Equine Safety Checks and Balances

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child smiling grooming horse

As a stable owner or manager, you need to ensure that all clients are safe on your property.

When considering how to provide the highest level of safety for equestrian participants with measures that also protect from lawsuits, it helps to make a checklist of issues that need to be addressed. Some of the pertinent safety checks are considered in the Equine Liability Act Laws, and should be followed. Gary Grenzke, MBA, specializes in equine insurance for Arthur J. Gallagher Co.'s property/casualty brokerage operations. He recommends some starting points for risk management:

1. The horse must be matched to the rider’s abilities.

2. Tack and equipment checks are paramount. One of the most common problems that relates to legal action for the equestrian world is that of failure of tack and its condition that results in an injury. Girths, cinches, stirrups, bridles, reins, stitching and especially leather pieces should be checked on a regular basis and routine upkeep done to keep all tack in excellent working order.

3. Consider the health status of the rider. Is she pregnant? Does she/he suffer from altitude sickness if planning to ride in high altitude areas? What about weight limitations of rider to the horse? Any other medical concerns that pose a danger to riding a horse?

4. The age of the participant is an important issue. Many companies require a minimum age of 6 for a child to ride without an adult walking alongside or leading the horse.

5. Is the rider confident of fearful? Does the participant seem confident to participate in the activity, or does she/he express fear?

6. Is the rider impaired in any way? Be perceptive about a participant that might be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

7. Require or provide proper riding attire. The participant must wear appropriate clothing and footwear for equestrian activities.

8. Helmets are a big discussion point. When are helmets considered mandatory? For most insurance carriers, helmets are mandatory for children. The minimum age requirement for helmets ranges from age 8 up to age 18. Grenkze recommended offering helmets to everyone, adults included. On the waiver form, the participant should note whether they accepted or declined this offer. A helmet should fit properly, and a parent rather than a staff member should fit the helmet to the child.

9. Make mounting and dismounting safe. The moments of getting on and off a horse can be at-risk times, so all efforts should be made to ensure a clear area and no distractions. Horse behavior should be observed for signs of nervousness or tenseness before a rider mounts, and efforts should be made to ensure a horse is calm before a rider gets on. The same for when a rider is dismounting.

10. Dogs can be a problem. Do you have dogs running loose on the property? If one should startle a horse and cause an accident, both the land or business owner and the dog owner will likely be sued.

Grenzke urged stable owners and mangers to train staff to be circumspect about what they say to clients and participants so they don't cause any lack of confidence in the riding facility, horses or event. In addition, some insurance agencies offer clinics on safety that are based on insurance losses and experiences in the equine industry. Some agencies also offer to certify a safety program for a facility, so it is worthwhile to check with your insurance agent if this certification is available. 

In addition, it is advisable to file your business as an LLC or S-corporation to minimize legal and financial risk, even for a single event.