I’ve seen a lot of wrecks in my life, and so many of them were preventable. So often people aren’t even aware that they’re in harm’s way. Then something scary happens and they’re surprised. If you’ll stop, think and use a little common sense, it’ll go a long way.

Freak accidents happen sometimes, and we can’t control everything. I’d already won seven world championships when I cut my thumb off at the National Finals, then bonked my head when a horse fell with me practicing a few years later. Close calls can happen, even when you’re doing things right. But doing everything in your power to prevent unnecessary accidents is smart, and nobody wants to get hurt.

There are several common mistakes I see people make all the time that are obvious. Do not rope—or even ride—in tennis shoes, for example. Be very cautious when handling a lead rope, and don’t stick your fingers through any loops when tying a horse up. Even a gentle horse that doesn’t usually set back can take your fingers off in an instant if something scares him and he jumps sideways.

For safety sake, it’s good to always be on your toes and never let your guard down when you’re out roping and riding. Scary things can happen so fast. Another no brainer is closing the gate behind you, even if you’re just going to ride. There was a guy several years ago who put on ropings. He was out practicing one day, and they left one of the gates to the pasture open. On one steer, he reached down to take his head rope off. The steer jumped forward and poked his horse with a horn while the guy was leaned over.

His horse jumped sideways, jumped out from under the guy and his foot went through the stirrup. It scared the horse, who took off out the gate. The wreck scared the horse, he stampeded out through the pasture and through fences, and the guy got dragged to death. That can happen if you use a stripping chute, too. Having that gate closed at least contains a wreck.

I see a lot of people unhook their tie-down straps and snap them back to the bottom of the tie-down when they get done roping. That horse might pause on the way back to the barn, put his head down to eat a weed, step in that loop and it’s a disaster. His head is now tied down to his foot, and when he lifts his head up he’s going to freak out. Never create a loop that’s dangling down in front of a horse.

Don’t drop your reins when you’re sitting on a horse, either. I try to always keep those reins in my hands. And don’t let a horse eat while you’re on his back. He can stick a foot in those reins and the wreck is on. A lot of horses flip over backwards when that happens. Riding a horse in a halter—even if he’s gentle—is another recipe for disaster. If that horse spooks you have no way of stopping him.

Another pet peeve of mine is people putting little kids up on horses. I really cringe when I see people put their young kids on a horse with their rope hanging on the saddle horn. That horse spooks, that kid tangles a foot in that rope and look out. The oldest, gentlest horses in the world sometimes get scared when you put little kids on them. And that little kid has no defense against getting hurt and getting so scared he’s scarred for life about horses.

At one of our roping schools the other day a guy had a big rope bag hanging from the saddle horn. When he was done for the day and leading his horse away, something spooked his horse and he started spinning. The merry-go-round wreck was on, and it could easily have hurt the guy and the horse.

Another very bad idea is tying up a horse with the cinches too loose. That happened to an open roper the other day, his saddle got underneath his horse and he took off running blind through a parking lot. He finally hit asphalt and flipped upside down. Keep those cinches snug, even when a horse is tied up. The bottom line to all of this is that it’s smart to never take safety for granted. You’ll never be sorry about taking safety seriously. 

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