Positioning and danger zones

Approaching the Horse Positioning

When working with horses and participants it is important to consider how you will position the horse for participants to interact with them. From a horse’s perspective the following are important:

  • Choice to remove themselves from a physical contact situation
  • Social contacts (equine friends) within view
  • Avoid long periods without access to forage
  • Provide regular water and enrichment (root vegetable on a string, hay block etc)

There are 4 main scenarios in which participants might interact with a horse in an RDA session where the horse remains static but you can adapt the principles in the following scenarios to suit your individual RDA group, your equines and your humans.

  1. Barrier between the horse and participant with the horse unrestrained
  2. Barrier between the horse and participant with the horse restrained
  3. No barrier between horse and participant with the horse restrained in stable or confined area
  4. No barrier between horse and participant with the horse restrained in an open area

Barrier between the horse and participant with the horse unrestrained

  • Horses can be unrestrained in their stables if participants remain outside and do not enter the stable
  • Consider what advice you should give to participants on interacting with horses over stable doors including guidance on not approaching the horse straight on, avoiding placing a human head in front of or over a horses nose, advice on avoiding nips/bites and a discussion around appropriate interaction etc.

Barrier between the horse and participant with the horse restrained

  • Consider the best positioning of the horse for maximum social contact between horses and least stress
  • Horses should be able to see another horse where possible
  • Horses should face or be able to see the participants
  • If acceptable for the horse’s individual diet then forage such as hay/haylage could be provided in a net or a hard root vegetable on a string for enrichment

(Image below) The horse furthest from the participants has got limited view of the participants and may be startled by sudden movements. The horse closest may barge into the other horse if scared. The horses are positioned close together which may be appropriate if they are close social contacts or may cause conflict behaviour if food is utilised during the session. The whole available area is not utilised.

(Image below) The horse’s hind legs are facing each other increasing the risk of kick injuries. Both horses can see the participant area but cannot see each other fully. The whole available area is not utilised. If the horse on the left were moved along it may be appropriate to leave the horse on the vertical wall in that position. Horses that do not enjoy physical human contact but want to be in the vicinity of other horses and humans may benefit from being tied against the wall not directly over from participants.

(Image below) The horses are well spaced avoiding potential injury to each other. The horses can see each other and the participants clearly. The horses are tied up but can chose to move towards the barrier or stand back so are able to regulate their human contact.

No barrier between horse and participant with the horse restrained in stable or confined area

No barrier between horse and participant with the horse restrained in an open area (arena)

(Image below) The horses are positioned well apart but within sight of each other. Depending on the size of the arena if may be tricky to adequately supervise all participants with the horses spaced at all 4 corners of the available space so they could be brought closer but with safe distances to aid communication. The horses are facing the arena wall so may be surprised if participants spread out from a central point and approach horses from behind.

(Image below) The horse are tied in each corner which reduces the amount they can see and may lead to fearful behaviours if people are congregating in the middle of the arena. With horses tied in corners it is hard to approach them from a safe zone as the walls get in the way. The horses will not be able to see each other clearly which may result in separation related undesirable behaviours.

(Image below) The horses have good sight of each other. Tying a horse to the arena door or right next to it might be intimidating to new participants when they come into the arena and put horses and humans into a conflict situation where approach and contact is forced. Tying all the horses along the same arena wall means there is less space between horses for participants to interact and a greater chance of them walking through a red zone when approaching the horses.

Although we can never remove all risk there are areas on the horse that are safer to approach than others and can reduce the risk of physical injury on approach. The green areas below show the safest areas to approach a horse followed by the amber areas which would be more risky and the red area which should not be used to approach a horse.