If you teach beginners you know the importance of developing a safe riding program. Safety is the number one requirement for beginners, but how can you tell if a program is safe for both students and horses? There are no guarantees, but the following is a basic list of signs that can help determine if safety is a priority.


It’s not necessary that a facility be fancy or new. Some of the best instruction is given on farms with only the basic necessities. And keep in mind that an older facility is harder to keep looking fresh than a new one.


Older doesn’t matter but clean does. A safe place keeps farm implements such as tractors, manure spreaders, mowers etc., away from the teaching area.

Barn tools such as pitchforks, rakes, and wheelbarrows are stored away from the stall aisle where students will walk with horses.

The facility is void of trash, junk piles, plastic trash bags and tarps. Think of things that could scare horses and then injure them once they get out of control.


A riding program that concentrates on safety has a medium sized arena that is enclosed with safe fencing.  Wire, barbed or other wise is not safe. Neither is a fence made with metal T-posts.  Round pens work well for individual beginners but not for groups as the area is too small. Large stadium arenas are not appropriate for beginners because there is too much room if a horse gets out of control.

An good choice for arena size is 20X40 meters or 66x 132 feet. For safety it should be enclosed by a safe fence that is 3 1/2 to 4 feet high rather than the low dressage board.


A safe riding lesson program has good footing in lesson areas. This doesn’t mean it must have expensive competition footing but the ground should be free of rocks, level, and dry. Grass can be slick and is a temptation to lesson horses who decide they want a snack.

Stalls, etc.

Horse should be in clean stalls or pens and pastures mowed.  Horse in dirty stalls can indicate a lack of knowledge, a lack of regard for the animals, an over worked crew, or an instructor who has too little time to take care of her animals. Dirty stalls and pens and unmowed pastures send a slovenly message, as opposed to indicating safety.


Safe practices include safety rules in the barn and the safety habits that are practiced by staff.

  • Cliental and visitors are not left unattended to wander the barn and look for the instructor. Having scheduled appointments for prospective students can help limit wandering.  Wanderers might open stall doors to visit horses or may stick their fingers in to pet noses.
  • A safe riding program teaches that all horses can bite even the ones that never do. Fingers stuck close to noses can appear as carrots to a hungry pony.
  • A safe riding program has well thought out safety rules that are clearly posted for visitors and students. And the rules will be enforced.
  • Helmets are required. A beginner should never get on a horse without the correct ASTM/SEI approved helmet
  • A safe riding program requires students to have proper footwear (boots that cover the ankle and with a heel) and suitable riding pants (jeans or breeches).
  • Staff or instructor is certified in CPR
  • Emergency protocol and numbers are posted in an obvious place including directions to and from the facility.



The condition of a program’s equipment can reveal an instructor who is keen on attention to detail or an over worked staff or a lock of knowledge.

Safe Equipment

  • Dirty stiff tack is not only susceptible to breaking, it causes sores on horses. Tack, including bits and saddle pads should be cleaned after every use. Leather tack requires cleaning and conditioning to remain supple. Synthetic tack requires washing or at least periodic hosing. Pads can be clipped to a fence and hosed or they can be brushed.  Bits should be wiped down after every use to avoid accumulation of crud that will cause mouth sores. A safe riding program keeps the horses safe as well as the students.
  • A safe riding program checks tack for wear and replaces parts that have seen too much use.
  • Equipment fits the horses and is properly adjusted.
  • Equipment is appropriate for the style of riding they teach.
    • This includes things like:
      • suitable jump standards (no cinder blocks),
      • saddles that are suitable for the discipline (no two point in dressage saddles, no jumping in western saddles)
      • saddles that fit riders.
  • If a riding program supplies helmet the insides are sprayed against the spread of lice after every use.


Most beginners don’t own a horse yet so I’m assuming if you teach beginners you provide lesson horses. Safe riding program horses are:

  • Suitable for beginners
    • they have quiet dispositions
    • get along with other horses
    • are well trained to perform everything they will do in a lesson
    • are not overly sensitive
  • Sized correctly for students
    • small riders should learn on small horses
    • large riders should not ride ponies
  • Well trained
    • A safe riding program provides regular schooling for their lesson horses as well as opportunities for them to be ridden by better riders. Also, consider including a change of pace for the horse so he doesn’t become sour.
  • Healthy
    • Lesson horses are well fed with shiny coats and ribs covered.
    • They are regularly wormed according to your veterinarians plan.
    • Lesson horses have yearly dental work so that they can be comfortable in their bits.
  • Sound
    • Lesson horses should not work when they are sore.
    • If they a lesson horse is injured it should receive proper care and rest until they are healed
    • some of our best beginner lesson horses are geriatric, arthritic, and suffering from old injuries. This doesn’t eliminate them as useful but develop a plan with your veterinarian to manage their discomfort. And don’t over use them.
  • Clean
    • We all know horses roll in the mud and can get it in some of the oddest places. In the spring even the finest lesson horses can look rough as they shed out long winter hair, but there is a difference between these conditions and a horse that lacks grooming and care.
  • Good manners
    • A safe riding program for beginners will not use horses that bite, kick, rear, buck, runaway or disagree with other horses. Beginners are not capable of handling this kind of animal.


A safe riding instructor is the engine that drives the program. 


  • She knows her craft and is experienced.
  • If the instructor is new to teaching, a safe instructor apprentices under a more knowledgeable horseman.
  • As safe riding instructor will have at least one assistant if they teach group lessons.
  • If lunge lessons are given the horse is well trained in lunging riders.
  • Has an assistant for led lessons because you can not lead a horse and watch your own student
  • Doesn’t walk away from students. Leaving students unattended is one of the most unsafe situations you can develop. It’s also can result in lawsuits that you may lose.
  • The instructor is patient and is not pushing an unrealistic agenda
  • Teaches safety on the ground. Even if you prepare horses for your students they will be around them on the ground. Teach safety protocol.
  • A safe riding instructor gets along well with beginners and recognizes problems before they occur
  • In the United States certification for instructors is not a requirement. There are a lot of certifications available and not all are for the purpose of teaching safe horsemanship. Certain groups emphasize safety and a beginner instructor will affiliate with them. United States Pony Clubs is strong on teaching safety. So is the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA).
  • The history and reputation of a riding instructor should indicate their safety record. Encourage potential clients to talk to your students, observe lesson, and seek our your reputation.

This blog post is by no means an exhaustive list of the signs of a safe riding program. I’d love for readers to add their thoughts. Whether you are an instructor, barn owner, student or parent I’d love to know what you look for in a safe program.

Here’s to many years of safe riding for you and your students.

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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