By Eddie Biegler
Eddie Biegler is a third generation Montana cowboy now living in Spokane, WA, former saddle bronc rider, AQHA and NRHA professional horse trainer, coach and best buddy of Miss Rodeo America, Katherine Merck.
Accidents and injuries do not discriminate. They can happen to experienced and inexperienced riders alike. Human error leads to many accidents. Sometimes we get a little too comfortable around horses, and oftentimes, the horse you have at home is different at the rodeo. Horses may spook at sudden noises or sudden, unexpected movements. Crowds of people can be overwhelming and rodeo arenas can be intimidating with camera flashes, spotlights, loud music and fireworks. So in order to stay safe, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Remember the horse’s blind spots. Those spots are directly in front of its head and in back of its hindquarters. Don’t approach a horse from directly in front in its face or take a shortcut under the horse’s head and neck. He can’t see you. When you approach, let the horse know it – talk to it. Don’t approach a horse from behind and stay out of the range of their legs. When you walk around a horse, let it know where you are by patting its hindquarters, talking and staying close where a kick won’t have as much impact.
2. Remember horses are herd animals. They react first and think second. If they spook, they’ll respond with a kick, throw back their head, or take off running. When you ride, always be calm and confident. If a horse can feel a fly on its hide, it certainly can “feel” your anxiety. With this in mind, if you are borrowing a horse for a performance, ask the stock contractor or horse owner if there’s anything special you should know about the horse. Has it carried flags before?
3. Headstall management is essential. Never let the horse out of your control when you are taking off the halter. Be sure to put a rope or reins of the bridle around the horse’s neck every time you put on or remove the bridle. A loose horse is dangerous to itself, others, and you.
4. You are responsible for checking your own cinch. Tighten it and walk off the horse. Don’t immediately jump on. Let the horse relax into the cinch, otherwise you might be treated to your own private rodeo! Check and tighten the cinch again if necessary in a few minutes.
5. Stay out of the alleyway as much as possible. This is where a lot of wrecks can happen because there’s not a lot of space. You don’t want to be in the way of contestants. Never tie up a horse in the alley. When you are waiting to go into the arena, pay attention to what’s going on around you – stock or equipment might be moving and contestants getting ready – be aware of what might spook your horse. Be calm, but be ready to react.
6. Control your speed. When it’s time to enter or exit the arena, do it at a controlled lope. Maintain your speed and never pass another rider. It will dangerously spook the other horse and rider. If your horse is out of control, don’t be afraid to pull your horse into a small circle towards the inside of the arena. When you exit the arena, continue at a lope – you don’t want horses running into each other at the gate. Slow down when you are well beyond the gate and out of the way. Use two hands to steer and pull down your horse if necessary.
7. Watch where you are going. This sounds simple, but is so important. It is exciting in the arena and this can be easy to forget. Whether you are carrying a flag, waving to the crowd, or pushing cattle, maintain your primary focus on where your horse is headed.
When you are done riding, you should remember the following tips for the safety and comfort of the horse and others. First put the horse back in the prearranged spot. When you tie the horse up, use headstall management. Tie the horse up at wither’s height and don’t tie with too much slack. Place the bridle over the saddle horn with the reins securely looped around the horn. Then put the stirrups back where they were when you borrowed the horse and loosen the cinch slightly unless someone will be getting on to it soon.
Most importantly, although you may like to assume that you are never “over-horsed,” be sure your riding skills are up to the level of the job. Your rodeo queen experience should be lots of fun. Remember these tips, stay safe and enjoy the ride.