Advice Please! Young Kids on the Farm: Keeping them Safe
In a few months, my husband and I are preparing to move back into a horse property after almost 6 years since we last had our own farm. In those 6 years, we have had two children, now 4 (girl) and 2.5 (boy).
The kids have been getting pony rides on my horse since they were both a few months old, and are very comfortable around horses- maybe too comfortable. We had them at the barn today and as we were leaving, DH told me he was more than a little nervous at having the kids on the farm around a lot of horses, especially once I start doing the OTTB-retrain thing again. And to be honest, I share his concerns. We all know that even horses that are as good as gold can certainly can do unpredictable things like kick at a fly or even just move their feet while wee kiddie feet are underfoot.
I'm seeking any and all advice or tips from those who have had their kids on the farm since they were born or those who are in my situation and bringing small children into a farm situation for the first time. Thank you sincerely in advance!
We had our horses at home when the kids were little. They did well. I did take a few precautions, like leaving the younger one in her crib inside when I was feeding and mucking. Once they reach about age 3, they usually listen well enough to be in the barn when you work. I would wait on bringing any young or high strung horses into the mix. Put your kids to work as quickly as you can. The 4 year old can fill feed buckets and muck around the barn while the horses are confined in their stalls. The 2 year old is going to be harder to manage. You will have to watch him like a hawk. You may have to leave him in the feed room when you are letting horses into their stalls.
Horses are a great experience for kids. Kids learn to work hard and to be responsible. Barn chores provide a lot of learning.
I think the biggest thing I stressed and worried about was that under NO circumstances were the kids allowed in horse pens EVER unless RIGHT with me. I have been very strict about this rule and my 6yr old and 4yr old are very good about following it. Even now if I am out in the horse pen with the horses they yell from the gate "Can I come in?" and will not come in unless I tell them it is o.k. It doesn't even take a bad horse for them to get hurt but one horse chasing another over top of them can have devastating effects. My daughter is horse crazy so I am always stressing safety with her and she is VERY good with following the rules even though she is 4yrs old. She knows which one of my horses is the safest if she had to duck around one or got herself into a bad situation, the pecking order of my herd and who to stay away from. But most of all I just stress not going into the pens and bringing a safe horse out for them to work around/handle surpervised if they want to spend time with them. She has a 36yr old ranch horse that is about as safe as you get that I bring out for her and yes accidents CAN happen even with the most gentle of horses but we can do our best to minimize the risk.
We all know that even horses that are as good as gold can certainly can do unpredictable things like kick at a fly or even just move their feet while wee kiddie feet are underfoot.
This is key. You cannot let them get underfoot with the horses.
Mine is never allowed in the field unless the horses are in the barn. I have my barn set up so my 3 year old can be in the aisle while I turn horses in and out from the Dutch doors for feeding. Kid and horses are a bolted stall door away from each other. I also have the tractor/implements gated off so he cannot get into them while I am turning in or out.
I usually give him the scoop and turn him loose to play in the grain bin while I do the turn ins. He adores this. He also helps me clean stalls, toss in hay, and fill water buckets -- but we always do chores when the horses are out of the stalls so we don't have to worry about safety issues.
We have an aged pony he can brush/play with/ride. She is 20 this year, has been all over the country showing breed shows. She is as reliable as a horse can get and was worth every cent I paid for her. But even then, when he is around her, I am right there...and we work on safety like she is not reliable (never walk behind, no sudden noises around her, no running, etc.) This way I can ingrain the safety rules but a mistake won't cause a serious accident.
Kids are really fun to have around the barn, actually. He always wants to spend time out there, and adores playing in the horse trailer, sweeping, cleaning stalls, and building "machines" by affixing the halters and lead ropes to the wheelbarrow, hooks and anything else. It's cute and we just clean it all up when he's done. I encourage his interest and try very hard not to let my type-A, "barn must be spotless" personality interfere with his enjoyment of the barn. As long as he's not hurting anything I let him have at it.
Look out for skunks. My 3 year old daughter found one mid-day in a shallow hole near a brushy area and somehow woke it up, while my husband and I were trimming trees about 20-30 feet away.
'Kitty, kitty, kitty', non-stop for minutes then, 'Pretty black and white kitty' so we carefully walked over and removed her from the situation (very sleepy skunk blinking up at us) but it could have been much worse.
Speaking of skunks, the dogs penned one under the truck one evening and were sprayed - luckily my neighbor keeps gallons of vinegar & tomato juice on hand for a skunk situation. So I'd keep a stash of vinegar & tomato juice so you don't have to run into town in the middle of the night if someone or a dog gets sprayed by a skunk.
Sorry, NONE of my children were allowed to go out in the Paddocks alone or following me, among horses until they were about 10 years old. At that age, larger physical size, a kid is a bit better able to manage safe horses. No horse is perfect, so you are as careful as possible. Just NOT SAFE to have small kids wandering among large horses, horses in groups. We had no ponies and the horses are ALWAYS pushing each other around, so bad things could easily happen. The old horse they rode was kept alone, so I would go halter her, had her UNDER CONTROL, and then kid could come lead her in.
We have a sliding gate for the aisle, kids on one side, horses in crossties, stalls on the other to protect them from each other. Kids are STUPIDLY unpredictable and need to be kept contained. We THOUGHT the 3yr old was obedient for us until the day he WAS NOT. He was racing down the barn aisle and we couldn't reach him before he rammed the standing horse with his tricycle in the hocks. We were both yelling STOP, NO, he laughed and did it AGAIN. Horse was wonderful and didn't kill him despite provocation. Bought horse another year of living at our house, because otherwise she was an awful horse! Sliding gate went up the next day. Kept him and later children on their side, horses could stand well while being worked on in the aisle, watch the kids. No CHANCE of a kid accidently getting at the horses again.
I got a sitter or husband watched kids for when I wanted to actually do horse riding work. I couldn't pay attention to the kids and horse, just got me frustrated with both of them. It was a few years that I had less horse work than I would have liked, but kids safety was MUCH MORE important. So they got more kid time, horses laughed and enjoyed not working much.
Something I will suggest is that SOMEONE is holding child or you have the child in truck, car, contained, before turning on a vehicle. We were religious about this, find kid, put them in truck/car WITH you, have someone holding onto them when the tractor got moved. This is EVERY TIME, so there is NO CHANCE of an injury to the child. Every year locally there is one or more small kids killed by a family member running over them when driving a vehicle of some kind. Kids are little to begin with, hard to see, UNPREDICTABLE in what they will do, DESPITE being told things. Just SO MUCH safer to take that extra time and CONTAIN/CONTROL the kid, before starting, moving or driving any vehicles.
There's a million things that can go wrong. However we raised 3 daughters on the farm and only had 2 emergency room vists. One when a trike hit a wagon tongue.Once when shutting a gate in the middle of a field the herd charged and daughter was run over by a big mare. She was right there with me and I couldn't do anything to stop it. She was lucky to come out only with a concussion. She was right there WITH me. Doesn't matter how careful you are, there will be accidents.
Just a heads up. One very common thing around barns are 5 gallon buckets of water. Seems harmless enough. A small child playing in them can fall into them and they don't weigh enough for the bucket to tip over. They drown.
Thank you all very much for your input and ideas, and that link. I will be taking it all to heart; no matter how much I love my horses, NOTHING matters more than my children.
I think I've read elsewhere that people have converted one stall to a play room (that kids can't climb out of!) and I'm thinking of something similar with one of the outdoor pens for a few years. This will have the added benefit of naturally forcing me to acquire one less horse!
Also be very careful with that. Kids CAN climb out of the most amazing things, which you don't realize until your 18 month old is teetering on the top rail of the fence. I think a stall is pretty safe if the boards are flush and tight, but a fenced area is a recipe for climbing/fall disaster.
LOL- fordtraktor, great point! I guess "no-climb" fencing really only applies to horses, not kids! Fortunately my daughter, who is the climber, is the older one and the more compliant one. If I tell her not to climb out of the paddock, I feel reasonably safe that she wouldn't. My son, the far less compliant child (because he's a boy?!) can throw and catch a ball like no one's business already at 2.5, but has no interest in climbing- he still hasn't tried even once to climb out of his crib and my daughter was getting out at age 1. But, point WELL taken. Safety first, no matter what. Thanks again!
Get childcare for the time you are working with the horses. Kids will be safe and supervised, you'll be able to concentrate. Or, if you can't get/afford childcare, simply put the kids first. Don't start the "OTTB retraining thing" until the kiddies are older. It won't be that long before they are off the kindergarten anyway.
Both my kids were raised on the ranch and then later our downgraded farm setting, always with horses and cows and misc other animals.
I think common sense is the big thing; and not to let yourself freak out over every little thing.
I worried more about water than the horses, more about the bull than the cows, but the only animal that ever actually hurt one of the kids was a rooster. We had a live irrigation ditch and a creek within toddler distance of the house and that gave me a heart attack once when my daughter fell asleep in a closet and couldn't be found.
Our kids were around the horses from day one and while I didn't let them wander around in the horse pasture on a daily basis they could be around them. My daughter was our head milker of our crabby horned old dairy cow when she (the kid) was 8.
If you're going to put them in bubble wrap they're going to miss out on a lot of the good aspects of where they live. You just have to find your own way through it.
LOL, I'm surprised no one has suggested hot wire...I'm KIDDING.
One is not difficult...two makes it much more difficult...but they'll be fine, I'm sure as long as you don't get complacent.
I was going to mention it but forgot! LOL It backfired for us; my teen age son is unaffected by it and is our official fence tester. He can hold it and let it shock him and doesn't bother him a bit; the rest of us are as terrified as the horses!
It does teach the lesson that stay out means stay out!
at our barn, all kids and dogs have to seated ON THE BENCH behind ground poles at one end of the indoor. I am always amazed at their patience & good behavior: they are expected to stay there, and they do.
I would think this goes without saying, but SHOES ppl. Barefeet in the barnyard is gross.