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Three Must-See Safety Guidelines for Equestrian Facilities

By Sarah E. Conrad

Now that Spring has hit all across the country, managers of equestrian facilities might be considering some projects to build, renovate, or add to their farm or stable. Of course, building codes and other local codes must be followed when planning changes to a property. Owners or facility managers will want to consult with the right authorities on any of these requirements. However, in addition, if the facility is already an accredited equestrian facility through the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) or if there are plans to get accreditation in the future, then facility managers will want to consider certain guidelines published by the Certified Horsemanship Association. However, these published guidelines apply to anyone who owns or manages an equestrian facility.

CHA’s Standards for Equestrian Programs manual was compiled by professionals involved with equestrian programs, insurance providers, and legal consultants, as well as individual equestrian professionals. The purpose of this collaborative effort was to keep all participants as safe as possible while receiving services at an equestrian facility. The manual states, “Equestrian programs have a responsibility to strive for safe, high-quality services. Throughout the industry, concern and consideration for our horses and our clients is universal. To this end, it is essential that a reasonable and accepted set of operational standards exist…CHA believes that facilities and individuals striving to follow these standards promote a safer environment for equine activities.”

The manual has been written with the horse industry as a whole in mind. It is divided into sections covering standards for equestrian sites, programs, management of horses, the discipline of driving, equine facility management, riders with disabilities, trails, the discipline of vaulting, and CHA Site Accreditation.

Let’s take a look at just one of these sections: Site Standards. These refer to the actual physical property or facility where there are equestrian activities. Each standard encompasses an overall topic of importance to anyone running an equestrian facility, such as Facilities for Safe Horses, Facility Lighting, Client Supervision, Gates and Ties Safe and Effective, etc., etc. However, these overall topics list a variety of points.

Three Must-See Safety Guidelines in Site Standards

1. Arena Safety: CHA’s standards (always posed as questions) ask, “Are arenas reasonably safe and well maintained for the activities for which they are used?” Of course, when I think of arenas, my first thought goes to the footing. The standards state that footing surface should be as level of possible and free of hazards and should provide good footing subject to weather conditions. The manual does not specify any particular type of footing.

As for the fencing around the arena, here is one point that some might not have considered: rails or other materials used should be mounted on the inside of posts so that a rider’s leg or a vehicle will not catch a post. I can just picture this, and the mental image is not pretty as a rider could fall or get hung up on an arena fence if this standard is not followed. Of course, fencing should be sturdy and provide a visual barrier, but a physical barrier is not required since the manual only states that the fencing should suit the discipline for which the arena is used. For instance, dressage arenas may only need fencing that is about a foot high, whereas a rodeo fence must be five feet or higher.

Obviously barbed wire is a big No-No for arena fencing or any other kind of fencing used for horses. The thought of barbed wire reminds me of when my first horse was a weanling, and the entire group of weanlings escaped from the breeder’s farm during weaning. They roamed the countryside until a few hours later when the farm owners found them. One weanling had suffered horrible gashes from barbed wire on another farm, and an especially nasty one across her chest. Barbed wire can really do a lot of harm to horses and are a serious safety hazard.

2. Facilities Safe for Horses: This standard asks, “Are the facilities reasonably safe and appropriate for the animals with a program in practice that is designed to eliminate hazards?” This one standard discusses 10 different points. The one that most stands out to me is the one discussing pastures. The standard states, “Pastures are reasonably well maintained, reasonably free of holes, rocks, poisonous plants, and other natural obstacles, and free of trash, junk, vehicles, or other known hazards.”

The reason that this stood out is that I have walked plenty of fields to make sure that my horse’s pasture did not have any hazards. Even though I was not the owner of the property where she was boarded, I did this on top of the owner’s inspections as an extra precaution and for my own peace of mind. We all know that if a horse can find something to injure himself on, he will. One other reason we were all extra diligent was that this particular area of Lexington was overrun with small animals that dug tunnels. The groundhogs were the worst. All sorts of natural wildlife could dig underneath a barn or pasture, such as groundhogs, moles, chipmunks, foxes, kangaroo rats, mongooses, prairie dogs, rabbits, woodchucks, etc. If a horse falls in a hole while running through a pasture, a broken leg or other serious injury could happen.

Another reason that this guideline stuck out is the mention of poisonous plants. Years ago when I worked for the magazine, The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care, I had to edit a feature article about the most common or dangerous poisonous plants for horses. And then I had to pull images together of these plants for the final issue so that readers would know what these plants look like. It was a total eye-opener to see the types of plants that could harm horses. I would suggest that any horse owner or rider should be aware of what poisonous plants are in your area and learn what they look like. It isn’t even advisable to just leave it to the farm owner, because a plant could spring up and be eaten in between pasture inspections. If a rider knows what these plants look like, then they can notify the farm owner immediately if one is spotted. A horse’s life could depend on it. If I owned a farm with riders coming and going, I believe I would put photos on a bulletin board or have a document handy so that everyone would have access to the information. There are some great books, magazine articles, and websites from veterinary colleges about poisonous plants. Just make sure that if you are online that you stick with the website of an educational institution or a reputable publication.

3. Emergency Equipment: This standard asks, “Is emergency equipment, minimally including fire extinguishers and a means of emergency communication, in place at activity locations?” All of the points made in this section of the standards manual are important, but one must is having a telephone or other form of emergency contact in place. Most barns have phones, but some additional things should be near the telephone, such as emergency phone numbers, the number of the phone being used and the address of the facility so that the caller can give that to emergency personnel, directions to the facility, and a copy of the facility map showing emergency vehicle access routes. The last one should not be missed either. Many times, if a large vehicle, such as a fire truck, cannot reach a barn due to obstructions, bridges, low-hanging trees, etc., then another route should be accessible. At least one route should be accessible by emergency crews in case of an emergency, especially if people or animals are at risk.

For more standards related to equestrian facilities, check out CHA’s Standards for Equestrian Programs manual. To purchase a copy, please visit HYPERLINK “http://cha-ahse.org/store/products/CHA_Standards_for_Equestrian_Programs.html” https://cha.horse/why-becoming-accredited-is-important-for-equestrian-programs-and-facilities/. You don’t have to be a CHA member or a facility accredited by CHA to purchase. Anyone can purchase the manual.

Sarah Evers Conrad is currently the Digital Content Editor at Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines. She also owns All In Stride Marketing. She is an award-winning equestrian journalist with a background in magazine publishing, feature writing, news and event coverage, editing, digital marketing, social media, and website management. Conrad has been published in equine publications such as The Horse, Blood-Horse, Equestrian, Arabian Horse Life, USDF Connection, the American Quarter Horse Journal, Paint Horse Journal, Off-Track Thoroughbred, Stable Management, Camp Business magazine, Lexington Family magazine, and HorsesDaily.com and DressageDaily.com. She is also the current editor for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s official publication, The Instructor magazine. Conrad has also edited several books, including CHA’s “The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding.” Learn more at HYPERLINK “http://www.equestrianjournalist.com” www.equestrianjournalist.com.