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Horse handling

Horses have the strength, speed and ability to cause injury if they're not handled properly.

You need to consider your limitations around horses and avoid riding horses which are likely to exploit those limitations.

When horse riding:

  • wear leather soled riding boots, jeans, jodhpurs or long trousers, and a safety approved riding helmet
  • use whips, spurs, breastplates and running rings
  • ensure bridles, bits, saddles and girths are kept in good repair and fit the horse comfortably
  • keep the stirrup leathers, girth straps and surcingles well oiled and checked regularly
  • choose strong stirrup irons and the appropriate size that allows the foot to slip in and out freely without allowing it to be forced completely through
  • keep saddle cloths free from burrs and other foreign material
  • be aware that horses vary in conformation, temperament, ability and levels of training. Some require breastplates or cruppers to keep the saddle in place and running rings, nosebands or headchecks to keep their head and neck in a position for easy control.

Other practices that need to be considered:

  • Riders need to be careful when galloping close to a beast. It is extremely dangerous to allow the horse to touch a beast behind the point of the shoulder. The horse can fall by touching the beast's hind legs or from the beast turning completely under the horse's neck.
  • Be careful riding under gate caps in stock yards. Some are too low for horse and rider to pass under safely.
  • Take extra care when riding in slippery or boggy conditions.
  • Match riders to horses that are within riders handling capabilities.
  • Only tolerate a bucking or bolting horse during the breaking-in and early stages of training.
  • If a horse is likely to buck, it is best to saddle it and give it some exercise prior to mounting. This can be done by lunging or leading it from another horse. The horse can then be mounted and ridden in a small yard before being ridden in an unconfined area.
  • If a horse is likely to bolt it should be ridden in a yard first. If it bolts in an unconfined area, gradually circle the horse by applying pressure to one rein until the horse is under control.
  • Always remain alert and in a position of control whilst mounted. Only adjust equipment from the ground.

Safety when riding

Safety information for riders

Horse riding can be dangerous. Horses are capable of acting independently and can cause:

  • head and spinal injuries
  • fractures of arms and legs
  • death.

Injuries can happen by being:

  • thrown or falling from the horse
  • crushed by the horse
  • kicked by the horse.

Visitors should not interfere with riders, horses or equipment.

Matching horse and rider

  • Riders should be evaluated to decide if they are a beginner, medium or competent rider.
  • A suitably qualified and experienced person, for example the instructor or head guide, should choose a horse or pony which suits the age, size, experience, riding ability and any known disability or limitation of the rider.
  • Match the horse to the riding task.

Riding equipment

Rider safety can be compromised by the use of damaged or incorrectly fitted riding equipment, or tack.

Saddles, stirrup leathers, stirrup irons, bridles and bits should be regularly checked, adjusted for fit and be well maintained. Horse sweat rots stitching and leather, so all tack should be kept clean and supple.

Personal protective equipment

Both riders and horses should use personal protective equipment. For example, horses may need breastplates and cruppers in steep country.

Riders and handlers should wear a correctly adjusted and fitted helmet which meets the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 3838 Helmets for horse riding and horse related activities. Helmets should be replaced according to the manufacturer's recommendations. A competent person should check any damaged or dropped helmets.

Suitable footwear should be worn by riders, horse handlers and stable hands. Riders should preferably wear riding boots.

Riders should wear comfortable clothing including long trousers and a shirt which covers the arms and shoulders. Loose clothing should be secured and jewellery should not be worn.

Riding gloves can protect hands and prevent rings from being caught in the horse's mane.

Road safety

Horses can be easily frightened by motor vehicles and care should be taken when crossing or riding on a road. Only horses that are trained in traffic should be allowed on the road, especially if being ridden by an inexperienced rider.

Groups should be kept small, no more than five or six, and organised so that:

  • the least experienced riders are on the quietest horses
  • riders with least experience are in the middle of the ride
  • young or nervous horses are positioned on the inside of an older experienced horse
  • never ride more than two abreast
  • experienced riders are always at the front and rear of the ride.

When riding on a road be aware of the following:

  • all riders and horses should be checked in an enclosed area before going onto a road, with practice exercises such as:
    • how to queue up while a gate is opened or closed
    • how to cross a road
    • what to do in case someone needs to dismount
    • how to respond to the hand or voice signals given by the ride controller or others
  • avoid busy main roads as much as possible
  • give clear and accurate signals, and remember other road users
  • avoid riding in failing light or darkness
  • wear reflective gear and fit leg bands above the fetlock joints of the horse if riding in poor light
  • if a horse slips and falls, stay calm and let the horse 'find its feet' –check that the horse is uninjured before remounting on non-slippery ground
  • don't 'trickle' over a major crossing.

Further information on the workplace environment is provided in section 5, 6 and 7 of the Horse Riding Schools, Trail Riding Establishments and Horse Hiring Establishments Industry Code of Practice 2002 (PDF, 0.62 MB).