may have 'spooked' the horse. As a result, the veteran trainer was catapulted from the sulky hitting a termite mound suffering fatal injuries.

Training and handling horses is complex

Horses have the strength, speed and ability to cause injury, and as such, activities around them are never without risk. People must also consider their own limitations (strength, age, experience) around horses. The risk of horses moving in an uncontrolled or unexpected manner must be managed by ensuring appropriate controls are put in place.

The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks associated with the movement of horses. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process and involves four steps, including: identifying hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks and reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective.

Hazards can interact together, and this usually elevates risk. For example, in normal circumstances a horse might be calm and not pose serious risk to an experienced rider. However, when ridden by a beginner on a windy day, the horse might be more unpredictable and the risk to the rider may be significant. (Source – Safe Work Australia).

Once risks have been assessed, control measures need to be put in place. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy to choose the controls that most effectively eliminate or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks.

Risks can be minimised by implementing one or more of the following:


Substitute the hazard with something safer.

For example, ensuring horses are fit for purpose.

  • the horse provided for a rider's use (worker, trainee or client) should be suitable and safe for that person, taking into account age, size, experience, general riding ability and any known limitations of the rider. Riders should be given information about the horse's character and behaviour.
  • the person riding horses should be familiar with the behavioural and physical characteristics of the horses.

Engineering controls

This includes modifications to any equipment.

For example:

  • ensure equipment including but not limited to saddles, stirrup leathers, stirrup irons, bridles and bits should be regularly checked, adjusted for fit, be well maintained and suitable to the task.

Administrative controls

If any risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls.

For example:

  • checking the route for identifiable hazards before riding out
  • horses must initially be ridden in a safe enclosed area to confirm they are suitable for the main task ahead
  • ensuring workers and others receive a workplace induction. Inductions should provide information including but not limited to: horse instincts and their response to fear; how to behave around horses; determining an escape route; how to recognise a horse’s individual characteristics; what riders and horse handlers should wear; first aid and emergency procedures. (Source – Safe Work Australia)
  • developing clear, simple and effective safe work procedures that can play an important part in helping people interact with horses safely. These procedures should be developed in consultation with others at the workplace, delivered and enforced. For example: approaching a horse correctly and how to avoid kicking zones; accessing and working around a horse in a stable or enclosed area; tying up horses; working with young and/or unbroken horses.(Source – Safe Work Australia)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment.

For example:

  • The PCBU should undertake a risk assessment to determine the requirement of suitable head wear. If a helmet is required, it must meet the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 3838. Helmets should be replaced according to the manufacturer's recommendations and if aged over 5 years. A competent person should check any damaged or dropped helmets and any damaged helmets must be discarded and replaced
  • suitable footwear should be worn by riders, horse handlers and stable hands. Riders should wear riding boots that have a small heel to prevent slipping through the stirrup iron
  • wearing comfortable clothing suitable for riding that offers sun protection including a hat. Loose clothing, jewellery, and accessories should be secured

Control measures should be reviewed regularly to make sure they are still effective. Common review methods include workplace inspections, as well as consultation with workers and volunteers.

If any issues are identified, revisit the risk management process and then make further decisions about control measures.

More Information

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