Horses are big, powerful animals and they can just as easily cause injury when you are on the ground as when you are unlucky enough to be dislodged from the saddle. There are well-documented incidents of people being seriously injured when turning their horse out after exercise or being stabled.
Because horses are flight animals, even the calmest one can be spooked when you are opening or shutting the gate or attempting to remove its headcollar. They can rear, bolt, swing around and knock you over or catch you with an exuberant kick. After all, they are excited to be going out into their field and to see their field companions again. It is, therefore, imperative to be aware of the correct procedures for turnout — all of which will help you to stay safe on the ground.
Helmets and body protectors aren’t just for safety in the saddle. You should keep both on after your ride while you turn your horse out in his paddock. Additionally, make sure that you are wearing sturdy boots and gloves, so that should the horse try and pull away you will have more chance of maintaining a grip on the rope.
This is because if your four-legged friend is in high spirits you may struggle to remove the reins, bridle and bit, leading to a potential accident if he gallops away with it half on, half off.
Don’t be tempted to carry buckets or take any other equipment with you.
If you have more than one that needs to go out to the field ask someone else for help.
When you reach the gate, hold the rope in one hand and push the gate wide open with the other — it should be wide enough for you both to pass through at the same time. Don’t expect your horse to walk through a tiny opening — he could easily knock and injure himself on the gate or gate post. Don’t let him rush in ahead of you either. The whole process should be as calm and sedate as possible. It is important that gates are constantly maintained. One that is difficult to open will cause problems, especially if the horse is excitable and the handler inexperienced.
Once the horse is through the opening, turn him around to face you and the gate, so that he has his back to his field and companions. This will reduce the likelihood of him being able to kick you as he rushes away from you. Close the gate and keep a constant eye on the horse.
Unfasten either the headcollar or rope (horses who are difficult to catch may wear a well-fitting headcollar in their field) and watch him go away from you.
Reverse back towards and through the gate, keeping your eye on the horse at all times. Shut the gate and secure it — some horses are incredible escape artists.
If you are on your own, don’t be tempted to turn your horse out into a field of inquisitive horses who are crowding around the gateway. Return to the yard and ask for experienced help.
If your horse rushes towards his field, tries to gallop off when he’s in it or won’t stand at the gate, you will need to be inventive. Offer him a titbit which should encourage him to stand still — it may be bribery, but if it works don’t knock it. Alternatively, if he really is a handful, you may even need to ride him to the gate and untack him there. If his manners fail to improve he may need to be taken back to basics — ask your trainer to help you with this.