horse safety education
Online education has become the norm in a plethora of settings, from high schools and colleges to professions requiring additional training and continuing educational opportunities. The option of online learning allows students access to teachers, role models, and mentors who might not be close in location; this interaction offers students the possibility of building a relationship with an industry professional.

Researchers at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, sought to utilize this online-learning trend to see if offering a short course on equine behavior and safety to the equine industry might help reduce the risk of injuries and create positive change.

Gayle Ecker is the director of Equine Guelph, part of the University of Guelph that serves the horse and the equine industry through education, research, healthcare promotion, and industry development. Equine Guelph was founded in 2003 and is overseen by equine industry groups; the organization is dedicated to improving horse health and well-being.

During the inaugural Horse Industry Safety Summit, held April 23 at University of Kentucky’s (UK) Spindletop Hall, in Lexington, Ecker said one of the catalysts for creating the short course was the revelation that some children were becoming injured while at the barn or on a horse but refrained from telling their parents about their injury. This silence had a multitude of reasons, including the child’s fear that he or she would be in trouble or not allowed to ride. Of the children who’d been injured that were surveyed, 85 percent of them said the injury could have been prevented but that they had not changed their behavior to prevent future injuries.

With potentially dangerous behaviors being repeated and perpetuated, Equine Guelph launched the “Horse Behavior and Safety” online short course in an effort to improve outreach to equestrians with minimal cost. Thus far, the course has been offered six times with a total of 400 students participating. Ecker said the students came from diverse backgrounds and geographic regions. Equine Guelph also developed a version of the program specifically targeted at youth, which has been run four times and attended by 110 students.

The class included text-based discussion with peers, class instructors, and experts. Presented as a forum, this allowed for flexibility in time management and for students across varying time zones to take part. The course content included:

  • Horse behavior: wild vs. stabled;
  • How horses see and hear;
  • Herd behavior: how horses interact with each other;
  • Horse handling: basic safety around horses;
  • Rider/helmet safety;
  • Safe trailering basics;
  • Fire safety;
  • Safety around the barn and paddocks; and
  • Returning from Injury.

The course included minimal reading and was based mainly in student interaction. The students completed self-assessments and received a certification at the end of the course. From the end-of-course survey results, some students:

  • Felt that they would have gotten more out of the class if it had offered a hands-on portion;
  • Requested live webinars to enhance class engagement;
  • Became frustrated with peers who were not safe (and who continued unsafe practices even once learning how to execute behaviors safely); and
  • Created customized fire prevention and safety plans specific to the farm at which they rode.

The students said they enjoyed the sense of community the online classes fostered as well as the course videos. Many students claimed they would be changing their behavior around horses to be safer after taking the course.

Additionally, many parents said they took the online classes with their children in an effort to engage with them and learn safe behavior around horses.

In addition to the United States, people in India, Uganda, and Brazil took the course; students from these locations noted that they were taking the information they had learned online back to their riding schools and sharing information with instructors and other riding students.

Ecker said the online platform is an effective method for increasing knowledge of best management practices and equine safety and will benefit the equine industry by reducing the risk of injury.

More Equine Education Opportunities

Equine Guelph also offers short courses on preventing illness, equine first-aid, horse care and welfare, gut health and colic prevention, and fire and emergency preparedness.

Longer-format learning is also an option: Equine Guelph offers 12-week online courses on topics including equine genetics, welfare, behavior, finance and risk management, health and disease prevention, advanced equine health through nutrition, and managing the equine environment.

Equine Guelph is considered a leader in online studies, with 19 accredited courses available to students.

The “Horse Behavior and Safety” course is a partnership between Equine Guelph, the University of Guelph, and Saddle Up Safely (a rider safety awareness program sponsored by UK HealthCare; UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; and community organizations). Equine Guelph’s online education program on TheHorsePortal.ca is a partnership with the provincial equestrian federations in Canada, Equestrian Canada, the Ontario racing industry, and various local organizations.

Sarah E. Coleman, director of public and community relations for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and co-owner of Topline Communications, served on the planning committee for the Horse Industry Safety Summit.


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