The Horse Shelter
Rescuing Abused, Abandoned and Neglected Horses Throughout New Mexico
Safety Information For Our Volunteers and Visitors
Please understand that safety is first at The Horse Shelter which is why we don’t allow visitors unaccompanied on the premises and we always try to match our new volunteers with either staff or more experienced volunteers, until we are certain they can work more independently. Horses are 1,000 pound animals and even a well trained horse is dangerous to be around if you are not aware of their nature. Our horses are not all trained and are also not necessarily used to human contact. Most all of them have been abandoned, neglected, abused or even wild. Some nip, some bit, some are skittish and some are just as sweet as can be. Please use utmost care when on the ranch and make sure you keep minors close to you at all times. A horse has the potential to hurt you just by their size, even if it is not intentionally trying to do so. It might be kicking at a fly and not at you! Please find some basic safety rules our volunteer and Basic Horse Safety & Grooming Class instructor Judy Prisoc has put together for us.
The Horse Shelter Safety Guidelines for Volunteers
1. Work in pairs – New volunteers should always be accompanied by an experienced volunteer when entering a paddock.
2. Know your horse – There are all kinds of horses at The Horse Shelter: some are gentle, but some can be dangerous, and some have been abused and are fearful. There is one blind horse and there are a couple of horses who are blind in one eye. Occasionally there is a stallion in a paddock who could be completely wild. Before you enter a paddock with any horse, know something about that horse and have specific permission from the ranch manager.
3. Carry a lead rope – Even if you are only grooming, a lead rope can come in handy (but never loop it around your hand or any body part, particularly your neck!).
4. Be aware of herd dynamics – Even if you are grooming the most gentle horse at The Horse Shelter another horse may approach and cause trouble. Horses do not generally intend to hurt you, but they can turn quickly (and step on you or slam into you) or they can kick or bite at another horse and get you instead.
5. Wear sturdy boots – Eventually you will get stepped on. Good boots are essential but steel toes are not recommended.
6. Watch the horse’s body language – If a horse lays his ears flat against his head he is annoyed or angry and this is a signal to other horses that they should back off. When a horse is calm she will lower her head and have what is called a “soft” eye. You will learn to recognize this expression. If a horse suddenly lifts his head and you see the whites of his eyes he is very frightened -- watch out! It is a good idea to observe horses interacting with each other to see how they communicate with gestures. Horses are quite demonstrative once you know what to look for.
7. Have an escape route – If you are grooming a horse and suddenly a snake slithers up right in front of the horse you should be prepared to scoot through the fence. You should always have some a plan to get out of the way if the horse becomes frightened or agitated.
8. Don’t stand directly in front of the horse. If he is startled he will run right over you since you are in his blind spot.
9. Don’t stand directly behind the horse. He can’t see you, but he can hear you.
10. Treats – We ask you not to feed treats as horses become pushy, competitive and harder to handle.
11. Kicking – Horses kick at flies, other horses or just for the heck of it. You should always let the horse know exactly where you are by touching her and talking to her so she won’t kick you. Stand close (if the horse kicks she won’t have as much impact as if you are farther away) or better yet, stand out of kicking range altogether. Watch her body language. If she intends to kick she will usually give warning.
13. Relax and get to know a horse – Each horse is a unique individual. It is natural for you to like a particular horse. After a while your favorite horse will get to know and trust you. You will look forward to seeing one another and you may learn many things together.
Horses are wonderful animals to be around. Please adhere to the guidelines and be careful and considerate while visiting the ranch so both you and the horses can benefit the most from your visit.