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When you get a horse, you can cross your t’s and dot your i’s, feeling confident that you’ve done everything right. But, there are many questions that equestrians don’t know to ask until they find themselves in the position. For example, should you let your friends ride your horse?
In other words, how do you keep your friends safe around your horse? What do you do when someone asks if they can come over and ride your horse? Is there anything you need to know about?
If you ever wondered where to find me when I was growing up, the safest bet was…wait for it…with the horses.
Shocking, I know. But, this meant that every time I had a birthday party or friends over, you could find us out with the ponies. For my 6th birthday, we had a party with the world’s best Shetland pony. You’ve probably heard of him if you’ve been reading Fairway Stables™ for any length of time.
After that party, our neighbor and friend asked to come back over and ride my horse. We created our own little pony club in the backyard. After school was out, you would often find us out in the backyard, riding the ponies (with parental supervision, of course.)
One day, however, our customary pony club afternoon took a turn for the worse. No matter how steadfast a horse may be, that horse will spook when a snake decides to leap out of the grass. It’s just their nature, and I can’t say I blame them!
Unfortunately, the neighbor was not an experienced rider. He fell off when the horse spooked, breaking his arm in the process. Luckily, his dad (a doctor) was right there, and he was able to get the immediate care he needed. But, this got my parents’ talking. What steps should they have taken to make sure they had not only the safest environment for riding, but legal protection in the case of freak accidents?
In other words, when does being nice get you in trouble? All these years later, I’m answering this same question that my parents had for both my family and my friends.
Let’s start with this: this article is not to tell you that you should never let anyone around your horses. Instead, it’s a roadmap on how to safely share your horses with your friends (both practically and legally).
Let’s face it. No matter how comfortable we are with our horses as equestrians, we have to remember that horseback riding is, and always will be, an inherently risky activity. Especially, if we’re talking about inviting guests out to ride horses, who may have little or no experience around our gentle giants.
Not only can you not truly know the rider’s expertise level, but horses are their own unique animal, with their own unique brain. In other words, anything could happen, including a snake randomly jumping out of the grass and spooking the horse, a la my 6 year old experience. Even the most well-behaved horse could take a misstep or stumble, unseating a rider who isn’t accustomed to that level of balance.
So, should you let your friends ride your horse, or not?
Yes, you can let friends ride your horse, but here’s the truth: you need to take the adequate precautions. This can mean:
Make sure you’ve taken care of what you need to. What do I mean by this?
Make sure that you’ve done everything you need to do to ensure that your family, property, and guests are safe and prepared if an accident were to occur.
Here are the three big areas to keep in mind before your friends come to ride your horse:
What else should you do before your guests ride?
Do your guests a favor and tell them what to wear ahead of time. Keep in mind that if you’re inviting children to ride your horses, you should be having this conversation with their parents. Specifically, tell them that they should wear long pants (and explain to them why the durability of something like jeans will be much easier than something slick like yoga pants). Then, recommend that they at least wear close-toed shoes (preferably, boots or hard-soled shoes) because we all know how that story ends when the person shows up in flip flops.
While you’re at it, it’s really, really wise to ask your guests to wear a helmet. I know this is not the most fun part of the process, but for reasons you well know as an equestrian, it’s smart for anyone riding a horse to wear a helmet. Helmets are especially important for anyone who is not extremely familiar with riding horses. Plus, from a liability standpoint, this is going to protect your own personal liability as well. As the host, it’s best for you to provide the helmets as most people obviously won’t have helmets of their own.
Once your guests arrive, instruct them on the basics of horseback riding.
As a lifelong equestrian, it can be difficult to go back and put yourself in the shoes of a beginning rider. This is something I commonly see and often struggle with myself. As my own friends can attest, when I’ve tried to explain basics like how to pick a horse’s hoof, I usually wind up saying something along the lines of “here, let me just show you”. For me, it’s much easier to train horses than it is to “train” people to be around horses.
So, if you’re like me, here’s a helpful checklist of what you need to tell your friends before they ride your horses:
One of the benefits of involving your friends with the “pre-riding prep” as described above is that they will have a better understanding of the true nature of horseback riding: being around horses can be incredibly rewarding if safety is prioritized. But, at the end of the day, horses are large animals with brains and personalities of their own. So, as awkward as it may feel, you need to ask your guest to sign a liability waiver before they ride.
I get asked this question in my law firm all the time. “If it’s my best friend, she won’t sue me!” This could be entirely true, but that doesn’t mean that third party claimants such as her insurance or hospital won’t file suit in order to get paid. This is why liability release forms are critical. It protects both you and the friend/family member.
An equine liability release form doesn’t have to be a long legal document at all. Instead, this is just an agreement between you and the person riding your horse that ensures you are on the same page.
Asking someone to sign a contract, even if it’s the simplest document in the world, is just plain awkward. I get it.
But here’s one way to take a little bit of pressure off the situation: you’re probably discussing riding the horses before the friend gets there, right? Very rarely does someone just randomly stop by for an afternoon visit and wind up on your horse. I know this can feel awkward, but while you are talking, tell the rider/family members of the rider that this is something your insurance company requires. This isn’t a mistruth; for many policies, it’s likely the case.
This route is clear, upfront, and non-confrontational–exactly as the conversation should be.
When you’re talking to your friend ahead of time, they’re probably going to ask things like what they should wear, etc. When you’re having that conversation, just simply include a statement along the lines of “hey, before I forget, would you mind signing this liability waiver? This is something that I have to ask for for insurance purposes–it just says that you’re assuming the risk of riding.”
To be clear: liability releases in this scenario are a complete “wipe the slate clean” liability release. In other words, it’s not a promise that you won’t be held liable for anything, and you should explain that to your friends and family.
This is why your liability release needs to be specific. It can’t just be a blanket statement; if anything, that would make your friends trust you less. Instead, it needs to state specifically what the party is releasing you from, in line with insurance.
One good thing about the liability release procedure? You can have your guests sign a release that covers the act of horseback riding in general on your property. In other words, you don’t need to make them re-sign a release every time they come out to ride.
Once all of the preparation and liability needs have been taken care of, it’s time for the fun part–actually riding!
As a horse owner, you know this, but make this as safe as possible for your guest. If they’ve never ridden, err on the side of providing too much instruction, rather than not enough. You know your guest and will be able to make a judgement call on this.
Here is a checklist of safety instructions to keep in mind:
In an enclosed area, help your guests mount safely, and make sure that all tack is securely fastened and adjusted. Before moving away from the mounting block, show your guests how to stop and steer. For novice guests, walk the horse on a lead line until you are sure that your guests can effectively steer and stop on their own. If you have any doubts, keep them on the lead line.
Keep guests at a walk unless they are balanced and confident enough to go faster. Remember that for someone who has never ridden a horse, just being on the horse’s back is thrilling enough!
Only allow one guest at a time to ride, and stay on the ground so that you can properly supervise and help if they get into trouble. To give you greater control over the situation, put your guest rider in the smallest enclosed area you have available for riding, such as a round pen.
Trust your instincts. If your horse isn’t really a “guest horse,” then don’t put him in that position. Seeing is believing – don’t turn any guest loose until you have personally evaluated their horsemanship skills. If a guest shows up without proper attire, insist that they borrow it from you (or not ride).
If a guest doesn’t pay attention to your instructions or treat your horse with kindness and respect, you can end the ride. In the case that your guest looks scared to death, you can gently suggest that it’s okay if they simply want to pat the horse or feed him a treat instead of riding. If you are having a party, take guests out to see the horses before serving drinks.
Finally, don’t forget to help your guest capture the moment – take photos or video, and send it to them afterwards as a memento of their visit. Children especially enjoy wearing cowboy gear and other trappings, so if you have them, get them out for the photo session (but leave the spurs off during the ride!).
At the end of the day, letting your friends ride your horse should be fun! While taking all the proper safety steps may seem unnecessary or just plain boring, remember that these precautions help to keep you in control of the situation. Ultimately, a safe ride will be far more enjoyable for you and your friends than dealing with the aftermath of a preventable accident. Find more safety tips below that will make your friends’ experience memorable for the right reasons.
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