Horse riding

Horse riding as an activity

Horse riding refers to horse riding either in enclosed areas or on trails under the supervision of appropriately qualified or experienced instructors.

These guidelines do not refer to competition equestrian events such as dressage, polo or show jumping.

It is recommended that trail riding activities are not offered to students under the age of 10.


General characteristics of the environment

Horse riding activities provide a unique vantage point from which to observe the surrounding environment. Horse trail riding occurs largely in modified natural environments allowing students to consider human impacts on those environments.


Due to the unique nature of each location, a specific assessment of suitability should be made prior to the trip.

Your choice of location should be based upon the recent and first hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff. Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support your educational objectives
  • the level of access to the resources, services and facilities that you need or would like to use. These might include campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance, in the event of an emergency, or extreme weather conditions. The more effectively remote your location is, then the more self-contained and self-reliant your group must be
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the activity ability and fitness of students.

Contact authorities and relevant local organisations to access the most up-to-date information on the location, and to determine access and permit requirements. These may include:

Permission from the relevant land manager where the trail ride is taking place may be required. Contact the DSE or Parks Victoria in your region for more information.

Horse riding sessions should begin in an enclosed area where instructors can assess student ability. This area should be separate from the non-riding public.

The enclosed area where riding occurs or trail rides begin should have solid fences at least 105 cm in height with effective gates, and a surface that provides good footing and is free of obstacles.

Trails should provide safe footing and clearance for the horses, be located away from main highways, be rated for levels of difficulty, and have emergency access.

Staff need to be aware of the possibilities of extreme conditions. Staff should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity.

Riding on or beside roads

If the ride does include sections alongside or beside roads special care needs to be taken. Staff and students should be aware of relevant safety measures, which include:

  • documented procedures for crossing roads and when vehicles pass
  • a designated instructor at the front and back
  • (where possible) keeping all riders on the same side of the road.

Your communication strategy should enable you to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose a communication strategy based on current communication technology.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the program and to enable communication with outside parties including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your communication strategy.

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the program and on the day the program commences. If the program extends overnight, monitor and assess the weather throughout and based on that information access daily weather forecasts and warnings.

Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology

Weather conditions can change rapidly. Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at any time.

Horses should not be ridden in a thunderstorm, in high winds or in extreme heat or cold.

Weather warnings for Victorian coastal and inland areas can be obtained by calling 1300 659 217.


The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered.

Vehicles used to transport students must comply with VicRoads registration requirements.

  • Drivers must comply with all licensing requirements.
  • Equipment carried inside vehicles must be securely stowed.
  • Students must be supervised by a minimum of one adult, in addition to the bus driver, during travel.

See: VicRoads 

Drivers of vehicles with up to and including 12 seats (including the driver) require a current drivers license.

Drivers of vehicles with 13 or more seats (including the driver) require a current license appropriate for the vehicle and must:

In circumstances where a teacher or staff member is to drive a vehicle transporting students, the program should allow for them to have adequate rest prior to driving consistent with the national driving hours regulations.

Hazardous areas

Buses with a capacity greater than 12 seats entering prescribed hazardous areas during the declared snow season must have an annual hazardous areas inspection and a current certificate. The driver must also hold a current Hazardous Areas Authority. The driver must also carry the required equipment for hazardous areas. Information about Victorian Hazardous Areas requirements can be obtained from VicRoads, including information specific to bus travel in snow fields. See: VicRoads


Horsemanship safety and education accreditation

Horse Safety Australia has a site accreditation scheme for horse establishments throughout Australia.

Using an establishment with current Horse Safety Australia site accreditation for horse riding activities with school students is highly recommended.

Where establishments do not hold current accreditation, thorough checks by a person knowledgeable and experienced about horse riding should be made regarding:

  • the suitability of the horses for the students and the condition and safety of the equipment
  • the suitability of the terrain and any enclosures where the riding will take place
  • the suitability of the proposed program for the ability of the students.

The Australian Horse Industry Council and  Horse Safety Australia provide useful materials to support schools in their planning and decision making.

Student skills

The instructor should ascertain the previous experience of each student.

Where students are beginning riders, their preparation before riding should include:

  • how to approach a horse and to keep away from its hind quarters
  • information about how to behave around horses (for example, to be quiet and calm; make no sudden movements; to be alert, particularly when standing and holding a horse, in order to avoid being stepped on or getting too close to another horse)
  • that they may not mount their horses unassisted
  • care and respect for horses
  • information on care of the environment if going on a trail ride, (for example, not allowing a horse to go off the track).

Students should not mount horses until after they have received their briefing and should not mount their horses unassisted.

Instructors must:

  • match horse to rider
  • check student’s riding helmet and footwear
  • match and adjust each horse’s equipment to its rider
  • assist each student to mount the horse

At the beginning of any riding session, all beginners should be instructed in basic riding and horse control skills including:

  • the ability to maintain a safe distance from the horse and rider in front
  • the ability to stop, start and to turn the horse.

Students must demonstrate the ability to undertake these tasks if going on a trail ride. The trail ride should be matched to the ability of the least skilful rider in the group.


Equipment must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.


All riders must wear well-fitting, firmly fastened horse riding helmets that conform to the current Australian Standard 3838 or recognised international standards.


Where possible, leather or synthetic riding boots with a smooth sole and solid heel should be worn.

Footwear should enable the foot to slide easily out of the stirrup should the rider fall.


It is recommended that saddles are checked to ensure that:

  • girths do not have cracks, splits or worn stitching
  • stirrup leathers have not split or worn thin, and do not have worn stitching
  • stirrup irons are not too small or too large for the rider’s boots
  • saddles and saddle cloths fit comfortably according to recognised ‘horsemanship’ standards.


Bridles should be checked to ensure that:

  • they have not worn thin, and do not have worn stitching
  • bits are not worn at the joints.

Instructional equipment

Instructors should have a lead rope available and know how to use it to lead correctly from another horse.

First Aid

First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.


Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against severe and variable weather conditions.

Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, the environment and the season.

Long pants that fit firmly are advisable to prevent rubbing and pressure marks and sleeved shirts are recommended. Shorts or skirts are inappropriate and loose jewellery is unsuitable.

To protect against sunburn use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.


Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

Staff must determine the most suitable system/s of identification, based on the assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken and the age and number of students.



Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the program. All staff members must be endorsed by the principal.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check 

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher present must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If the teacher is not the designated instructor he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will be involved in any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

The designated horse riding instructor/s must hold one of the following:

Documentation of staff qualifications and experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications/experience in lieu of qualifications.

The designated instructors must be familiar with the horses and the terrain in which the riding will take place.

Horse riding is a very popular activity for students with disabilities and impairments. Instructors in charge of groups containing students with disabilities should have experience and training in this area, and steps should be taken to ensure there are sufficient helpers (appropriately briefed) to manage the students who need extra assistance.

Where students with disabilities and impairments or medical conditions are to participate in horse riding activities, particular attention may need to be given to:

  • student supervision and support —the student may require support on either side as well as an instructor leading the horse
  • the use of a mounting ramp for the safety of the rider and the helpers
  • the training of staff and/or helpers on how to lift and transfer the student’s weight across to the horse. (Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia’s Volunteer Information Booklet contains such advice.)
  • frequent checks during a trail ride for fatigue and loss of concentration (regular rests may need to be taken so that students can alter their weight and use different muscles)
  • students with the condition known as ‘atlantoaxial instability’ (greater than average neck mobility) is common in those with Down Syndrome. Students with this condition should not be permitted to undertake riding activities
  • students with epilepsy, who may need a helper walking beside them (refer Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia’s Volunteer Information Booklet).
Informed consent

The school must receive informed consent from parents or guardians that their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity and the foreseeable risks involved
  • the supervision strategy
  • any other information deemed relevant by the school or by parents/guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing, including signatures, by parents or guardians.


Supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two instructors must be present for each activity, one with responsibility for activity instruction and the other able to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratio that must be used for horse riding.

(Note: Students not directly involved in horse riding, must be supervised separately with a minimum staff student ratio of 1 to 10.)

ActivityStaff numbersStudent numbers

Riding in an enclosed area



1 - 16

17 - 24

Trail Rides*



1 - 12

13 - 18

*For trail rides there must be a minimum of two instructors.

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • predictability of the horses
  • ability and experience of students
  • individual needs
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location conditions.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the principal as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members will supervise students according to that strategy.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must consider carefully the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students to determine the level of first aid training required by staff.  For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present.  See: Excursion Support – First Aid.

Common risks

Sample RisksSample Controls

Fall from height



(Horse control)

Student skill assessment - Riders should be able to demonstrate basic riding and horse control skills including as a minimum the ability to maintain a safe distance from the horse and rider in front, and the ability to stop, start and to turn the horse.

All riders to wear helmets.

Qualified staff with appropriate supervision for the needs of the group. Medical information on students is available.

Kick by a horse

Brief students not to walk behind horses. Describe and enforce boundaries in the horse enclosure.

Students should not be permitted in horse enclosure without staff supervision.

Injury when holding/leading a horse

Provide suitable horses, appropriate briefing and activity instruction and appropriate supervision by qualified/experienced instructor/s.


Horse riding resources
General resources