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Never Walk Behind a Horse: But Here’s How to Anyway

Safety is extremely important when interacting with horses, and one of the most common piece of safety advice around horses is to never walk behind a horse. In this article, you’ll learn why it’s (usually) not a good idea to walk behind a horse, and other basic safety dos and don’t.

Why we have to be careful walking behind horses.

Horses are prey animals, and therefore are known to startle easily. Horses can be very reactive when startled. Depending on the horse, a startled horse may kick. And being kicked by a horse hurts – a lot!

What it feels like to get kicked by a horse:

In my experience, getting kicked by a horse feels like being punched and stung by about a dozen bees at the same time! A horse kick often leaves a hoof-shaped bruise for weeks or months following the injury.

This is why it is very important to know how to safely move around a horse. They can stretch their back legs quite far, and can strike very quickly. If you are about three to five feet from the horse when they kick, you will get the full impact, which can cause broken bones or possibly even be fatal. Horses are capable of kicking with one foot out to the side or straight back with either foot, and can kick both back feet together, which allows them to reach quite high.

A horse looks back at the camera over their hind end and tail.
reinforced wood barriers generally make is safe to walk behind a horse

Why Experts Walk Behind Horses Anyway

People who have spent a lot of time around horses and have learned how to interact with them safely are able to walk behind them easily. The ability to safely walk behind a horse requires an understanding of a horse’s body language, an ability to read their mood at any given time, and an understanding of their anatomy.

Reading Horse Body Language

A frightened, uncomfortable horse is not safe to walk behind, so it is helpful to be able to tell when a horse is feeling this way. Even an expert will never walk behind a horse that is showing behaviors like: ears flattened back, pawing at the ground and not standing still, or if their head is high up and their eyes wide

A calm, relaxed horse will have its head lowered, a back foot in a resting position, and its ears flicking back and forth paying attention to their surroundings with casual interest.  

🎀 Warning: Horses with Ribbons in their Tail

Red ribbons and bows tied to a horse’s tail are a signal that that horse is known to kick. If you see a horse with a red ribbon on its tail at a horse show or trail ride stand back!

Take a look at the horse’s tail (from a distance!) before walking behind them. Horses who are known to kick will often have a ribbon tied in their tail to warn other riders to give them a wide berth. The ribbons are usually red; however, it is safest to assume this is the reason for any ribbon in their tail, regardless of the color, unless informed otherwise by the owner.

Keep in mind, not everyone will tie a ribbon in their horse’s tail, even if they are aware the horse is known to kick. So do not assume it is safe to walk behind a horse you are not familiar with just because a ribbon is not present.

Why Kick when You’re Behind Them

Horses kick out when someone stands or walks behind them because they feel threatened. Horses cannot see behind them, so their instinct as, a prey animal, is to assume any surprise outside of their line of vision is a predator about to attack.

Horses have a blind spot directly behind them, so when you cross from one side to the other you will be out of their line of sight for a moment. When they lose sight of you as you cross behind them, then enter back into their field of vision, it can cause them to startle. Startling them can be intensified if they are in an unfamiliar situation, are on alert, or if the horse has not bonded with you.

The most important thing to remember when walking behind a horse is to make sure they are aware of your presence at all times.

How to Safely Walk Behind a Horse

With the understanding of how to read body language and why walking behind a horse is often dangerous, here’s the proper way to safely walk behind a horse:

(note, there is always risk walking behind a horse. If there’s room to not walk behind a horse- don’t!)

  • 🐎🙋🏽‍♂️ Keep Touching Them – A hand on their body as you pass their blind spot is the best way to let them know where you are, so keep one hand on them while you walk around them. One hand on their rump at all times as you move from side to side will keep them attuned to your location.
  • 🗣️ Use your voiceIt is also a good idea to talk to a horse while you move around them. They will use the sound of your voice to locate you. Keep the tone of your voice calm and low. It is best to keep your volume at a normal pitch, or a bit quieter. A whisper is not usually necessary, but screaming or yelling is not ideal, as sudden loud noises will spook a horse. If their ears are pointed toward you and follow you as you are moving around them, it is a good sign that they are engaged with you and aware of your presence.
  • 🚶🏾‍♂️ Move at a normal page Maintaining a normal walking speed while approaching and walking around a horse is key. If you walk up to them too slowly, they may feel that you are sneaking up on them like a predator. Running at them is also a bad idea, as it can be interpreted as an attack. Both can trigger their strong flight response. The actions of keeping a hand on them, talking to them, and walking at a normal pace can all be combined to prevent them from being spooked when you pop back into their field of vision.
  • 🐴😊 Walk very close to themIf you do need to walk behind a horse, it is safest to either walk as close to the horse as possible (while keeping one hand on them), or leave a wide berth of about 8-10 feet between you and the horse. If the horse were to kick you while you are right next to their body, there would not yet be enough power behind the kick to cause serious injury. If staying close to the horse is not an option, then make sure there is more than enough room to pass behind them without getting kicked if they do become startled.

Children: Allowing children to walk behind a horse should be avoided. If unavoidable, children should have an adult walking with them as they pass behind a horse. Since a child is too small to reach up and keep a hand on the top of the horse’s rump, an adult should be there to do this for them. At their height, they are likely to only touch the backs of the horse’s legs or their tail.

A horse that is not used to having small children moving around them may be frightened to suddenly feel something touching their leg or their tail, since it would not be at a normal placement for them and the child would likely be out of their field of vision. 

Most horses who are well trained and handled regularly are not bothered by people walking behind them. However, there are always exceptions to this, which is why it is important to put safety first when approaching a horse. Accidents can happen quickly, so taking steps to mitigate them and keep yourself safe are always advised.

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